As the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) started the 18-Day Campaign to End Violence Against Women (VAW), it reminded the public that intrusive gaze and catcalling are not compliments nor “maliit na bagay” (trivial thing), but are offensive, threatening, and intimidating.
In a statement released on Friday, Nov. 26, PCW said these types of gender-based sexual harassment could progress from verbal to physical such as flashing, groping, stalking, or could even lead to sexual violence.
“These acts can affect the victim physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically — from serious headaches and heartburns to triggered anxiety, depression, fear, anger, and trauma,” PCW stressed.
Citing a 2016 Social Weather Stations Survey, it said that three in five women have experienced sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime.
A similar survey conducted by Plan International reported that 68 percent of girls and young women in the Philippines have experienced online harassment on social media.
“The COVID-19 pandemic did not cushion the blow, but in fact, exacerbated the prevalence of sexual harassment, especially in the digital realm,” PCW said.
The agency reminded the public that intrusive gaze, catcall, and online remarks, even among peers or done by a subordinate to a superior, or even by strangers, can be penalized under the Safe Spaces Act.
“The coverage of the law is not only limited to schools and workplaces since it also covers public spaces such as public transportation, commercial establishments, and even online. Authority, influence, or moral ascendancy by the perpetrators over their victims is likewise not required for the sexual harassment to be classified as a crime under RA 11313.,” PCW pointed out.
Ensuring safe spaces
PCW urged agencies with mandates under the law to be “true and committed to their responsibilities” in strengthening mechanisms in place to prevent and address sexual harassment and appealed to employers and heads of schools and training institutions to set up a Committee on Decorum and Investigation “so victims of gender-based sexual harassment will have faith in the grievance process.”
The agency also called on the public to take part in protecting spaces from gender-based sexual harassment.
“While we strive for the proper implementation of the law, may it bring about a change of mindset, gaining perspective that catcalling is not okay, that sexual jokes may be unwelcome, sending lewd messages is wrong, and making sexual advances on a workmate, boss, student, or teacher is already penalized,” PCW reiterated.
“During this COVID-19 pandemic, may we ensure that our spaces are not only safe from the virus, but also from all forms of human rights violations like violence against women (VAW) and gender-based sexual harassment. As quarantine restrictions ease up and we gradually reclaim our spots in public spaces, let us all pursue a VAW-free community where all people are comfortable to walk on the streets, where they are treated with utmost respect in cyberspace, and where our work, learning, and leisure environments do not tolerate any form of violence or sexual harassment.”