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How do we end violence against women and children?

Is it really possible to have a world without violence? Can we really end violence against women and children?

According to the 2022 National Demographic and Health Survey by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), one in five women who have ever had an intimate partner have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence by their current or most recent husband/intimate partner. Moreover, 12 percent of those women experienced such violence in the 12 months preceding the survey. 

This is the reality even after two decades of the Philippines’ participation in the global campaign to end violence against women (VAW).

From Nov. 25 to Dec. 12 of every year, the Philippines observes the 18-day Campaign to End Violence against Women and Children. It is patterned after the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign that kicks off on Nov. 25, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until Dec. 10, the Human Rights Day.

The Philippines’ campaign extends to 18 days after former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Proclamation 1172 in 2006 so that it ends on Dec. 12, a historic date that marked the signing in the year 2000 of the UN Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, to supplement the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crimes.

This campaign mandates government agencies to raise awareness on the problem of violence and the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls.

In terms of legislation, we have enough in place to support this cause. We have the Magna Carta of Women, Anti-Discrimination Against Women Act, Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Law, and the Safe Spaces Act, among others. These laws help create an enabling environment where women and girls’ rights and safety are promoted and protected to allow them to achieve their full potential.

Yet if we consider the PSA survey, that’s 20 percent of Filipino women who have ever had an intimate partner still experiencing violence. This does not include women who face violence in the workplace, or girls who experience abuse from their relatives.

Although the statistics show an improvement from the 2017 National Demographic Health Survey — which showed that one in four Filipino women has experienced physical, emotional or sexual violence from their husband or partner — clearly, there needs to be continuous strengthened effort to end VAW. 

We must do this with urgency because the dangers that women and girls are facing are not only limited to our physical communities. In this highly-digital world that we now live in, women and girls’ safety online has become a concern. 

For instance, in the 2021 Truth Gap Report of Plan International, 87 percent of girls and young women surveyed in 26 countries said that misinformation and disinformation are having a negative impact on them. Twenty percent of them even felt physically unsafe because of misinformation and disinformation online.

We must consider the digital space in enhancing our efforts toward becoming VAW-free.

In launching this year’s 18-day Campaign to End VAW, the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) called for concrete and strengthened actions to end VAW. It encouraged the eradication of harmful gender norms and stereotypes that lead to violence. We must also never tolerate VAW, which includes denouncing victim-blaming, and never glorifying perpetrators. Moreover, we must demand action by relevant authorities — which must be prompt, appropriate, adequate, and gender-sensitive — and accountability by perpetrators, who must be penalized for their abusive actions and must also undergo counseling and treatment toward rehabilitation.

One of the most crucial steps in realizing the dream of having a VAW-free society is the participation of everyone. As women and girls speak out, empower themselves and others to fight for their rights, men and boys must step up to show respect for women and girls in their home, workplace and community, and actively participate in anti-VAW initiatives.

Government agencies, including the barangays which are closest to the people, must provide the necessary support for victims of VAW, implement policies that will make communities violence-free, and ensure that their respective agencies and offices promote respect for human rights.

We may not totally eradicate VAW in a few years or even in the next decade; and that reality should now motivate us to further our efforts, to unite against this form of injustice to half of our population, because having a VAW-free society is crucial in achieving our development goals.

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