PCW kicks off the 18-Day Campaign to End VAW with stories of survivors, social experiment, and exhibit showing two decades of advocacy

The 2022 18-Day Campaign to End Violence Against Women (VAW) takes off with the Philippine Commission on Women’s (PCW) launching of a documentary series of VAW survivor stories, social experiment, and the Orange Exhibit during the campaign’s kick-off ceremony on November 25, 2022.

November 25 is the National Consciousness Day for the Elimination of VAWC and marks the start of the annual campaign which ends on December 12. Over 300 individuals from government, non-government (NGO) and private organizations attended the event held at the Philippine International Convention Center. Among the participants were member agencies and NGOs of the Inter-Agency Council on Violence Against Women and their Chidlren (IACVAWC) which is a major partner for the event, the Inter-Agency Oversight Committee on the Safe Spaces Act (IAOCSSA), and the Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking (IACAT), the various chapters of Men Opposed to Violence Against Women Everywhere (MOVE), and United Nations Country Offices.

In her opening remarks, PCW Executive Director Atty. Kristine Rosary E. Yuzon-Chaves pointed out the significance of collective efforts in the fight against VAW, in line with the 2022-2027 recurring theme, UNiTEd for a VAW-free Philippines.

“Only with unity can we achieve a VAW-free community. VAW is everyone’s concern. Ending VAW is everyone’s responsibility… Let us synergize our efforts: Adopt laws and policies to stop VAW; Undertake strategies that will prevent it from happening in the first place, Change social norms and gender stereotypes that only perpetuate abuse; Ensure adequate and accessible essential services and support are accessible to all survivors, improving data collection and analysis,” ED Yuzon-Chaves said.

PCW Executive Director Atty. Kristine Rosary E. Yuzon-Chaves delivers opening remarks at the 2022 18-Day Campaign to End VAW Kick-off Ceremony, underscoring the need for united and collective action in the fight against VAW

Echoing the call for collaboration, Interior and Local Government Secretary Atty. Benjamin C. Abalos Jr., in his keynote address delivered by Undersecretary for Plans, Public Affairs, and Communication, Margarita N. Gutierrez, called for teamwork amongst the stakeholders.

Representing SILG Benjamin Abalos Jr., DILG Undersecretary Margarita N. Gutierrez, calls for a 
whole-of-nation approach in the fight to end VAW

“The persistence of gender-based violence in the country is a clear indicator of gender inequality and discrimination against women. Addressing these social issues calls for cooperation, collaboration, teamwork, and unity of different stakeholders to realize our common vision for women to live in a community that is free from any form of violence and disparity… Let’s intensify and continue our advocacy and push for a whole-of-nation approach to ensure that women and girls in our society are safe wherever they go, empowered, and have access to information and social protection services,” the message pronounced.

The Philippine Statistics Authority Singing Group performs their own rendition of the anti-VAW song, “Babae, Bumangon Ka”

The Orange Exhibit: Journey toward a VAW-free Philippines

As one of the highlights in the ceremony, ED Yuzon-Chaves underlined the gains achieved through the campaign since 2002, when the Philippine government started the advocacy by joining the “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence.”

“Since then, we have reached several milestones. Through the hard work and perseverance of advocates, from the government, private, and civil society organizations as well as the victim-survivors themselves, the campaign became instrumental in calling for the passage of anti-VAW laws, including the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 and the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004, among others. We also used it to inform Juanas of their rights and encourage everyone to never tolerate, never commit, and never condone VAW,” ED Kristine added.

In line with looking back at the two-decade journey, the PCW launched the Orange Exhibit, which highlights all the activities conducted from 2002 to 2022 and the VAW-related victories achieved in the crusade to free all women from violence. 

Ms. Elizabeth Angsioco, National Chairperson of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP), honored women’s rights organizations and feminists who weathered many storms to push for laws to combat VAW, even spanning decades. 

“In terms of laws, our experience has taught us that we need to be relentless, we need to be strong, to be sharp, to be brave, and we need to be many, we need to be many, before one law that addresses our needs and promotes our rights is eventually passed.”

Ms. Beth Angsioco recounts the long history of advocating for the passage of anti-VAW laws

The milestones include the following: the passage of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 (Republic Act 9208) in 2003, signing of the Anti-VAWC Act in 2004, extension of the campaign to 18 days in 2006 to include December 12, in commemoration of the signing of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, the establishment of MOVE enjoining male champions, recognizing VAW-responsive LGUs, Gender Justice Awards, passage of the Magna Carta of Women in 2009 with provision protecting women from violence, production of songs including “Babae Bumangon Ka” and “Kumilos, mga Kalalakihan”, declaration of November 25 as the National Consciousness Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Children by virtue of RA 10398 in 2013, walk and bike advocacy against VAW, launching of Orange Your Icon in 2015, use of different forms of art to advance the cause, VAW Experiential Museum and VAW: The Unspoken Words, Cine Juana screening and later on, Digital Shorts Competition, engagement of the youth in 2019, digital transformation of the campaign because of the COVID-19 pandemic, inclusion of VAWC as one of the cases being responded to by the National Emergency Hotline 911, passage of the Safe Spaces Act in 2019, passage of the law prohibiting child marriage in 2021, legislation raising age of sexual consent, and the Anti-Online Sexual Abuse of Exploitation of Children (OSAEC) in 2022.

Survivor Stories: Rising above VAW

With these achievements, the advocacy can only be maximized and truly felt by Juanas if the laws are put to good use by those who need them and by those who are mandated to enforce them. To show the experiences of victims, the PCW launched the VAW Survivor Stories, a series of documentaries with interviews of victim-survivors of violence. Owning the narrative, they shared, albeit in tears but also with courage, how they dealt with the experience of VAW and how they turned into the existing laws for redemption. 

Amber, 19 years old, was sexually abused by her own father since she was eight years old. 

“Habang ginagawa sa akin ng magulang ko na nandoon pa ako sa poder niya, nilalaban at nilalaban ko ang sarili ko, para lang mapagpatulong ko yung pangarap ko… Bilang babae, mahirap po para sa akin na tanggapin na mismong magulang ko po ang makakalaban ko sa pagkakataong ito” she told PCW. 

Amber felt hopeless and her headspace was in a dark place for a long time, battered by depression and anxiety. The abuse only stopped when, upon reaching 16 years old, she decided to confide in her brother. With the help of the authorities, the perpetrator was indicted and the case was eventually concluded. 

“Ang batas po talaga ang pinaka-pinanghahawakan ko po bilang babae, mas lalong-lalo na bilang nabiktima. Especially sa mga women’s desk, hindi po sila pumapayag hanggat wala pong nangyayari na maganda at wala pong nangyayari para makuha ko po yung hustisya ko,” Amber shared. 

The kick-off participants clapped their hands upon hearing that currently, Amber is studying and is determined to finish her degree, an opportunity she thought will only remain a fantasy. “Noon pa na nararanasan ko iyong bigat na napagdadaanan ko, hindi ko inexpect na ako ay makakapag-aral pa rin at magsisimula at magsisimula pa rin sa journey ko. Nakakakain, nakakatulog ng maayos sa kama, mas lalong-lalo na po sa pag-aaral ko.” 

“Amber”, VAW survivor, who continues to pursue her dreams despite the experience of abuse

Her story ended in a forward-looking tone, with her zeal to not allow the abuse define or limit her, saying “Ako si Amber, isang taong, yes, isang taong naabuso. Oo naabuso ako. Pero pinilit kong bumangon. Nadapa ako pero pinilit kong magsimula sa sarili ko. Dahil higit sa lahat, hindi ako susuko. Kailangan kong maging matapang. Dahil ako ay isang babae na marangal, may disiplina sa buhay ko, at higit sa lahat, may pangarap.”

Also a survivor who turned her story from one of shame and suffering to one of emancipation is Juana, who was sold and trafficked by her own mother. 

“Sa kakainom niya, ibinenta kami ng mga anak niya, so kung kani-kanino kami napunta. Na hanggang ngayon, iyong ibang kapatid ko, hanggang ngayon, hindi ko alam kung nasaan sila,” she began her story. 

“Lagi akong binubully nung mga anak ng bumili sa akin, na “binenta ka lang dito sa halagang 700.” Siyempre masakit. Sobrang sakit yun na ibig sabihin pala, hindi ako mahal ng nanay ko. Pero sabi niya, babalikan at babalikan niya ako, pero hindi naman niya ako binalikan mula noon,” she added.

She went from one house to another, passed amongst relatives, but in the process, being subject to child labor and worse, acts of lasciviousness bordering sexual abuse. 

“Nagigising ako ng hatinggabi na may nakahawak sa maselang bahagi ng katawan ko, which is yung kapatid niya na binata. Alam mo iyong traumatic sa akin sa gabi na hindi na ako makatulog,” Juana revealed. 

Her fate only changed when her English teacher took her to Nueva Ecija to study. With her perseverance, she graduated with a degree in Social Work and is now a Registered Social Worker, helping victims of violence and trafficking in persons through a government agency.

Despite being a VAW victim, “Juana” now helps fellow survivors of VAW through her advocacy as a social worker

“Lagi ko itong sinasabi, magpasalamat ka kasi binenta ka. Bakit? Kasi kung hindi ka siguro binenta, hindi ka social worker ngayon… Ako si Juana, na ngayon ay naka-aklas sa ganoong kalupitan sa lipunan. Mas masasabi ko na iyong kurso ko ay malaking bahagi para makatulong doon sa mga kababaihan din lalo na iyong mga kababaihan na hindi talaga kayang pag-laban ang kanilang karapatan bilang babae,”  a tearful yet hopeful Juana shared, a statement met with applause. 

However, the road to full recovery can be a long process. The third interviewee, Ella, 21 years old, is just recovering from her experience of gender-based sexual harassment inside a jeepney. 

Wearing pants and a decent top, Ella was aboard a jeepney traveling after school, when the incident happened.

“Ginitgit po niya ako sa dulo, tapos ‘yun po, hinawakan niya po yung legs ko, tapos sabi niya po sa akin na, tignan ko nga daw po yung private part niya ganon. Yung titig niya po sa akin, yun po talaga ang sobrang nagpakaba sa akin kasi hindi po ako makalaban tapos grabe po yung titig niya ganun,” Ella told PCW. 

She was able to switch places after a passenger who witnessed the scene asked her to sit beside her. She took a photo of the perpetrator and told her mother about the incident. Eventually, after being reported to the police and barangay, the perpetrator was arrested.  

“Pagdating nga po doon sa may Women and Children Protection Desk, sinabi nga po nila na Safe Spaces Act daw po ang ikakaso. Parang first time ko lang po marinig iyon. Nakatulong naman po kasi nagkaroon po ako ng idea na parang kahit titigan lang ako o sitsitan, pwede na po ako mag-kaso. Kasi akala ko po dati, kapag na-rape ka, doon lang pwede, pero kapag nahawakan ka pala ganun, or kapag napagsalitaan ka, makukulong na rin,” Ella enthused.

While the incident left trauma in her, Ella is now certain that the problem is not what the victim wears, but how the perpetrator thinks. “Sa mga babae naman po, wala naman pong dapat baguhin sa kanila eh, kasi po, kumbaga, kahit naman magsuot sila ng maiksi, parang personality nila yon, gusto nila ganoon ang suot nila, ganoon ang style nila, siguro po sa thinking na lang din po ng iba, the way kung paano sila mag-isip.,” she opined. 

“Ella” encourages victims of gender-based sexual harassment to speak up and hold the perpetrators accountable

Hence, her advice to victims who are hesitating to file an action against harassers, “Kayanin lang nila, kasi para rin sa ikabubuti ng iba, para wala na ring mabiktima.”

The perpetrator confessed guilty to the crime and he was meted with the penalty of imprisonment and community service and he was required to undergo a gender-sensitivity seminar. 

The videos brought some members of the audience to tears. Reacting to the video, Mr. Marlon Peralta, GAD Coordinator of the Men Opposed to VAW Everywhere (MOVE) DND Chapter, recognized the rush of emotions. 

Mr. Marlon Peralta shares responses to the videos and highlights the importance of male champions in the advocacy

“Kung meron man dito na nakaranas nang kapareho sa mga napanood natin, na hindi nakapagsalita at hindi pa kayang magsalita, your emotions, your feelings are valid , and I know you’re one step closer to healing. When you start to speak out, you are not alone. Marami pong tutulong sa inyo,” he said.  

Ms. Beth Angsioco underscored the realities these survivors showed.

“As we saw in the videos, Filipino women continue to be abused and violated in many ways. In some cases, women are not safe, even in their own homes and in their families. However, with the law working for them and with assistance from their communities, women can survive and reclaim their lives,” Ms. Angsioco said. 

While Amber, Juana, and Ella strived to write their own stories of reparation, Ms. Ma. Rosalyn “Lenlen” G. Mesina, Country Programme Coordinator of UN Women Philippines Programme Presence Office, stressed that they should not be left to heal on their own. 

Ms. Lenlen Mesina emphasizes the need for a united stance of advocates: never giving space for VAW to happen in the first place

“Hindi natin pwedeng asahan ang bawat kababaihan na palaging ibangon ang kanilang sarili. Sa kabila ng gusto nilang pagbangon, mahalaga ang suporta natin, at mahalaga ang aksyon na hinihingi ng ating mandato. Pero sana huwag tayong makahon sa ating mandato, importanteng mag-ugnay ugnay tayo, importanteng maparamdam natin sa lahat ng kababaihan, kabataan, at kasama sa komunidad na nangangailangan ng aksyon na tayo ay may iisang aksyon, iisang tugon, pagdating sa usapin ng karahasan, at ito ay hindi pagbibigay ng espasyo para rito, at ito ay paglaban para dito at pagsisigurado na kung sinuman ang titindig ay hindi malalagay sa alanganin, kung hindi, mabibigyan din ng proteksyon,” her call went. 

As to social protection and psychosocial services, Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Erwin T. Tulfo, represented by DSWD Assistant Secretary Diana Rose S. Cajipe, expressed “As the lead agency in social protection, the DSWD seeks to prevent any social issue, like violence against women and children, from occurring or re-occurring which is a deterrent to their development.” DSWD also shared one best practice documented in addressing VAWC, when one of the field offices assisted a Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program beneficiary in an island community who turned out to be a VAW victim. 

DSWD Assistant Secretary Diana Rose S. Cajipe underscores the need to provide adequate social services to VAW survivors

“The Department developed appropriate interventions, in collaboration with partners and residents themselves, and these resulted in the institutionalization of local council against VAWC in the community. Likewise, with the DSWD initiative, children already went back to school, women became protected, and peace was achieved in the area,” the statement added.

VAW Social Experiment

After the premiere of the VAW Survivor Stories, the participants remained glued to the screens with the launching of the VAW Social Experiment. A first of its kind for PCW, the social experiment aimed to go to the communities and see the citizens’ perception of and action toward VAW. Striving to be an eye-opener and a wake-up call to survivors, their friends and families, community, and duty-bearers, this involved staging scenarios of VAW and documenting the reactions of onlookers.

Snippet from the Anti-VAWC scene in the VAW Social Experiment 
(University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines, Cagayan de Oro City)

“This answers the questions, what will one do when faced with a scenario of VAW? How well do our kababayans know the laws that protect women from violence? And lastly, what is VAW in the minds of Filipinos? We ask you to watch closely, listen with an open mind and utmost empathy and compassion. May the VAW social experiment that we will present later propel us to work even more in raising awareness on the anti-VAW laws, helping victim-survivors, and addressing the root causes of violence and its prevalence,” ED Yuzon-Chaves encouraged. 

The Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) Plus was tapped in the production of the social experiment, which aims to gather insights regarding VAW that can be useful in gauging the public’s knowledge of VAW and anti-VAW laws.

VAWC scene in the Social Experiment (Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology)

PCW conducted six legs of the social experiment in the City of Manila, Nueva Ecija, Bohol, and Cagayan de Oro City.  At the Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology and the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines, the scene involved two talents acting as partners, with the male actor subjecting the woman to psychological and physical violence. Aside from the students’ reactions, the same scenario was staged inside a jeepney plying the Tagbilaran-Baclayon route in Bohol to check the responses of targets from different age groups, stature, and coming from varying experiences and perspectives.

Gender-based sexual harassment scene (Bohol)

Also inside the jeepney in Bohol, the performers staged a situation where two men were harassing a woman, asking for her personal details, taking a picture of her, and touching her. Gender-based sexual harassment was also shown in the scenario depicted at Plaza Roma, City of Manila. In Cagayan de Oro City, the  PCW planted a scene of trafficking in persons, with a male seemingly recruiting two women to be waiters at a restaurant only to make them victims of prostitution.

Trafficking in persons scene (Bulua Integrated Bus Terminal, Cagayan de Oro City)

Deputy Executive Director for Operations, Ms. Maria Kristine Josefina G. Balmes, shared the major insights from the experiment. One of which is that intervention from onlookers was not observed in all instances. Some merely looked while some chose to ignore the interaction at all. But when asked in the post-scenario interview, they had differing reasons, including fear of the perpetrator, saying that VAW is a private matter, and at times, they said they will only come in when the violence escalates to something worse. Those who did come to the rescue of the victim said that no woman deserves to be treated with such disrespect, that the woman (in the VAWC scenarios) should break up with the partner, and that she must report to authorities. Only a few of the targets directly confronted the perpetrator. 

Mr. Peralta observed that fear is a common denominator when it comes to interfering but in numbers, this can be defeated.

“Fear prevents us from helping someone. Pero nakita ko rin, na when we are in a group, mas nagiging powerful ang voices natin, when we are together, mas nakakapagsalita at kaya natin speak out ang mind natin para tumulong sa mga nangangailangan. Someone just needs to start, someone just needs to take that courage to start speaking out and the rest will follow,” he recognized.

As to the level of awareness on the laws, many of the targets said that they know that there is a law covering VAW but are unable to say for sure that it is a public crime and also hesitant to detail what they know of it. 

Ms. Mesina took this as an opportunity to call for wider dissemination of laws and greater availability and visibility of VAW responders. 

“Ang hirap lunukin na kailangan na lang nilang palipasin ang nangyayari sa kanila, para masiguradong ligtas na ang kanilang mga sarili. Same with the reactors. I think this is where I want to make a call for everyone, na sa kanya-kanya nating mandato, sa kanya-kanya nating trabaho, sa kanya-kanya nating posisyon, which I know we are privileged here to be sitting comfortably, being recognized as an agency doing and acting on these things, marami tayong hindi alam na kwento at nangangailangan ng aksyon, and I hope iyon and masubok nating tawirin, na masigurado nating alam at pamilyar ang lahat sa mga batas na ito. I really commend our law enforcers kasi ang lakas na ng loob ng maraming tao dahil nandiyan sila, alam na maaaring matakbuhan,” she said.

She also advised the attendees to “take the social experiment, use it, and process it” and ask “Ano bang pwede nating gawin bilang ahensya para matulungan ang isang babae na nasa ganoong sitwasyon…”

Wearing the ‘cap’ of an anti-VAW advocate

Indeed, sustaining the fight to eradicate violence can be challenging and may appear ambitious at times. But the Ambers, Juanas, and Ellas of the community can only count on the unceasing and efficient actions of advocates. 

Symbolic show of support led by PCW Deputy Executive Director for Operations, Ms. Kristine Balmes

To publicly express the resolve to help in this advocacy, stakeholders participated in the symbolic show of support. DD Kristine led the ceremony and explained the symbolism behind the gesture, “We stand here today wearing many hats in our respective professions. We have different mandates and responsibilities, targets, and plans. But in this advocacy, we share the same mission. We all wear the same hat. This advocacy cap symbolizes the collective role we have to play as we move UNITED towards our goal – and that is to end violence against women and create a better world for future generations.”

The participants then simultaneously wore the caps, posed with the “Stop VAW” sign, and said with conviction, “We are UNiTEd for a VAW-free Philippines!”

The 18-Day Campaign and what it seeks to achieve

The annual 18-Day Campaign to End VAW, which runs from November 25 to December 12, supports the Philippine government’s goal of protecting the human rights of women and girls by upholding its commitment to address all forms of gender-based violence as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution. 

It is a vital campaign because to this day, thousands of women suffer from different forms of violence. The National and Demographic Health Survey revealed that one in every four women, aged 15-49, has experienced physical, emotional, or sexual violence from their husband or partner. Data from the Philippine National Police show that there were over 12,000 reported cases of VAW in 2021, more than 8,000 of which were violations of the Anti-VAWC Act. This year, the reported VAW cases already hit 5,339 in the first half of 2022. 

The message of ED Yuzon-Chaves resonates with the hopes of the campaign: “GADvocates, the PCW, as the national entity for gender equality and women’s empowerment, is counting on you. Let us strive until gender equality propels a VAW-free society – where everyone is treated with respect and dignity, regardless of the gender; where women and girls know and stand up for their rights, where men treat women as equals, and where members of the LGBTQIA+ community and the marginalized sector do not have to endure harassment and abuse. 

Two decades of advocacy have been fruitful, but we know we need to do more…. The journey may prove daunting at times, but we will not concede. Believe, a VAW-free Philippines is possible; united, we can make it happen.”