PCW Message on the 2022 18-Day Campaign to End VAW: UNiTEd for a VAW-free Philippines

Two decades of advocacy, two decades of awakening, and two decades of action.  

For 20 years now, the Philippines has been pursuing the goal of a community free from Violence Against Women (VAW). From joining the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence in 2002 to extending the campaign to 18 Days in 2006, the advocacy has come a long way. 

Since its inception, the campaign has been dedicated to every woman whose face is black and blue, every woman catcalled while walking down the street, every woman who was forced into sex despite lack of consent, every woman whose date turns out to be a drug-rapist, every woman who is trafficked into forced labor, every woman who falls victim to cyberstalking, every woman whose video was uploaded without consent, every woman in a relationship where the man takes control of decisions and finances, and every woman who was disrespected in any way. 

Through the campaign, the Philippines opened discussions on VAW and took it from the realms of secrecy, “private matter”, and taboo. It encouraged, and even pushed, those who are turning a blind eye to see VAW as a pressing matter, as an issue which needs immediate attention and resolution. It showed the gravity of VAW as women’s human rights violation which is inherently wrong and abhorrent and a threat to a woman’s health, wellbeing, career, and self-worth. Its effects transcend from the woman, to her family, to the community, and the society as a whole.

Through the hard work and persistence of advocates, from the government, private sector, and civil society organizations as well as the victim-survivors themselves, the campaign also became instrumental in calling for the passage of anti-VAW laws which currently protect women and girls from violence, including the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 (RA 9208) and the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 (RA 9262), among others.

In the past Congress, VAW-related laws were also passed: the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act (RA 11648) which raised the age of sexual consent from 12 to 16 years old in an aim to protect male and female minors from rape and other forms of sexual abuse; the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act which amended RA 9208 and now holds internet intermediaries liable for allowing their infrastructure to be used in promoting trafficking in persons; Prohibiting the Practice of Child Marriage (RA 11596), and the Anti-Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children Law (RA 11930).

As we observe the 18-Day Campaign, we are again utilizing this platform to call for the passage of additional legal instruments that can safeguard the rights of women against VAW. These include the policy recommendation for Amending the Anti-Rape Law, by redefining rape and putting consent at the center, repealing the forgiveness clause, and strengthening rape victim assistance and protection. In addition, we are also highlighting the need to include all forms of violence defined in the Anti-VAWC Act as grounds for legal separation.

As we look forward to what the campaign can still achieve, we also look back at the triumphs we have collectively accomplished.

Through the Orange Exhibit: Journey toward a VAW-free Philippines, we are highlighting the wins in this crusade to free all women from violence. With the VAW Survivor Stories, advocates can hear the narrative straight from the victim-survivors of violence. They shared how they rose above their experience and did not let it define them, and how the laws and mechanisms in place served as their safeguard. These stories only show that VAW still happens and hence, we cannot back down. Raw, profound, and moving – may these stories inspire us more to remain steadfast in our advocacy. 

Also an eye-opener is the VAW social experiment. 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? The PCW hopes that this VAW social experiment will 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.

All of these point out one key message: only with unity can we achieve a VAW-free community. VAW is everyone’s concern. Ending VAW is everyone’s responsibility. 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. With these numbers, we cannot deny the urgency of the matter. We have to act now, and we have to act hand in hand. 

Let us synergize our efforts: Adopt laws and policies to stop VAW, undertake strategies that will prevent it from happening in the first place, and ensure adequate and accessible essential services and support are accessible to all survivors, improving data collection and analysis. 

Everyone has a stake in changing social norms and gender stereotypes that only perpetuate abuse. We must build a society where women are not valued less and considered weak, men are not expected to assert strength and dominance through violence, victims are supported, not blamed, survivors are encouraged to speak not silenced, and where disrespect and hostility are never condoned. 

As we move toward this society, we strive to fulfill the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals of gender equality, good health and well-being, reduced inequalities, peace, justice and strong institutions, and sustainable cities and communities, with the eradication of VAW being tied to progress. We set our eyes on the UNiTE by 2030 to End VAW campaign, which calls on governments, civil society, women’s organizations, young people, the private sector, media, and the UN system to join forces to address the global pandemic of violence against women and girls. 

Consequently, the 2022-2027 recurring theme of the PH campaign, UNiTE for a VAW-free Philippines, echoes our hopes for the continuous breakthroughs that we can attain after the fruitful two decades of advocacy.

The journey toward a VAW-free Philippines may prove daunting at times, but we will not concede. Believe, a VAW-free Philippines is not far from reality; united, we can make it happen.

Let us all stand UNiTEd for a VAW-free Philippines!