As I write this, I have just celebrated my 47th birthday in the warmth of my home, surrounded by the love of my four children and basking in the cheerful support of friends and family who believe in me.
These are joyful days, where even though we are in the midst of a pandemic, so many people were able to reach out and bring so much sunshine into my life.
With this piece on Gender-Based Violence (GBV), however, I have to go back to a much darker time. Much as I dread recalling so many incidents of abuse that I had to endure through so many years, it is with the hope that it reaches those who are in the same situation I was and encourage them to seek help.
My sons and I fled a bad situation three years ago, and we are now living in an environment where we have found peace. There are still struggles, but we are at peace. It took years for us to escape, and I imagine that with the community quarantines that are in place, it is even harder now for other women, children, and members of the LGBTQI+ community to even seek help.
The victims are trapped at home 24/7 with their abusers, who are probably even more agitated because of issues like unemployment or money problems.
As someone who at one point had to go through that with my ex’s belief that a woman’s place is at home, I would describe it as being caught in a cage with a feral animal.
According to statistics discussed at the launch of FamiLigtas, domestic violence incidents pre-COVID had already reached alarming rates.
In the previous 12 months, 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) across the world were subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner.
Victims are trapped at home 24/7 with their abusers. As someone who at one point had to go through that with my ex, I would describe it as being caught in a cage with a feral animal.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the USAID Philippines Office of Health Director Michelle Lang-Alli says this number is likely to grow, with multiple impacts on women’s wellbeing, their sexual and reproductive health, their mental health, and their ability to participate and lead in the recovery of our societies and economy.
Staying at home to stop the spread of the virus can spread GBV because of the mental stress and uncertainty of the situation, she adds. “However, there is no excuse or justification for GBV. We cannot let violence happen at all.”
“Government data shows that the number of cases of GBV and abuse reported to authorities declined during the first month and a half of COVID-19 lockdown measures,” said Danna Aduna of Lunas Collective which is a feminist, inclusive chat service for victim-survivors seeking help against GBV.
“While these figures could mean a reduced prevalence of violence and abuse, it more likely points to something more worrisome--that victims are simply unable to report abuse, partly due to the quarantine measures themselves but also possibly due to their home setup. What this means is that it’s highly likely that the quarantine breeds situations that make it more difficult, if not impossible, for a victim-survivor to report crimes done against them.”
In the Philippines, the National Demographic Health Survey 2017 released by the Philippine Statistics Authority revealed that one in four Filipino women, has experienced physical, emotional, or sexual violence from their husband or partner.
An average of eight people a day have fallen victim to sexual assault in the country during the community quarantine according to data from the Philippine National Police.
In the same survey, the top three perpetrators as reported by women who experienced/were experiencing GBV were revealed to be the victim’s current husband/partner (40%); former husband/partner (27%); or other relatives (8.9%).
Additionally, an average of eight people a day have fallen victim to sexual assault in the country during the community quarantine according to data from the Philippine National Police.
It is this problematic situation where stay-at-home measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19 are potentially leading to unreported cases of GBV that has prompted the creation of FamiLigtas—a campaign that seeks to educate and build awareness among women, children, gender non-conforming, and non-binary individuals, as well as the public, about GBV in the home.
It has a social media campaign that encourages victim-survivors to seek help, and reach out to groups such as Lunas Collective that offers services such as psycho-social and legal support along with referrals to authorities who can help them stay safe.
This is crucial, because so many are suffering in silence. It took a long time for me to speak up about the domestic situation I was in, because of many factors that have deep roots in our society. I have literally been told by a barangay official that he could do anything about my complaint because, “away mag-asawa lang yan,” and I was advised to go home and be a “better wife.”
There are instances too, where people even blame the victims for the circumstance they are in. My former mother-in-law said I got what I deserved (my bumps and bruises and his unfaithfulness that bore an illegitimate child) because I won’t wake up to prepare my husband’s coffee and clothes to go to work.
Abuse takes on different forms. It does not necessarily have to be acts of physical violence. Belittling words, emotional abuse, financial abuse – these can all take a toll on the victim-survivor. It takes time to heal, and it will take a supportive community in order to achieve that.
There is hesitation for a victim-survivor to come forward and there is some hesitation for other people to get involved. The social media campaign seeks to empower more people to seek help and share help. According to Lunas Collective, a show of support can start from asking a friend how they are doing.
For FamiLigtas, the concept of family extends beyond the home. This is why a big thrust of the campaign is to go beyond awareness and encourage help-seeking behavior by promoting other support systems in place within their local communities.
As a survivor, I encourage those who are in a difficult situation and are living in fear to seek help. There are people who will support you. Whether they are family members, friends, or organizations like Lunas Collective, there is help out there.
Find someone who will listen and get support to leave your situation. You will get through this. Stay strong and stay safe.
For more information about the FamiLigtas campaign, visit https://www.facebook.com/FamiLIGTASPH