“Hi, miss.” “Ngiti naman dyan, idol.” (Smile, idol) “Sabayan na kita, beh.” (Let me walk you, beh.)
These are just some of the many unsolicited remarks I receive on the streets of Quezon City every single day. Hearing these catcalls from strangers, even when I’m wearing jogger pants and a loose shirt, always created unnecessary worry and fear whenever I leave home. And there are many more like me who deal with worse experiences all too frequently.
Thankfully, local governments are slowly making strides to create a safe and secure environment for women. This month, the QC local government headed by Mayor Herbert Bautista launched an ordinance criminalizing street harassment.
Light violations (verbal harassment which covers catcalling and whistling) and medium violations (visual harassment and stalking) warrant imprisonment of up to 30 days or a fine of Php1000 to 5000. Severe violations which include physical sexual harassment can put the perpetrator behind bars from one month to a year and a fine of Php3000 to 5000.
The ordinance has received widespread support from netizens, expressing relief and lauding QC for making the city a safer place for women. The city’s promotional video immediately went viral on Facebook with over 14 thousand shares and half a million views.
Late last year, Quezon City joined UN Women’s #FreeFromFear Safe Cities campaign, which aims to address street harassment and sexual violence in public spaces by developing, implementing, and evaluating tools, policies, and comprehensive approaches on the prevention of and response to sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls across different settings.
What exactly is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome advances that are sexual in nature, according to the UN. It may take the form of physical, emotional, and verbal conduct that causes distress, fear, and anxiety in the victim.
Early this year, a Social Weather Stations Survey conducted in Bagong Silangan and Payatas, Quezon City revealed that 3 out of 5 women have experienced sexual harassment at one point in their lives. Seventy percent of these women were harassed by strangers; 58% of them said the incident occurred in the streets – of this 70% of happened in broad daylight.
Why is this issue important?
Everyday, women are subject to the threat of sexual harassment and violence, limiting their freedom to work, get an education, participate in community events, or simply enjoy their neighborhood.
In 2013, there were 23,865 cases of violence against women alone, according to the Philippine National Police – Women and Children Protection Center—a large jump from 15,969 cases in 2012. The increase in reports may sound alarming, but that also means more and more people are speaking up and reporting it to authorities. This can be attributed to increase in awareness and support from the local government as well as the community, including social media.
Despite this, if the SWS survey is any indication, sexual harassment is still prevalent in our society. Among the male respondents, 60 percent admitted harassing women at least once, regardless of the offenders’ educational and employment background. These numbers prove that there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of educating both genders about this issue.
What are the existing laws and policies related to it?
Aside from the Quezon City local ordinance, the Philippines has several laws in place that cover sexual harassment. These are Anti-Sexual Harassment Act implemented in 1995, the amended Anti-Rape law in 1997, the Rape Victim Assistance Act in 1998, and the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act in 2004.
What can I do to stop harassment?
Take a stand. But do so when it’s safe. Respond by telling him what he’s saying or doing is wrong and offensive. Many men are under the impression that catcalling is a compliment, so let them know it’s not.
Spread awareness. Talk to your mother, father, sister, brother, relatives, and friends about it. Tell them what they can do or the legal steps they can take when it happens to them or if they see someone being harassed. Be vocal about it on social media. The more people you influence, the more people will realize that harassment is not just some minor incident that we can turn a blind eye on.