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Keep speaking up vs sexual harassment, advocates say 

by Leila Salaverria

DO people speak up when they see women and girls being harassed in public?

A social experiment conducted by the Philippine Commission on Women found that in three different scenarios, people did react and came to the aid of harassed women, in varying degrees. 

In one of the PCW’s scenarios, a teenage girl who sat on a bench in an Intramuros park was badgered by two young men who were asking for her name and contact details. The men continued to follow her even if she asked them to leave her alone and transferred to other benches to get away from them.  

The harassment only stopped when the people in the area came to her aid, approaching the young men and telling them to leave the girl alone as she was not interested in getting to know them.

Rainier Delos Santos, one of the students who came to her rescue, said what the two men were doing was still harassment.

“Nasasaktan din po yung babae, not physical but emotional,” Delos Santos said.

Another student, Lailah Macawile, said she was motivated to speak up in defense of the girl because she had male companions with her and there were policemen in the area. 

In another scenario, two men in a jeepney kept on making lewd comments about the legs of a female student who was in a short skirt. They kept on following the girl even if she transferred seats. 

A fellow passenger gave the girl a sweater so that she could cover her legs. Another passenger, Ricamae Imboy, called her father, a policeman, on the phone to ask for help for the girl, as she was scared to confront the two men on her own. 

The third experiment had a man trying to recruit two young women in public to work as waitresses, but also hinted that they would be required to be a bit intimate with customers. 

People in the area who overheard the conversation warned the two women to stay away from the recruiter as his job offer was shady. They advised the women to look for other jobs instead.

Speak up

These social experiments showed that people took action to help women in distress even if not all of these people were that familiar with laws protecting women, such as the Violence Against Women and Their Children Act and the Safe Spaces Act, according to PCW Deputy Executive Director Maria Kristine Josefina Balmes.

In some cases, people just know by instinct that something wrong is being done, said Balmes.

Balmes and other stakeholders and advocates called on the public to keep on speaking up in defense of women, showing them support, and educating others about the laws that are in place to protect them. 

“Layon ng VAW social experiment na maging eye opener sa ating mga kababayan, mapa victim-survivor, nakakasaksi ng VAW, advocates, at duty bearers. Sama-sama tayong isulong ang lipunan na malaya sa karahasan sa kababaihan,” she said. 

Have no fear

The social experiments showed that all it takes to get people to start speaking out and taking action to protect women is the courage of one person to point out the wrong that is being done, according to Marlon Peralta, Gender and Development coordinator of the Department of National Defense.

Peralta said he saw that fear prevents individuals from helping those in need. But they become braver when they are in a group and get the courage to speak up to help pthers.

“I saw in the video that someone just needs to start. Someone just needs to take that courage to start speaking out and the rest will follow,” he said. 

Rosalyn Mesina, country program coordinator of UN Women Philippines, said there are many stories of abuse against women that have yet to be uncovered and which need action.

This should spur stakeholders and advocates to ensure that people are familiar with the laws protecting women against violence and harassment, said Mesina. 

Women need help and support, she stressed.

“Sabi nga, ang buhay kailangan push lang palagi. Ate girl, wag kang hihinto, wag kang susuko. Kailangan push lang. Pero hindi natin pwede asahan ang bawat kababaihan na ibangon ang kanilang sarili,” she said.

“Sa kabila ng kagustuhan nilang pagbangon, mahalaga ang suporta nating lahat, at mahalaga ang aksyon na hinihingi ng ating mga mandato,” she added. 

But they should also go beyond their mandate and make sure that women and children know that there should be no space for violence against them.

The PCW shared the videos of its social experiments as it launched its 18-day campaign to end violence against women last week.



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