Women are known to have better intuition, patience, emotional focus, compassion and networking ability. The list of female strengths is endless. Throughout history, the world has witnessed many great women of strength who managed to tap into their Everyday Power to leave a permanent mark on society.

However, amidst the heaviness of their responsibilities lies a violence untold that will surely leave a scar for the rest of their lives. There are stories that victims are not that strong to fight for their rights.

Candy, (not her real name) works as a cashier in one of the retail stores in one of the malls in Baguio City is one of those hundreds of women who are abused. For years, she has endured her relationship with Jimmy (not his real name), her live-in partner, despite of the various abuses she is experiencing. She hoped that Jimmy will change to a better person someday and that is the reason she has endured all.

Candy met Jimmy three years ago after a failed relationship. At first, Jimmy was a loving, kind and perfect partner to her and her two-year old daughter. As time goes by, Jimmy’s attitude transformed into the negative after losing his job last April because the establishment where he works for closed permanently due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With Candy keeping her job, he became paranoid and possessive leading to physical and verbal abuses. This is just one of those hundreds of unreported cases of Violence Against Women (VAW) in the Philippines.

Violence against women (VAW) is a grave violation of women’s rights and fundamental freedoms. It manifests deep-seated discrimination and gender inequality and continues to be one of the country’s perennial social problems. The National Demographic Health Survey 2017, released by the Philippine Statistics Authority, showed that 1 in 4 Filipino women, aged 15-49, has experienced physical, emotional or sexual violence from their husband or partner. While the global estimates by the World Health Organization indicate that about 1 in 3 women (35%) worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence from intimate partner or non-partner in their lifetime.

VAW is one of the country’s pervasive social problems and various measures and mechanisms have been employed and implemented to address it. One of which is the 18-Day Campaign to End VAW, an advocacy campaign that is observed annually from November 25 to December 12 as mandated by Proclamation 1172 s. 2006

The 18-Day Campaign to End VAW supports the 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. By virtue of Republic Act 10398 or the Act declaring November 25 of every year as the National Consciousness Day for the Elimination of VAWC, government agencies are mandated to raise awareness on the problem of violence and the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls.

In 2006, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Proclamation 1172, extending the national campaign to 18 days, thereby including December 12, a historic date that marked the signing in the year 2000 of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, to supplement the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crimes.

The 2020 Campaign comes at a time when the country is reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic that aggravated underlying gender issues and affected marginalized and vulnerable sectors. Women may experience different forms of VAW while locked down in their homes with the perpetrators, with tension rising from uncertainties in health, security, and economy creating a perfect storm. The implementation of varying community quarantine measures also hindered victims to seek help, report the abuse, and/or escape their perpetrators due to the suspension of public transportation, strict orders to stay home, and limited issuance of quarantine passes. Sexual harassment, victim-blaming, and several instances of online forms of VAW were also observed.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the challenge of strengthening the functionality of Barangay VAW Desks, as the first line of response for survivors. Data from DILG’s 2019 National Statistical Report on the Functionality of VAW Desks reflect that only 19% of assessed barangays have reached the highest level of functionality. The Commission sees an opportunity to align this year’s campaign towards strengthening local mechanisms and building on the required competencies of barangay officials in responding to VAW/GBV-related situations.

Therefore, this year’s campaign highlights the role and essence of the Barangay, as part of a VAW-free community, in consonance with the recurring theme “VAW-free community starts with Me”. Aside from capacitating VAW Desk Officers and other barangay officials on how to handle VAW/GBC cases, the campaign reiterates everyone’s commitment and contributions on ending VAW and calls on the general public to make a personal commitment to end violence against women and children.

This campaign aims to promote awareness on the forms of violence women and girls experience; provide information on laws protecting women and girls; feature VAW-related services that people can access and avail; and promote the strengthening of a prevention and response system on VAW; and gather public support for the campaign.

18-Day Campaign Online Advocacy encourages everyone to share their advocacy activities online through the following: Use of official hashtag: #VAWFreePH and making their posts public to generate traction online; use of 18-Day Campaign to End VAW Facebook Profile Frame available through the PCW FB page; feature the 18-Day Campaign to End VAW in agency websites and social media account and share the social media cards that PCW will release through its official Facebook and Twitter accounts.

As Malala Yousafzai said “I raise up my voice—not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. … We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”

END/Patrick T Rillorta