The problem of violence against women and children - Blueboard by Diana J Mendoza, PhD

December 03, 2019
Every year from November 25 to December 12, the Philippines observes an 18-Day Cam-paign to End Violence Against Women (VAW).  This annual 18-day campaign was inspired by the global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, an international cam-paign coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. First launched in 1991, the core 16 Days of Activism against VAW takes place every year beginning on November 25 and ending on December 10  which is an International Human Rights Day, hence, af-firming that violence against women is a human rights violation. 
The Philippines joined the global campaign in 2002 through the Philippine Commission on Women.     In 2006, the national campaign was extended to 18 days to include December 12 to mark the signing in 2000 of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Traf-ficking in Persons, especially Women and Children and to supplement the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crimes. 
Through Proclamation 1172, November 25 to December 12 of every year was declared as the "18-Day Campaign to End Violence against Women in the Philippines”.  November 25 of every year was also declared as the National Consciousness Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Children (VAWC) by virtue of Republic Act 10398 signed in 2013.
For the years 2016-2021, “VAW-free community starts with me” is the Philippine’s cam-paign theme in its annual observance of the 18-Day Campaign to End VAW.  Led by the Philippine Commission on Women in coordination with Inter-Agency Council on Violence Against Women and Children (IACVAWC), “the campaign emphasizes everyone’s com-mitment and contributions on ending VAW, and presents an ideal picture of a VAW-free community, thus inspiring the general public to make a personal commitment to end vio-lence against women and children.” (Philippine Commission on Women)
Almost 16 years ago, the Philippine Congress passed RA 9262 or the "Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004.” The law was considered as a policy breakthrough as it provides a comprehensive policy regime that addresses the problem of VAWC in the country.  By addressing the limitations and/or inadequacies of the country’s previous laws, the law creates a better policy environment to deal with issues of VAWC.  
The Anti-VAWC law recognizes violence against women and their children as a public crime. It defines VAW so broadly that economic abuse is recognized and penalized under the law. It extends protection to all women victims, regardless of their marital or civil sta-tus. The law also provides legal and social remedies that protect and secure the rights and interests of the woman as victim.  Lastly, the law recognizes and penalizes marital rape as a crime.  
Almost 16 years now since the passage of the Anti-VAWC law, has the Philippines be-come a VAWC-free country?   
The results of the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) by the Philip-pine Statistical Authority (PSA) would show otherwise. The 2017 NDHS is the sixth DHS survey to be conducted in the Philippines in collaboration with the worldwide Demographic and Health Surveys Program, and the 11th national DHS in all. It covered a nationally rep-resentative sample of 25,074 women age 15-49 in 27,496 surveyed households across the 17 regions in the country.
Violence against women in various forms continue to exist as reported in the 2017 NDHS. Nonetheless, the 2017 NDHS survey recorded a decline of violence against women from the previous 2013 and 2008 surveys. 
For instance, “Spousal violence experienced by ever-married women by their current or most recent husband/partner, whether physical, sexual, or emotional has declined slightly from 29% in 2008 and 26% in 2013 to 24% in 2017. Women’s experience of physical vio-lence has decreased slightly over time, from 20% in 2008 and 2013 to 17% in 2017. Simi-larly, women’s experience of physical violence in the 12 months preceding the survey has declined slightly, from 7% in 2008 to 5% in 2017. Women’s experience of sexual violence declined from 8% in 2008 to 5% in 2017.” (NDHS 2017)
Two alarming findings from the 2017 NDHS survey, however, deserve urgent attention from policymakers and implementers. First, while women’s experience of injuries as a re-sult of spousal physical or sexual violence decreased from 41% in 2013 to 37% in 2017, the figure in 2017 is still higher than the 36% recorded in 2008. Second, while the re-spondents were aware of the legal and social remedies and protection measures provided by the Anti-VAWC law, still, women who have experienced physical or sexual violence sought help from their own family (65%), followed by friends (18%) and neighbors (10%). Six percent of women have sought help from the police. These results mirror 2013 and 2008 survey findings.
These key findings prompt us to raise more questions. One, why don’t women who have experienced violence in various forms do not resort to the legal and social protection measures provided by the Anti-VAWC law? Two, are the legal and social interventions by the government agencies mandated to address VAWC poorly implemented and enforced?  Three, aren’t the Filipino publics highly informed, and not just aware, about VAW as a hu-man rights violation and the legal and social remedies that they can access and resort to for help?
Perhaps, the next NDHS survey will consider these questions to aid our policymakers and implementers for future policy planning and implementation. Perhaps, too, national gov-ernment and local government units take these findings more seriously so that the women who have experienced violence do not remain as plain statistics or numbers, nameless and faceless. Rather, let these findings be the voice of these women who have been con-tinuously silenced, either by the  society or by the law.
Diana J. Mendoza, PhD, is Chair of the Department of Political Science at the Ateneo de Manila University.