Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
Photo credit: domesticviolenceinfo.ca
Do you remember Loretta, a Mel Chionglo film based on the screenplay written by Ricardo Lee? It was one of the most controversial films of 1994 because of the Manila Film Festival Scam. It tells the story of a wife who cuts the manhood of her husband (played by Gabby Concepcion) when she could no longer endure the pains he had inflicted on her.
In another movie, Ika-11 na Utos: Mahalin Mo ang Iyong Asawa, Aiko Melendez portrayed a battered wife to an abusive husband, again played by Concepcion.
Feminists and health and social workers call those harrowing experiences as violence against women (VAW). The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993) defines VAW as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
You may be wondering why I am writing this. It’s because on November 25, our country observes the National Consciousness Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and their Children (VAWC). Also, on November 25, the 18-Day Campaign to End Violence Against Women starts, which will end on December 12.
In the Philippines, Republic Act 9262 – more popularly known as the Violence Against Women and their Children Law – was passed in 2004. It broadened the definition of abuse to include physical, emotional, and economic harm. It also made violence by an intimate partner (anyone with whom a woman has a sexual relationship) a public crime, and made it possible for anyone – not just the victim – to file a case against a perpetrator.
Intimate partner violence refers to the behavior in an intimate relationship that causes physical, sexual, or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse, and controlling behaviors.
Sexual violence is any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic or otherwise directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion by any person, regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It includes rape, defined as the physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus with man’s sexual organ, other body part, or object.
“Violence against women and girls remains one of the most pervasive problems in the world today,” said then Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte in 2021. “Attacks against women happen in workplaces, public spaces, churches and other places of worship, schools, and worse, at home.”
Gabriela, a party list dedicated to promoting the rights of marginalized and under-represented Filipino women, said that one in three women in the world gets beaten or raped in her lifetime. “In the Philippines, domestic violence is a reality that occurs once every 37 minutes,” it said.
Here is another disturbing fact from the World Health Organization (WHO): at least one in five women has been physically or sexually abused by a man at some time in her life. The United Nations health agency said that “women are more at risk from their husbands, fathers, neighbors or colleagues than they are from strangers.”
Population Reports, which I obtained from a friend, said that violence affects women’ sexual and reproductive health. “Physical violence and sexual abuse can put women at risk of infection and unwanted pregnancies directly, if women are forced to have sex or fear using contraception or condoms because of their partners’ reaction,” it said.
Around the world, as many as one woman in every four is physically or sexually abused during pregnancy, usually by her partner. “Pregnant women who have experienced violence are more likely to delay seeking prenatal care and to gain insufficient weight,” Population Reports said. “They are also more likely to have a history of sexually transmitted infections, unwanted or mistimed pregnancies, vaginal and cervical infections, kidney infections, and bleeding during pregnancy.”
Violence has also been linked with increased risk of miscarriages and abortions, premature labor, and fetal distress. Likewise, it may affect pregnancy outcomes indirectly by increasing women’s likelihood of engaging in such harmful health behaviors as smoking and alcohol and drug abuse.
“Violence has been linked to many serious health problems, both immediate and long-term,” Population Reports said. These include physical health problems, such as injury, chronic pain syndromes, and gastrointestinal disorders, and a range of mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.
What about in our country? The 2008 National Demographic Health Survey estimated that one in five Filipino women between the ages of 15 and 49 had experienced physical violence, while 14 percent of women have been physically abused by their husbands.
“Violence against women cuts across social and economic situations and is deeply embedded in cultures around the world – so much so that millions of women consider it a way of life,” wrote Cate Johnson, author of Violence Against Women: An Issue of Human Rights