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A ‘shadow pandemic’: How domestic violence rose amid COVID-19

From March to December 2020, as lockdown restrictions remained in place across the country, the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) received 521 requests for assistance on domestic violence incidents. The Philippine National Police, meanwhile, recorded 15,553 cases of violence against women (VAW) last year. While there was an observed drop in reports compared to the previous year, there remains a concern that a large number of cases go unreported and that the actual figure is much higher.

Indeed, the University of the Philippines (UP) Population Institute estimated in October that about 838,000 married women would have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner in a nine and a half month period under quarantine—a far cry from what was recorded in official figures. The PCW believes that this slump in cases can be attributed to restricted movement in communities and the lack of knowledge on where and how to report these cases. As quarantine measures persist, a “shadow pandemic”—as the United Nations describes it—continues with women victims at a greater risk while stuck at home with their abusers. 

Anguish indoors

The Commission on Population and Development, in a report released last March amid the celebration of Women’s Month, reiterated the importance of protecting women, citing a Social Weather Stations survey which found that one out of four adult Filipinos believed violence is among the most pressing problems women are facing in the present health crisis. This is because lockdown measures require people to spend more time at home, making some victims more exposed to the abusers that they live with.

Gabriela Youth UP Diliman Chairperson Catherine Basallote reasons that the underlying cause in this rise of incidents is multi-faceted, spanning cultural, social, and economic issues. 

However, she emphasizes that the main driver is patriarchy. “With patriarchy mixed with capitalism, men get to see women as objects and as something they own, they can use and abuse,” Basallote explains.

Worsening economic conditions within a household could also serve as a trigger for abuse, she adds, as tension commonly arises when couples struggle to meet basic needs. PCW echoes Basallote’s statements, citing difficulty in procuring basic food and non-food supplies due to unemployment and dwindling financial resources as a possible cause for abuse inside homes. “These are expected to potentially weaken family stability and provoke household tensions especially between spouses/partners,” the commission writes to The LaSallian.

Sustaining safe spaces

To combat the rise of domestic violence, PCW leads an Anti Violence Against Women advocacy campaign in partnership with local government units and non-government organizations. An annual 18-day campaign to end VAW has also been put in place. 

Taking community quarantine measures into consideration, PCW has initiated a consolidated list of VAW phone hotlines on its website and Facebook page, guaranteeing access to important information to encourage victims or concerned citizens report VAW incidents.

Similarly, Basallote shares Gabriela Youth UP Diliman contributes to ending VAW by providing legal services for victims. They have also begun SH-OUT Now, a campaign which seeks to fight against sexual harassment especially in schools and universities. Aside from these actions, Basallote says that these “systemic issues” can be addressed by advocating for better laws and policies. 

Though classes are currently being held online, DLSU also remains open to receive reports of abuse from members of the community. With the recent establishment of the Lasallian Center for Inclusion, Diversity, and Wellbeing, Director Dr. Estesa Legaspi says that they aim to raise more awareness on the help they can extend and are open to providing victims legal aid as well as medical and psychological support. 

DLSU’s Safe Spaces Policy, which was approved in November last year, covers a broad range of sexual offenses, including physical assault and threats. As part of these policies, the University is currently developing an internal grievance body, the Committee on Decorum and Investigation, dedicated to act as the main body in the investigation and resolution of cases of all forms of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Legaspi believes that the awareness of these support systems enables victims to speak up and become empowered. “It doesn’t mean that if it’s not reported, it’s not happening,” she remarks.

“By talking about these things that were or are still considered taboo,” Basallote notes, “women are empowered to speak up and take actions. Most importantly, women will feel that they aren’t alone and that there are others who are willing to help them speak up and take actions too. It doesn’t have to be an individual burden. We collectively struggle and unite.”

By Barbara Gutierrez

By Helen Saudi

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