Gender-based violence survivors have recourse in national emergency hotline

By Patricia Mirasol

The national government’s 911 emergency hotline now also provides support to gender-based violence (GBV) survivors. Calls coursed through the free and 24/7 hotline previously usually included reports on fire, police, medical, and search and rescue assistance. All GBV distress callers will get psychosocial first aid and are assured of confidentiality.

GBV is a term that refers to any harmful threat or act directed at an individual or group based on actual or perceived biological sex, gender identity and/or expression.

“The Department pledges to help all women and children who experienced gender-based violence, to providing [all women and children who experience GBV] with social protection, services, and interventions to assist them towards their healing,” said Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) secretary Rolando Joselito D. Bautista, in a press statement.

The Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) for the hotline’s inclusion of GBV distress calls was signed by the DSWD, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the Department of Justice in a virtual ceremony on Dec. 7, in time for this year’s 18-Day Campaign to End Violence Against Women (VAW).

The campaign was enacted by the Inter-Agency Council on Violence Against Women with the 2016-2021 theme, a “VAW-Free Community Starts with Me.” The 2017 National Demographic Health Survey, released by the Philippine Statistics Authority, showed that one in four Filipino women, aged 15-49, has experienced physical, emotional, or sexual violence by their husband or partner. An additional 68% of girls and young women in the country have experienced online harassment on social media.

“There’s a greater awareness nowadays with regard to GBV,” said Jasmine T. Cruz, events coordinator of Time’s Up Ateneo (TUA), described as a “collective of survivors and advocates fighting against sexual violence and impunity in Ateneo de Manila and beyond.”

TUA, she told BusinessWorld in an e-mail, is creating a network of school-based anti-sexual violence groups called the Haliya Network. Among the network members are the FEUHSDoBetter Movement, Theresians Against Sexual Harassment and Abuse, and Knollers For Knollers.

Apart from economic vulnerability, culture is also a contributing factor to GBV. The World Health Organization (WHO) said cultural and social norms can either protect against or support violence. Social tolerance of violent behavior, it said in a 2009 paper, is learned in childhood by — among others — witnessing violence in the family as well as in the media.

Ms. Cruz told BusinessWorld a Filipino movie she saw showed convicts who almost successfully escaped jail — except they were caught when one of them blurted out, “Hi, sexy,” to a woman who was passing by.

“Women are constantly bombarded by these sexually charged words, and it makes women feel unsafe and disrespected,” she said. “When pop culture portrays these instances as something that’s just funny or harmless, it encourages a culture that doesn’t take GBV seriously, thus [allowing for its] perpetuation and escalation in society.”

Mass media campaigns, according to WHO, can convey messages on healthy behaviors by attaching a social stigma to unwanted behavior. Campaigns can likewise make positive appeals, like promoting parenting styles that contribute to a happy family life. Strong audience identification with characters who are positive role models can also help improve cultural and social norms, WHO said.