SCHOOLS: A Battleground Between Safety and Danger for Women

Text by Alison Caitlin Cruz

The plight of gender-based violence and harassment seems to be a perpetual war fought on an invisible battleground where justice struggles to prevail. From the murder of transwoman Jennifer Laude in 2014 to the rape and slay of Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) Jeanelyn Villavende in Kuwait earlier this year, the cases of abuse in between have been countless.

Meanwhile, harassers and abusers in the Philippines are undaunted because President Rodrigo Duterte is a perpetrator himself— carelessly making sexist remarks and jokes about rape. Regardless of one’s place in society, no one should be excused for such behavior, nor should be tolerated.

This is exactly why the One Billion Rising (OBR) movement continues to forward its calls: to cease brutalities committed against women. 

Marching inside the academic oval, the campaign did not miss this year’s opportunity to unite progressive organizations in UP Diliman. Among these groups were Gabriela Youth UPD, League of Filipino Students, and Education Network (E-Net) Philippines, with each speaking their advocacies.

A single message stood out in all of their speeches as most of them condemned school-related harassment cases; an irony that lays heavy a burden on institutions that are supposedly safe spaces for all.

Mitzi Chan of E-Net Philippines took the platform to emphasize the uncertainty of female students’ welfare and safety inside their schools.

Bilang isang education network na pushing for educational reforms, ang panawagan namin ay for ensuring safe schools for girls and women,” she said.

(“As an education network for educational reforms, we call to ensure safe schools for girls and women,” she said.)

This concern referred to a handful of school-related sexual harassment cases. Among them was the case involving a University of Santo Tomas (UST) Fine Arts student  who was allegedly sexually harassed by an engineering student in 2017. 

The school’s administration added insult to injury in sanctioning the victim and giving her parents a notice of resolution. Such treatment mirrors the current condition of our society, where the victim becomes the suspect, silenced by other people’s judgments and scoldings. 

A similar case occurred in 2019 when a professor from Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) was accused of sexually harassing his students on separate occasions. The case appalled enough people – both students and teachers – to protest for his resignation. However, the school’s initial lack of response further angered the aggrieved. The inaction of the institution was said to be one of the reasons why victims shy away from telling their stories. 

Such cases could have been covered by the Safe Spaces Act or the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression (SOGIE) Equality bill, but having seen that most senators opposed it only proves the current Philippine government sees no urgency in fighting gender-based violence and inequality. 

Members of the UP Diliman community were outraged when an anonymous twitter user leaked screenshots of conversations and photos of women engaging in sexual acts last year. The scandal was linked to the Sigma Rho Fraternity.

Despite the existence of the Safe Spaces Act or the “Bawal Bastos” law where catcalling, staring or stalking are punishable by law, harassers seem to be unfazed as women continue to be taunted anywhere. 

Social media is still rife with posts of girls ranting about being catcalled or abused on their way to or while inside their schools. Since most victims become too shocked to speak out in fear of being either ignored or victim-blamed, they turn to video recording to expose harassers and abusers. The circulation of these videos may not always put the perpetrators behind bars, but they serve as warnings to other women.

While there is ongoing frustration with how complacent the justice system is on gender-based harassment and violence in schools, there remains a spark of hope for women to pursue empowerment and justice nonetheless. 

In a statement, Gabriela Youth (GY) UPD condemned the feudal-patriarchal system being propagated under President Duterte´s administration. They also emphasized  how macho-fascist attacks worsen everyday, especially with the targeting of women-leader activists. On February 7 this year, five activists were illegally arrested in Tacloban, two of whom used to be GY members.

“GY UPD challenges our university not just to take a stand but to manifest that stand through pro-actively serving justice where it is due as well as listening and acting upon the calls against impunity,”  they said.

Dancing to the OBR Anthem, women showcased their grace, strength and bravery. With the words “Bangon, Babae, Bangon”, all are encouraged to rise despite the atrocities one has faced.

With a smile of fulfillment, Tourism student Sophia Jose joined the movement at the Palma Hall steps as a way of supporting victims of gender-based violence. 

“Until today, we women have been struggling to fight for our rights and equality. And this has been hard especially in this time when those who are in power are the ones who have been showing misogynistic acts and remarks,” she stated. 

“OBR for me is an avenue to call out these people to stop and end the abuse against women. What women need is to feel safe and to be treated equally in this society,” Jose added.

With the growing alliances formed under the OBR, the fight to instill feminism in the patriarchal society pushes through. And because of this, safety and awareness seem to have a fighting chance on the battleground.

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