Shine more light on gender-based violence in remote areas

We write to correct certain misperceptions and misunderstandings about sexual violence that may have been inadvertently caused by your recent three-part series on sexual violence on Dec. 26-28. The Inquirer series correctly points out that domestic and sexual violence against women is underreported because of factors including the stigma associated with it, victim-blaming, insensitive court procedures that retraumatizes victim-survivors, and the real threat posed to women who report these incidents. What was not discussed, however, is how these incidents are further shrouded in remote areas where women cannot even report, and in areas where class and culture play a huge part in preventing reporting to formal authorities.

Take the Bangsamoro, for example. Most incidents are reported in large urban centers such as Cotabato City and Isabela City than in other urban centers and least of all in rural areas. Based on International Alert Philippines’ subnational monitoring system Conflict Alert, more gender-related issues occurred in these capital cities from 2011 to 2019 than in all ARMM provinces combined. This is largely because the systems for monitoring such violence is only robust in these areas, enabling victims to report to police in the urban centers. The monitoring system is biased against the rural poor in many cases and, in the urban centers, most of the reports portray the sort of issues that underlie urban youth and middle-class concerns, single parenthood, and attacks against the LGBT. To be sure, these concerns are critical and equally significant, but they only paint half of the picture.

In Basilan, some cases are headed off or “settled” at the barangay level using customary law, while others are not reported at all. We should beware the idealization of customary laws that are often biased against women in the first place. Hence, many victims and their families in indigenous Teduray communities in Maguindanao, for example, would settle grievances outside formal institutions to save face and adhere to hierarchical and oftentimes despotic practices. While the PNP has encouraged the reporting of gender-based violence by setting up Women and Children’s Protection Desks manned by policewomen, it cannot do anything about cases that are settled informally.

Many reported incidents are cloaked in mystery. The confidentiality provisions in the country’s violence against women and children law prevent access to data on the types, causes, manifestations, and costs of gender-based violence that are already available in many police reports and to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

It is ironic that the law that should uphold the rights of the women and their protection from abusive and violent behavior is the same law that restricts access to data important in understanding conditions that explain violence against women. As a result, in-depth analysis of the effect of gender-based violence through cross-tabulations and correlations using related issues cannot be undertaken.

Yes, violence against women is a systemic problem that demands “cultural and structural overhaul” as Inquirer’s report pointed out — but this should also include training our sight on examining the problem in places where it is not talked about, in ensuring ways to make robust monitoring possible, and in supporting creative methodologies for consolidating and studying gendered data.

International Alert Philippines