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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

DSWP: Empowering battered women

Every day after work, Bing leaves the office with a heavy heart, hating every step that brings her closer to home. She's eager to be with her children, but at the same time dreads seeing her husband. And his mistress, whom he has brought home to live with them.

Enduring the presence of the other woman is not the most painful part for Bing, 42. What breaks her heart is seeing how the situation affects her children.

Bing has been suffering from abuse from her husband. But no matter how many times she's been physically, verbally and emotionally abused, she can't leave. Even if she's been made into a punching bag a number of times, her injuries sometimes serious enough to land her in hospital, she stays. She helped pay for the townhouse, and her salary, if they left, won't be enough to pay the rent and support her four children, three of whom are in high school. Her husband should leave, not them. So she waits. But he won't budge.

Bing's case, while strange to other people, does not confound social workers. Hers is just one of the bizarre stories of women suffering in the hands of their husbands, lovers and boyfriends. There are millions of abused women, as statistics show.

In 2003, a nationwide survey revealed that 2.16 million of Filipino women have at one time or another been victims of violence. One out of 10 women admitted having experienced physical abuse. And sixty-four percent of violence against women is done at home.

Two years after the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children (Anti-VAWC) Act of 2004 (RA 9262)--a law protecting women and children from abuse--was passed, abuse of women in intimate relations remains an ugly reality. Data gathered by the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP) showed that every year, the government spends P6 billion to help battered wives and abused women. And majority of the abusers, a high 93.56 percent, are the victims' husbands, live-in partners, boyfriends – in short, their intimate partners.

It is telling that 2.8 million Filipino men admitted having physically hurt someone. Of those surveyed, 39 percent said the victims were their wives, while 15 percent said the victims were their live-in partners.

Statistics culled from the Women's Crisis Center (WCC) also revealed that seven out of 10 rape survivors were abused by men they knew, while one out of three incest victims was raped by her father. Half of the victims were abused when they were below 11 years old, and 60 percent of them said their father also abused their mother. Meanwhile, 60 percent of battered wives also experienced marital rape, according to the WCC.

Slapped, punched

Men prefer slapping or punching their victims as a survey showed that 96.7 percent of victims were abused this way. Kicking is the third "favorite" mode of hurting women, 86.2 percent, followed by hair-pulling, 73.35 percent, strangling, 40 percent, pouring boiling water, 30 percent, stabbing and shooting. Pregnancy does not exempt women from physical violence, since many are also mauled even if they're heavy with child. Beth Angsioco, DSWP chairperson and Aksyon Sambayanan secretary general, said that most cases of abuse of women by their intimate partners go unreported because victims are either ashamed to let it out, or they don't know where to seek help. Many, like Bing, believe that the situation won't change even if they did report to authorities.

However, DSWP believes that with the Anti-VAWC law in effect, if it is properly implemented and understood by women, victims of violence against women may be better protected from abusive partners. The law is progressive since it covers relationships outside of marriage such as dating, live-in, and even lesbian relationships. The law also makes available to the victims a host of reliefs and services through Protection Orders (POs).

To better inform women of their rights and where to seek help in case their partners turn abusive, the DSWP, in coordination with various women's groups, recently launched a book entitled End-VAW (End Violence Against Women), a complete handbook on the Anti-VAWC law. Through this publication, Angsioco hopes that women would be emboldened to seek help, knowing that there are centers and groups to whom they can run to in times of need.

"Many women are trapped in abusive relationships because of the social pressure on them to keep the family together at all cost. Many are scared that they will not be able to provide for their children, or are too ashamed to come out as victims of domestic violence. What suffering women should realize is that there is a way out, that they need not endure physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuses because there is a law that protects them from violence, a law that can shield them from abusive husbands or lovers. Women should realize that they have rights," Angsioco said.


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