RGS Articles

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.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Four Gods

Most political commentaries on the recent elections in the United States focused on the victory of the liberal Democrats over the conservative Republicans. But my American friends, most of whom are, well, liberals and Democrats, have been pointing out that you can be a conservative Democrat (which many of the winners were) as well as a (sort of) liberal Republican. Which is why I thought readers might be interested in the results of a recent survey by Baylor University in Texas, where an Institute of Religion has been conducting public opinion surveys for several years now.

Baylor, incidentally, is a Baptist university. The latest survey, released in September, focused on American concepts of God, which the social scientists found to relate to political views as well.

Big picture

Let's get a big picture first of the four concepts of God that came up in the surveys. As we run through the concepts, you might want to think of your own notions of God.

The researchers found that 31 percent of their respondents see God as an Authoritarian God, who influences global as well as personal events and is often angry. Not surprisingly, these are the ones who also tend to believe in the death penalty, who support the war in Iraq.

The ones who believe in an Authoritarian God are the biggest group, which might explain why George W. Bush got reelected in 2004 and why his policies on Iraq were so uncritically supported -- until recently.

The survey did find that 24 percent of respondents believe in a Distant God, someone who sets the laws of nature in motion but does not actively intervene in the world. Obviously such a God would not be angry or punishing.

The Distant God believers are about the same in number as those who believe in a Benevolent God, one who does intervene in our daily lives, but not in anger or in retribution. The Benevolent God believers accounted for 23 percent of respondents. As you might have guessed, the Distant God and Benevolent God believers are less likely to support the death penalty. People with higher incomes, and higher education also tend toward concepts of a Distant God and Benevolent God, which makes you wonder about how religion relates to the sense of control we have over our own lives and circumstances.

Votes and religion

I was constantly tuned to the US National Public Radio during the last election campaign and I could see new variations and configurations in the interactions between religion and politics. An example comes with the "conservatives" that Bush and the Republican Party had pinned their hopes on. Usually, the conservative agenda, which links to the notion of an Authoritarian God, is associated with support for the death penalty, American intervention in Iraq, opposition to abortion and gay marriages.

But fissures began to emerge in the recent elections, such as conservatives who were opposed to abortion but felt more compassion was needed for gays, including possible support for gay marriages. There were, too, conservative evangelical Christians who were beginning to wonder if their involvement in politics, and their acquiring power, was beginning to corrupt Christianity. Rick Warren, who was in the Philippines recently, is one of those conservative Christians who is talking more now about involvement in social issues.

There was more then to all this than the type of God that Americans believe in. The votes definitely related to broader concepts about how one translates one's religious values into political involvement. It's not surprising then that religious conservatives also speak out now for environmental conservation. A campaign initiated two or three years ago, "What Would Jesus Drive?" speculated that if Christ were here today, he wouldn't be driving a gas-guzzling Ford Expedition or one of the other SUVs. The campaign said he'd drive a smaller vehicle -- or take public transport and walk.


The Baylor study reminds us that there are many different types of beliefs in God, and in the supernatural. If similar studies were conducted in Asia, we'd find even more variations. Buddhism, for example, is basically non-theistic: It does talk about a creator God, or about a God intervening in people's lives. The buddhas are not gods; they were humans who have managed to break free from the cycles of reincarnation by cutting off all attachments to the material.

Now, at the level of popular culture, many Buddhists do pray to the buddhas much as Christians would to God, asking for help, so there we see some kind of an intervening God.

The Social Weather Stations has conducted surveys in the past on how Filipinos perceive their own religiosity and, as expected, many do see themselves as very religious. But I'd like to see surveys on specific beliefs and practices, including our perceptions of God, and how this might shape our behavior in non-religious spheres of life.

I suspect the majority of Filipinos believe in a somewhat distant but intervening God, literally a "tatay" [father] in the stereotyped sense. Natural disasters and personal misfortunes are often seen as "gaba," punishment from God, but we also tend to see our relationships with that God as negotiable. We bargain all the time, vowing to do several novenas or have ourselves nailed to the cross in Lent, on condition that a certain favor is granted. I'd be curious to see what we bargain for as well. From admittedly unscientific eavesdropping on people's conversations, I've heard it all, from patients asking to be healed from a serious illness, to students asking to pass a particularly difficult subject, to sex workers praying for more customers.

We are monotheistic, but we also believe in all-powerful saints. I suspect the belief in the Trinity allows us to believe in an authoritarian distant God the Father, and a more intervening benevolent God the Son, including the tiny but terrible Santo Niño, or Holy Child.

Then, too, there's the Virgin Mary and a plethora of saints, who act as intercessors or go-betweens. Our patriarchal society might be reflected in our beliefs in an Authoritarian God, but we are, too, a matricentric society where women can be very powerful, and that is reflected in our Mama Mary complex.

And we haven't even gone into Filipino animist beliefs that see the human world as constantly interacting with other worlds of supernatural and preternatural spirits, benevolent and malevolent.

Perhaps ultimately, we need to understand not so much how the Filipino looks at God as how we interpret morality, what is right and what is "kasalanan" ("sin" or wrong-doing). Maybe the tension isn't so much between an Authoritarian and Benevolent God than between ideas of "personal" and "social" sin. When we see sin mainly in terms of having missed Mass, or using the contraceptive pill, then we lose sight of the need to address social sin, such as cheating in elections, stealing through corruption, failing to provide decent social services for fellow Filipinos.

By Dr. Michael L. Tan. Published on Page A15 of the November 15, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Roman Inquisition

For a thousand years the Catholic Church has been a refuge for gay men. Now Pope Benedict hopes to "purify" his priesthood.

JoAnn Wypijewski
November/December 2005 Issue

Unlike some Catholics of a certain age, who moan that the sex abuse scandal that burst onto the front pages almost four years ago shattered their faith in the presumed purity of priests, I didn't grow up with the notion of priests as saints. Those in my acquaintance ate too much, smoked like stacks, bet on horses, and earned our allegiance, or didn't, by the quality of their hearts. Saints, in any case, were dead, and I was vaguely aware of my own childish hubris in aspiring to be one. It was much later that I realized many of the saints weren't even saints, in the colloquial sense of the word.

As if to underscore that fact, in the midst of the scandal, in 2002 Pope John Paul II canonized a man who not only wrestled with devils, flagellated himself to bleeding, fasted to the point of collapse, and bore the stigmata but was also accused of having had sexual dalliances with women and of pomading his hair, perfuming his body, and wearing makeup. The Vatican once forbade Padre Pio,or Saint Pio da Pietrelcina as he is now called, from teaching teenage boys and hearing the confessions of women. The ladies had taken to fighting each other for the chance to repent their sins before this voluptuary of suffering. He took money in the confessional, and Rome was so unsettled by the extravagance of his mysticism and his
cult that twice it put him under investigation. His own order, the Capuchins, bugged his cell after accusations arose that he brought women there. He died, in 1968, addicted to Valium and downers.

As Michael Bronski noted in a fascinating Boston Phoenix column unearthing this at the time of the canonization, saints are made as object lessons, and by elevating Pio, a doctrinal conservative, in a period of internal upheaval, the pope surely reinforced the ancient Catholicism of miracle, mystery, and authority. And yet,there is something oddly modern about it all, too, this example of colossal frailty, of ambiguity at the edge of hysteria and holiness. Not long before, the Vatican had insisted on modifications in the American bishops' "zero-tolerance" policy toward accused priests, saying its stipulation to remove permanently from ministry anyone with a single accusation of sex with a minor, whatever the circumstances and however long ago, did not adequately allow for due process and forgiveness.

Perhaps unwittingly, the pope expressed something as significant by offering the pancaked visage of Saint Pio for contemplation in a period of puffed-up righteousness, reminding Catholics, among them the legion of bishops looking to fix blame everywhere but in their own offices, that our embarrassment, our shame, is us.

Three years on, the Vatican has piled embarrassment on embarrassment,settling the debate initiated then between liberal reformers and reactionary prelates, as it was bound to, in favor of the reactionaries. Reformers had called for democracy,accountability, transparency. Some challenged celibacy,some suggesting that if only priests and bishops had been married with children, the abuse, or at least the silence around it, would not have occurred. That last argument, nonsense given the prevalence of family violence, gave backhanded assent to the reactionaries' simpler verdict on the scandal: the homosexuals did it. JPII encouraged that line of reasoning, if such it can be called, by ordering seminaries to reject candidates with "obvious signs of deviations," a stipulation that would have disqualified Pio the moment he first raised the whip against himself.

Pope Benedict XVI has now systematized it. Church investigators are scrutinizing America's 229 seminaries for "evidence of homosexuality," "signs of particular friendships," and all-around adherence to the Vatican's official teaching of homophobia. When the investigation was revealed in August, its overseer, Edwin O'Brien, who is also archbishop for the U.S. military, said the seminary is no place
for queers, however virginal or scrupulously chaste.

The shoe waiting to drop is a purge of gay priests, men whose sexuality Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia once declared "a moral evil." It's all part of what Benedict, with Teutonic economy, described as "purifying" the church. Put another way, by a gay priest in New York who asked to be nameless, "Everyone fears the knock at the door in the middle of the night."

Reformers and the press are appalled by the church's gay panic. They point out, rightly, that there is no statistical correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia, that gay priests are no more likely to flout celibacy than straight ones, and that, while numbers are mushy, many therapists concur that in the universe of priestly victims the vast majority are girls and women. Half the membership of SNAP, or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, for example, are women. The group's president, David Clohessy, was astounded that the New York Times, in breaking news of the seminary investigation, reported without qualification the American bishops' calculation that "about 80 percent of the young people victimized by priests were boys." Clohessy distrusts everything about the bishops' numbers and attributes the 80 percent figure to a combination of homophobia and sexism: the greater perceived affront of male-on-male groping which influenced who made noise, who was taken seriously, whose record got kept, who threatened to call a lawyer. But if the numbers are inflated, maybe they appear so believable and are reported so unthinkingly because of all those salacious stories of priests and "boys" (ages 6, 16, 21, the word became elastic) that, particularly in Boston, consumed newspapers, nabbed journalistic prizes, and passed off one-sided accounts—even preposterous "memories"—as ultimate truths, and made the careers of so many good liberal Catholic journalists and prosecutors who were remarkably uncurious about hetero offenses but probably couldn't imagine themselves accessories to an antigay witch-hunt.

The reactionary churchmen aren't responding simply, or even mainly, to the press, though, or to the scandal. This isn't just a pedestrian matter of blame-shifting, as critics contend; it is the gasp of an institution caught in an operatic contradiction. For despite its attempts to organize patriarchy and enforce sexual, particularly same-sexual, shame, the Catholic Church has had, in the form of its priesthood, what today would be called a gay culture for about 1,000 years. Although estimates suggest 20 to 50 percent of American priests are gay (a figure that was probably higher before the Stonewall Riot of 1969 and the birth of the modern gay movement),whether individuals are homo or hetero is secondary.

Here is an institution for centuries removed from the everyday construction of straight masculinity: a community of men, living together, freed from admonitions to marry and multiply, engaged in ritual and performance, praising gentleness, wearing dresses, and bound together in worship of a naked man on a cross. Body and blood, a
heady mixture of rapture and camp, at once repressive and sensual, dependent, like the army, on structures of submission and domination, only here dedicated to a spiritual doctrine of love—that culture is now exposed and under attack.

For a long time, heterosexuals didn't think about this much, because no one in the straight world had a clue about the way gay people hid. Even the most flamboyant priest was beyond sexuality. It was all part of the old world, and the church ladies loved the gay priests, the way they loved Liberace, because they were at an angle to the gender universe.

No one who grew up in the church pre-Stonewall could miss the way the priest who organized the talent shows and liturgical pageants, decorated the church, drank martinis, and dressed just so dazzled the women, and if in private he rued the deception of it, we wouldn't have guessed. It wasn't all deception, of course, but a complex bargain in which renegades from straight sex roles got a measure of authenticity, safety, certainly prestige, though not without sacrificing their most intimate selves in loyalty to policies that declared them deviant, dangerous, sick.

With gay liberation came not just an uncloseting of sex but of identity, and eventually the straight world started to recognize all the little markers. For straight men, especially in institutions like the church, the homosocial rituals were suddenly, by association, a little threatening: Might I be queer, too?

The reactionaries' latest "solution" to this crisis, this embarrassment, has no more chance of success now than it did a generation ago, when John Paul II cracked down on rebellious theologians, and some cardinals tried to clear the seminaries of queers.

The problem for the reactionaries is that they love the church culture of the marvelous but hate the identity that has largely sustained it. Purge that identity, and all that's left are rules, authority, an army. Abandon the regimen of authority and shame, and it's hardly a church at all, at least in the traditional sense. It's a fine mess. Still, even in disdain, the reactionaries' appreciation of the challenge presented by gay liberation is far more acute than that of reformers, who seem mostly concerned that homophobia is vaguely unhip. Though it has been somewhat obscured by gay-cliché diversions like Queer Eye and debates over gay marriage,that liberationist challenge, at its core, asserts that sexuality is central to human life, not some "don't tell the children" shameful thing, not something dependent on marriage and a social need to reproduce the workforce or boost the corps of believers. It asserts that sexuality is born with us and is no one's property but the original owner's; that desire, pleasure, love, may be complicated, almost certainly will be, but people really do have the right to the pursuit of such happiness; that they also have the right to pursue celibacy, chastity, abnegation, but, like the rest, those are sexual choices; and,among believers, that all of it is God's creation and nothing God made can be bad, even if it often goes bad. Utopians had always believed such things, along with mavericks, hippies, and some feminists. But with Stonewall "the genie was out of the bottle," as writer Andrew Kopkind liked to say. For more than 30 years, the ethos of sexual freedom has been working its way through mainstream culture, moving forward, then thrown back, diverted by commerce or expedience from its essentially moral root, surviving but not without a lot of dislocation. Revolution of the body is a lot easier than revolution of the mind, and for all the claims to liberation—and the relentless advertising of sex—we are still groping in the dark, still in a period of transition set off in the 1960s and '70s.

It's totally logical, by their lights, that the guardians of an old,punishing morality should fall back on punishment. The harder question is, Where is a reborn morality that doesn't need retribution, that courts embarrassment and risks freedom with only a radical love to win?

This article has been made possible by the Foundation for National Progress (c) 2005 The Foundation for National Progress

Posted by Karol