By Geneva J. Avila, Womens Feature Service
When she was young, Lorna dreamt of a simple, happy life with two healthy children and a loving husband. Sadly, that was not to be. A month into her marriage, Lorna’s husband, Jordan, began to subject her to a catalogue of abuse. “You’re as stupid as you look!” he would rant. Or he would pull her by her hair and scream, “How did I end up marrying a slut?” threatening to kill her if he caught her with another man.
Lorna silently endured the abuse that grew as time went by. The birth of their second child seemed to intensify the problem. Yet Lorna was unable to muster up the courage to leave Jordan. Where would she get the money to feed three growing children and send them to school? She was convinced that her meagre income as a private tutor was not enough to meet their needs.
However one night witnessed a particularly violent attack. Her husband strangled her and her traumatised children found her unconscious when they woke up the next morning. This episode proved to be the turning point for Lorna. She travelled to the regional office of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Legazpi City where, a friend had informed her, the government office extends investigative and legal assistance to women who suffer from abusive partners.
But why did it take the battered young wife so long to walk out? The Investigating Officer at the CHR office offers an explanation, citing the findings of a recent study by the Women’s Legal Bureau. According to the study, there are 19 reasons why women stay on in an abusive relationship, one of them being that they do not know they have the right not to be beaten.
“Domestic Violence or Violence Against Women and Their Children (VAWC) occurring in intimate partner relationships is a serious and pervasive problem that knows no boundaries of geography, ethnicity or social class,” the Investigator explains, while pointing out that the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that half of the women who died from homicide were killed by their current or former husbands and partners.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has reported an increase in the number of cases of wife battering. Of the reported VAW cases nationwide from 1997 to 2008, about 49.6 per cent were wife-battering cases. The massive information campaign under the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act and its strict implementation may have caused the increasing trend, according to the PNP report.
Wife battering cases had been categorised under violation of the Republic Act (RA) 9262, the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act (if the victim files a case under such law); or the wife-battering/physical cases category.
The rising number of reported cases also reflects the fact that the Philippines has not been remiss about its Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) treaty obligations, having passed R.A. 9208 or the Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003; and R.A. 9262 – by far the most significant government response to the issues of trafficking and VAWC.
CEDAW, otherwise known as the Women’s Bill of Rights, was signed and ratified by the Philippines in 1981, more than 25 years ago. As a state party, the Philippines is duty bound under Article Six of the treaty to “…take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women.”
The two laws created the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) and the Inter-Agency Council on Violence Against Women and Their Children (IACVAWC) to formulate programmes and projects to eliminate VAW based on the respective mandates of each member-agency. The CHR sits as a member of the IACVAWC at the national level, as well as the RIACAT-VAWC at the regional level.
It is this process that has helped women like Lorna. Six months after she filed a petition for the Issuance of a Temporary Protection Order (TPO) with the Family Court in Legazpi City, the presiding judge ruled in her favour and granted all the relief she had prayed for, including the provision of support to her minor children.
Lorna has also applied for a teaching position with a private school in the city, and has been accepted on a temporary basis. She has her life back on track again.
As for Jordan, he has agreed to undergo counselling and therapy sessions. Some question the need for giving abusers a second chance. But one women’s rights advocate puts it this way, “A man who batters has learned to be violent, and he can always choose to unlearn this behaviour. In fact, organising support groups for male-batterers is seen as a way towards rehabilitating offenders.”
In some ways, Lorna has been fortunate. She could find her way out of a violent relationship unlike many others in her position. This is why women activists argue that the state has a responsibility to inform every woman about her right to live free from violence and set up support structures to ensure that she does.