The government agency calls for protection of women against practices and acts that diminish their potential as individuals and contributors to national development. / BENJAMIN ESPARTERO – POPCOM

As the entire world celebrates Women’s Month this March, the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) renews its call for special protection of Filipino women, especially in the time of a raging pandemic.

Recently, POPCOM disclosed the results of a recent Social Weather Stations survey, which revealed that 1 out of 4, or 25%, of Filipino adults across the Philippines cited harmful acts in various forms as among the most pressing problems of women during the present health crisis.

Based on the survey, 11% mentioned physical violence as top-of-mind concern for Filipinas, while 14% cited sexual violence and emotional violence (7% each)—or a total of 25%—as top concerns Filipinas are facing while the Covid-19 contagion persists.

The figure is almost similar in Mindanao, with 24% of adults sharing the same sentiments (11% for physical violence, 5% for sexual, and 8% for emotional), while it was slightly lower in the Visayas at 22% (6% physical violence, 11% sexual, 5% emotional). The trend was however higher in Manila at 29% (13% for physical violence, 7% sexual, 9% emotional) and rest of Luzon at 28% (13% for physical violence, 7% sexual, 8% emotional).

RPRH on VAW: The commission also cited an increase in numbers of gender-based violence (GBV), according to the fifth annual report of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Law released in 2020.

Per accounts of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the yearly RPRH report, there were 19,743 recorded cases of Violence Against Women (VAW) in the country in 2019. Out of those, 77 percent, or 15,160 cases, formed part of violations under the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) Law, or the intimate partner-relationship category. The rest fell under other forms of GBV, such as rape (2,341 cases), acts of lasciviousness (1,953), concubinage (204) and sexual harassment (85).

Nonetheless, the report declared a marked downtrend in the number of VAW reports from 2017 to 2018 (25,572 to 18,748, or -27%). Yet, there was a slight increase in 2019 statistics (19,743, or +5%). As a whole, reported VAW events went down from 2017 to 2019 by 25%, although it exhibited a 7% rise from 2018 to 2019.

In relation, the RPRH Law report disclosed that VAWC is not only a violation of human rights, but is also a public-health concern. It stated: “Studies have shown that violence prevents women (and children) from accessing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.”

PHL closes gender gap: Undersecretary for Population and Development Juan Antonio Perez III, MD, MPH emphasized the fact that the Philippines leads the global community in championing the cause of women, evidenced by its high worldwide ranking in women empowerment and gender equality. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index places the Philippines at 16th—the only one in Asia in its Top 20—as the country is performing excellently in closing the gender gap when it comes to economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

These achievements, however, are counterbalanced by the prevalence of gender bias, as well as incidences of GBV and similar instances listed above—especially in the time of Covid-19, according to the POPCOM chief.

Perez also shared that among national government agencies, with Level-5 being the highest, POPCOM has been awarded a Level-4 ranking (Commitment, Enhancement and Institutionalization) by the Philippine Commission on Women in terms of advancing the country’s gender and development agenda. This means, POPCOM has “already institutionalized gender mainstreaming, and is focused on sustaining its efforts,” while encouraging other organizations to continuously evaluate and improve theirs. He also revealed that half of his colleagues in the agency’s executive roster is made up of women.

“As an agency being looked upon by the national government in promoting women’s rights, POPCOM will do its best to guarantee their protection, empowerment, and provision of opportunities needed to achieve their utmost in life,” he noted.

POPCOM’s executive director aired the following appeal for this month’s commemoration: “Filipino women are vital assets of our nation. Thus, we need to ensure they are protected against practices and acts that diminish their potential as individuals and positive contributors to their immediate communities, and Philippine society at large.” ###