BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Justice and Healing in the Philippines

My latest blog on The New Internationalist:

For 13 long years she endured the beatings. It wasn’t so rough at first, she says, and every time it happened she hoped with fingers crossed that it would be the last.

One morning, she woke up and realized that finally, she wanted to end her troubled marriage, to stop the beatings and everything else.

Her name is Winnie Penaredondo. She calls herself a survivor and an advocate against violence against women.

I met her one afternoon at the launch of a project for justice and healing aimed at survivors of gender-based violence and organized by the Women’s Feature Service, a news service for women.

Winnie skips the details of her life as a ‘battered wife’. What she stresses is that women who experience violence should realize that they could get out of their situation.

As a survivor-advocate, Winnie is involved in the Justice and Healing Project, which aims to ‘educate and capacitate the various components of judicial systems to be able to deliver rights based and gender sensitive services’, in cases of violence against women.

Under the two-year project, there are various activities ranging from barangay (local government) forums to workshops and training for the judiciary and legal practitioners.

One objective is to educate all genders in the community about violence against women and how to address it together. Most importantly, the project aims to facilitate legal and psychosocial assistance to women victims and survivors, in order to facilitate faster recovery and reintegration.

Winnie recalls that one difficult part of being a battered wife is the feeling of shame and isolation. This, she laments, is what prevents victims from speaking out and seeking help.

In the Philippines, violence against women remains rampant.

According to the 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) conducted by the government’s statistics office, women aged 15 to 49 have experienced all forms of violence including physical, sexual, emotional and economic. Specifically, one in five women in this age group has experienced physical violence since age 15.

‘14.4 per cent of married women have experienced physical abuse from their husbands and more than one-third or 37 per cent of separated or widowed women have experienced physical violence, implying that domestic violence could be the reason for separation or annulment,’ the survey said.

For women like Winnie, the fight isn’t over. She says part of her healing is to help others get out of their situation.

And that is what she will keep doing until she is able to help as many victims as she can.

Indeed, violence against women is a story that needs to be told and re-told over and over; not something to be ignored or tucked beneath the quiet sheets of matrimonial beds. It needs to be written about until no woman anywhere in the world shall experience the might of the fist ever again.