Post-lockdown reflections: Pandemic rape in the Philippines

This op-ed is part of AASYP’s Digital Dialogues 2021, which is a programme that aims to provide a platform and forum for future leaders from across the region to contribute to the policymaking and diplomacy sphere by engaging in issues relating to Gender and Diversity, Green Recovery, and Emerging Economies.

The Philippines has experienced one of the world’s longest imposed lockdowns. The COVID-19 response and recovery efforts of the state are described as a populist and a draconian approach. According to data from the Philippine National Police’s Women Children Protection Center (PNP-WCPC), only 804 nationwide incidents of gender-based violence (GBV) and violence against women and children were reported during the first 15 days of the lockdown in the Philippines. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) states that a decrease in documented data on GBV may imply that only a few of the actual cases were reported to criminal justice authorities. On the other hand, this could also mean that there was a decrease in GBV.

While it is clear that the current issue covers the plane of gender ideologies, the prevailing socio-cultural notions of Filipinos on all forms of GBV might encourage female and children victims to suppress the impacts of domestic sexual abuses. A study conducted by Baloloy (2014) found that, alarmingly, the overall perception among male Filipino rapists on female rape victims leans more on viewing women as accessible and therefore they are somehow responsible for the rape (that is, victim blaming). 

Apart from this, women are also more likely to be objectified: as something that could be  ‘used’ for sexual pleasures. This raises significant concern for innocent women and children trapped with their domestic and/or inter-family abusersin their home environments. Women will remain vulnerable and have been even more marginalised during strict lockdown restrictions. A lack of digital access will also inhibit these victims from reporting sexual abuses to concerned authorities. In the current circumstances, rape has now transcended its traditional definitions. Among its widening scope includes marital rape, child and statutory rape, and the newly coined term ‘pandemic rape’. 

Some scholars have even referred to GBV  as a twin pandemic to COVID-19 and a shadow pandemic amidst the recurring COVID-19 pandemic. In its own way, pandemic rape is understood as a form of domestic rape that is committed during the imposition of strict lockdown restrictions. In addition, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) also notes that aside from having an increased exposure to domestic perpetrators, the women and children victims of domestic abuse experience increased severity of GBV as unemployment and increased alcohol consumption take their toll on households..  

Women’s safety is now being dangerously  challenged in the places where they should feel most secure. With a data scarcity on the pandemic in the Philippines, conducting further studies on these gender-based issues will greatly support the planning and legislation of gender-responsive policies. National and international agencies must fortify their sex education efforts, accessibility to pro-reproductive health services, and financial and emotional  support to sexual abuse victims and survivors.We must dismantle the patriarchal, male dominant system that continues to influence the attitudes and behavior of each generation. We need to put a stop to these outdated views of gendered roles and behaviours. 

You do not need to be a woman to be a feminist because feminism and masculinity are choice that lives in all of us. The question, however, lies as to what extent are we willing to uphold it. 

This article was written by Estelle Marish Gimena Mojica, edited by Lauren Twine, and reviewed by the AASYP Publications Team.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the writer and in no way represent nor reflect the position of AASYP and members of the AASYP Publications Team. The AASYP Horizons Blog provides a platform for the free expression of opinions and intellectual discourse.

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