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Friday, February 17, 2017

Catcallers' Days Are Numbered


Wazzup Pilipinas!

Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros spent the Valentine’s day by filing a bill that seeks to protect women and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community from harassment in the streets and other public spaces. The proposed measure was filed in response to the growing number of gender-based harassment in public spaces such as the case of a female student from the University of Santo Tomas (UST) who was allegedly groped in a public utility vehicle by a fellow student. The school was accused of victim-shaming after it allegedly sided with the perpetrator.

Hontiveros’ Senate Bill No. 1326 otherwise known as the “Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act of 2017” seeks to penalize gender-based street and public spaces harassment such as catcalling, wolf-whistling, cursing, leering, groping, persistent request for name and contact details and the use of words tending to ridicule on the basis of actual or perceived sex, gender expression, or sexual orientation and identity including sexist, homophobic and transphobic slurs.

According to Hontiveros, the bill seeks to complement the existing Anti-Sexual Harassment Law. “I filed the bill 23 years since the passage of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law which is limited to the workplace and to superior-subordinate relationships”, she said. Hontiveros explained that there are still no clear-cut laws that address gender-based street harassment, citing the lack of gender lens for homophobic, transphobic and gender-based unjust vexation in the Revised Penal Code.

The senator also said that the bill responds to women’s insecurity in public spaces. Citing government data, Hontiveros said that in Quezon City alone, 3 in 5 women have experienced street harassment. Meanwhile, the Social Weather Station (SWS) reported that 88% of women aged 18-24 years or almost 9 out of 10 experienced different forms of sexual harassment in the streets. The same SWS report rated men feeling more secure in their neighborhoods than women.


It’s harassment not a compliment

Hontiveros said that her office has been receiving incident reports of street harassment from as young as elementary-level students. “It is deplorable that our women, young and adult, are subjected to this kind of abuse”, Hontiveros said. “One may think it is a compliment to catcall, or to leer, but such unwanted comments, gestures and actions forced on a person in a public space is actually sexist and offensive,” she added.

The bill’s penal provisions extends to severe violation that can merit arrest from one to six months and a fine of P/ 10,000.00. The bill grants authority to apprehend perpetrators to the Metro Manila Development Authority and the local units of the Philippine National Police. MMDA and the PNP can deputize their enforces into Anti-Sexual Harassment Enforcers or A-SHE.

Hontiveros also reported that legislating for safe cities and spaces is not new and has been advocated by the United Nations. “The development of girls and our women do not happen in isolation. The entire community must work together for safe spaces in order to nurture an environment where everyone can develop their potential without fear and insecurity”.

According to the Senator, harassment in public spaces hinders the capacity of anyone from fully participating in education, work and in the society in general. “Harassment has adverse impacts on health and well-being. Safe spaces move our communities forward”, Hontiveros said. S

Last year, President Rodrigo Duterte cat-called a woman reporter during a press conference. Duterte defended his action saying that catcalling or wolf-whistling in public is part of freedom of expression, denying claims that he disrespected the female reporter.

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