IN TWO weeks’ time, the Philippines will commemorate the “Protection and Gender-Fair Treatment of the Girl-Child Week” under Proclamation 759 signed by then president Fidel Ramos on March 6, 1996. The Girl-Child week, celebrated every fourth week of March, is a call for all Filipinos to adopt measures for the protection of our young women from all forms of gender-based violence.
Two weeks into the celebration, and three days after International Women’s Day, and we were jolted by a devastating news that a 16-year-old church volunteer was found in Bankal, Lapu-Lapu City, half-naked and skinned in the face. She was stabbed more than 30 times in the body, neck and arms. The suspects have yet to be ascertained, arrested and brought to justice.
While we do not know the exact motive of the brutal murder, we are enraged by the message that the crime sent to the community—that our girls are not safe and perpetrators are doing it with impunity. We are angry that a girl who went to serve her duties in the church was subjected to a very cruel death. We are outraged with the thought that we cannot release our young children to the streets and public places without fearing that Christine Silawan’s fate might befall them once they are out of our sight. And we are indignant that the perpetrators are seemingly doing it without fear of being caught. There is no feeling of security for us, with the thought that anyone can just take our children, snuff the life out of them, and go scot-free.
Silawan’s death confronts us with the reality that our girl-children are not safe from violence, especially violence perpetrated on women and girls on the account of their gender. Her death also throws back the question towards us on how have our policies and practices prevented women and girls from being subjected to physical and sexual violence.
Lately, sexist, misogynist and violent statements and remarks against women have been made with the lousy excuse that it is freedom of speech. These remarks, accepted by the public, reflect the values of the people accepting it. This acceptance, unfortunately, is a perpetuation of the violence against women and girls. Where sexism continues and is glorified, many more women and girls will follow Silawan to the grave.
There were several other women and girls, victims of physical and sexual violence, who did not gain as much prominence as Silawan because they were not stabbed and skinned. Nonetheless, the crimes against them also deserve our outrage as we call for an end to sexism, misogyny and abuses against women and girls.
As we celebrate the girl-child week on the fourth week of March, may the death of Silawan wake us up to the call of doing more for the protection of women and girls from gender-based violence. And we can start by ending sexism and misogyny in our midst. Our girl-children are never safe until abuses against women and girls are accepted.--(Atty. Noemi B. Truya-Abarientos, Children’s Legal Bureau spokesperson)