Life as a woman feels like a never-ending series of avoiding potential threats.
We have to look back when walking alone to make sure no one’s following us. We have to carry our drinks in bars at all times so we won’t get roofied. We text our friends the taxi’s plate number if we’re riding alone. We scoot away from men who sit beside us in public transpo just in case they try to do something suspicious.
Every day we run the risk of encountering predators who see us as nothing but objects of pleasure. All our lives, women have been taught to dress modestly, to avoid walking alone at night, and act “ladylike” to protect ourselves from these kinds of men.
But this kind of thinking puts the blame on women when they fall victim to harassment or rape. And even if we practice all the precautionary measures, that doesn’t guarantee protection from sexual predators, which highlights the need for safe spaces for women.
The “Bawal Bastos” Law
This is exactly the purpose of the Republic Act No. 11313, or the Safe Spaces Act. Risa Hontiveros introduced the bill in 2017, and after two years, it finally lapsed into law. This law aims to ensure safe spaces for women by penalizing catcalling, wolf whistling, unwanted sexual advances, and other forms of sexual harassment in public places as well as online.
First-degree offenses include wolf-whistling, cursing, catcalling, leering and intrusive gazing, taunting and unwanted invitations, sexist, homophobic slurs, degrading sexual jokes, and relentless requests for personal details, like contact info and current location. The penalty for these offenses starts from a P1,000 to a P10,000 fine and between six to 30 days in prison.
Groping, flashing of private parts, public masturbation, and making offensive, sexual body gestures at someone are second-degree offenses. These warrant a fine between P10,000 to P20,000 and imprisonment between 11 days to six months.
The third-degree offenses are actions that involve physical contact, such as brushing against, touching, or pinching the arms, buttocks, breasts, face, thighs, or any part of the victim’s body. The fine ranges from P30,000 to P100,000 with one to six months of imprisonment.
Local government units “bear primary responsibility in enforcing the provisions” of the Safe Spaces Act. LGUs must pass an ordinance within 60 days since the law went into effect to localize its applicability. The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) is responsible for ensuring that the LGUs are properly implementing these provisions in their respective areas.
In the workplace, employers must prevent and punish acts of gender-based sexual harassment. They are required to post a copy of the law in visible areas in the workplace and submit to the Department of Labor and Employment (for the private sector) or the Civil Service Commission (for the public sector) for yearly inspections to ensure their compliance.
Enforcement of Provisions
Under the Safe Spaces Act, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) has the authority to cancel the license of a person guilty of committing acts of sexual harassment in public utility vehicles. Meanwhile, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board can suspend or cancel the franchise of operators who commit similar violations.
Public and private schools must appoint an officer-in-charge to receive complaints of violations of the Safe Spaces Act and ensure that the victims have a gender-sensitive environment. the school also has the power to expel or strip the diploma of the offender once he or she is found guilty.
Victims can approach women and children’s desks in any police stations with their complaint. When the case is brought to trial, the judge can issue a restraining order to direct the offender away from the victim or any place he or she frequents, even before the court reaches a final decision.
Risa Hontiveros said that the Safe Space law is a massive victory against the country’s “growing bastos culture.” “Now women and LGBTs have a strong policy instrument to protect us from gender-based street harassment.
With this law, we will reclaim our streets from sexual harassers and gender bigots and make public spaces safe for all,” said Hontiveros.
Bawal ang Bastos – Pero Bawal Nga Ba?
Although the Safe Spaces Bill lapsed into law last April 19, Hontiveros said that she was surprised to see a copy of the law signed by none other than President Duterte, “champion of misogyny.” Even news articles reflected the level of irony in Duterte’s action (Headline: Misogynist President Signs Law Against Sexual Harassment).
To say that Duterte has gained massive flak for all his sexist, misogynist comments is an understatement.
There have been so many tone-deaf remarks that even international news agencies have picked up his sexist comments. One of Duterte’s remarks that gets my blood boiling no matter how many times I read it is about the rape-slay of Jacqueline Hamill, an Australian missionary. On his campaign period in 2016, Duterte said that he peaked at the woman’s face and saw that she “looks like a beautiful American actress.” His exact words were “Napakaganda, dapat ang mayor muna ang mauna. Sayang.”
How can someone of this behavior forward a legislation that penalizes female objectification and sexual offenses? More importantly, will the law even have bearing and effect change if the president himself doesn’t obey the provisions?
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo has, time and again, defended Duterte’s lewd remarks by saying that he only meant them as a joke. At one point, he said that cracking a joke and being offensive are two different things, and that “women should know that.”
Hontiveros remains hopeful that the Bawal Bastos law will make citizens, regardless of gender, speak up more loudly and call out anyone who commits sexist actions – even someone as powerful and high-ranking as the president.
Nothing Funny About Misogyny
In a piece entitled “Fantastic Breasts and Where to Find Them,” spoken word poet Brenna Twohy tackled how the commercial porn industry treats women like meat in a slaughterhouse, giving men the power to act like butchers and cut and evaluate women by their body parts. The line that struck me the most is “If you play-act at butchery long enough, you grow used to the sounds of the screaming.”
Although her piece centered on the porn industry, this insight still applies to the everyday struggle of women; the fact that we are reduced and evaluated on our separate body parts. And Duterte’s sexist slurs aren’t helping the matter. It trivializes trauma and tragedy women experience at the hands of sexual predators – and these are little girls who have been raped, wives who are domestically abused.
Every day we are asked to cover up and watch our actions because “boys will be boys.” Because women are responsible for the things done to them whereas men remain unaccountable for their actions. Because it’s “just a joke.”
But no more.
The Bawal Bastos law gives me hope that soon maybe, women will finally escape this slaughterhouse society. Hopefully, it will offer us safe spaces where we’re valued for more than just our bodies. Because women are worth more than a nice set of butchered parts. “And we will not be cut into pieces anymore.”