Labor group calls for more gender sensitive anti street harassment bill

Despite the positive note to the passage on 3rd reading HB 8794 or the proposed bill known as “Safe Street, Public and Online Spaces Act” which criminalises catcalls and street harassment, women belonging to the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Proresibong Manggagawa (Sentro) are calling for a more gender sensitive version once bicameral conference starts.

“While the recent passage of the bill is commendable as its an attempt to pursue gender equality, we find it very alarming that its contents lose firm gender bias along the way, as we cannot talk about equality without deliberately siding with the oppressed,” Michelle Lising, Sentro Women’s Council Chairperson said in a statement.

According to Lising, “violence is gendered, and it is crucial for lawmakers to recognize that in the discourse of violence, women are always the most vulnerable,” citing data which states that from 2008 to 2014, there were 7,957 reported cases of rape against women, and 27, 186 reported cases of wife battering and physical injuries.

More often than not acts to be criminalized indicated in the bill are committed by men against women, such as catcalling, wolf-whistling, unwanted invitations, misogynistic and sexist slurs, persistent uninvited comments or gestures on a person’s appearance, relentless requests for personal details, statement of sexual comments and suggestions, public masturbation or flashing of private parts, groping, or any advances, whether verbal or physical, that is unwanted and has threatened one’s sense of personal space and physical safety, Lising said.

“We hope that a bicameral is immediately called for the final version. We urge the authors of HB 8794 to ensure that proper amendments be made. Let this attempt towards gender equality not become a compromise for the comfort of the privileged, as women have endured too much,” Lising said.

To understand the deeper implications of gender-neutral language in gender issues, Lising said, it is urgent that workers see these abuses as manifestations of a systemic ill which we call as patriarchy.

“Patriarchy assumes that men, because of biology, naturally have power over women,”Lising explained, adding that “this myth leads men feeling entitled over women’s bodies.”

Cat-calling, for example, is male speech forcing its opinions and desires on the female body, she said.

It is not a random act of teasing or “complimenting,”Lising further said referring to cat-calling—“it is the treatment of women as objects to be pursued and “won over” by men, based on social relations where men have power over women, which communities have accepted as normal.

The women leader also said that changing harmful behavior entails dismantling patriarchy altogether.

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