Leaders from the private sector, human resource managers, and women’s rights and anti-gender-based violence advocates gathered on 2 October for #ITSNOTOKAY: A Discussion on the Safe Spaces Law and the Launch of the Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment’s (PBCWE) Anti-Sexual Harassment Module.
“Sexual harassment does not choose a time, or place, or person. Sexual harassment also does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. It doesn’t matter if you’re sober or intoxicated, if you’re young or old, a superior or a subordinate,” said PBCWE CO-Chair Ma. Aurora “Boots” Garcia in her opening speech.
She also underlined the common repercussions people experience when filing a sexual harassment case against a co-worker.
“In the workplace, reporting cases of sexual harassment can be career-threatening or career-ending. Victims are subjected to alienation, ridicule, bullying and discrimination.”
“Sexual harassment and bullying affect work, productivity, mental and physical health. It negatively affects one’s well-being. Many laws and policies are in place, the most recent example being the Safe Streets and Public Spaces Law (Republic Act 11313). However, many workplace cultures are such that sexual harassment cases and instances are swept under the rug,” she said.
The workplace isn’t always a safe space
Jessica Udani, Founder of End RAPE Culture PH; Atty. Jaye dela Cruz Bekema, Chief Legislative Officer of the Office of Sen. Risa Hontiveros; and Chuks Arias, a gender equality and anti-gender-based violence advocate; participated the panel discussion. Atty. Lorna Kapunan moderated the session.
Udani and Arias shared personal experiences that echoed the passive, condoning approach to sexual harassment complaints observed in some Philippine workplaces.
Jessica recalled how a male colleague made an inappropriate remark about rape towards her and other female officemates. Jessica, a sexual abuse survivor, felt genuinely threatened by what the male colleague assumed was a harmless joke. The human resources (HR) department of the company conducted a closed-door meeting with the male colleague but did not file an official case against him.
Jessica has since founded End RAPE Culture PH—an online community that provides a safe space for people who have experienced rape or any form of sexual assault.
While Chuks was working as a supervisor for a well-reputed company, a male colleague forcibly pulled her to his lap and kissed her on the cheek. Chuks filed a sexual harassment case against the officemate, who denied the allegations. She then formed a women’s circle at work to support women with sexual harassment concerns, but management raised concerns about the group.
Chuks has since left the company. To this day, she empowers other women as a gender equality and anti-gender-based violence advocate.
Acting against impunity
Atty. Jaye dela Cruz Bekema recalled the challenges of pushing for legislative measures aimed at protecting the rights and welfare of women, such as the Expanded Maternity Leave Law and the Safe Streets and Public Spaces Law.
“Don’t rock the boat,” she was often told. “How can you change culture? How can you tell men to behave a certain way when all their lives they’ve been told to behave this way?”
“The Safe Spaces law is really against a culture of impunity,” said Atty. Kapunan in her speech.
The law penalises actions by superiors, subordinates or peers such as catcalling, wolf-whistling, misogynistic and homophobic slurs, unwanted sexual advances, and other forms of sexual harassment in public places, workplaces, schools, as well as in online spaces.
Workplaces acting against sexual harassment
The problem lies not with legislation, as there are laws protecting the rights and welfare of women in the Philippines. Most of the time, the trouble is with implementation. Restrictive norms and misogynistic workplace behaviour continue to influence the mindset of employees, HR and of decision-makers in companies, resulting in the poor implementation of policies.
Shifting norms and behaviour requires collective efforts from concerned parties, including the private sector, to adjust behaviour and attitudes in the workplace, and develop a gender-balanced work environment that is free of sexual harassment.
Companies can seek guidance from the Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE). Launched in 2017 as a partnership between IW and Philwen, PBCWE assists companies by providing training, policy-review services, networking opportunities and capacity building programs designed to shift workplace cultures, practices, and barriers to achieve workplace gender equality. It helps create workplaces that are not only optimal for both women and men, but that also increase productivity, employee retention and profitability in the long run.
PBCWE has launched CLOSING THE GENDER GAP: An Inventory of Philippine Policies on Women in the Workplace. The book is a collation of women’s empowerment and gender equality laws and policies in the Philippines. It can be used by companies and organisations as a resource for protecting employees from sexual harassment.
#ITSNOTOKAY was organised by PBCWE and PhilWen in cooperation with SPARK Philippines and supported by UN Women’s WeEmpowerAsia Philippines and Investing in Women.
Follow this link to learn more about IW’s partners and their work.