By: Remsce A. Pasahol
“I am18 years old. I am a bisexual, and I have been sexually harassed.”
This is how Jane (not her real name) started our conversation. She seemed to have the courage to speak, but truth is that it took her almost a decade to share her story.
Being a jolly child, she easily caught the attention of her cousins and neighbors. Little did she know that her pleasant personality will be the cause of her misery.
Jane’s innocence was exploited by one of her family’s neighbors. He touched her private parts. Two years later, she experienced another abuse — this time, from her uncle.
He threatened her into keeping silent by saying “Wag kang magsusumbong o papatayin ko ang mama mo.” (Don’t tell this to anyone or else, I will kill your mother.)
After a few years, she would experience rape. The aggressor was none other than a cousin.
“Sabi sa akin, maglalaro lang. Yun pala inaabuso na pala ako.” (He said we were just going to play. But it turned out that he was already sexually abusing me.)
Jane said that the incident was traumatic because there was actual penetration.
For almost a decade, Jane kept her experiences to herself until she joined the UPLB Babaylan.
“Sa kanila ako nakapagsabi. After ko masabi sa Babaylan, nun ko lang nasabi sa nanay ko,” she said.
Now, Jane is an active member of the organization and was, in fact, one of the speakers who shared her story during the indignation rally held on October 17. The rally aimed to raise awareness among students about gender discrimination and gender-related violence in the university and in the country. It was followed by a candle-lighting activity on October 22.
The rally and the candle-lighting were held to condemn the killing of a transgender in Olanggapo and the rape of a UPLB freshman. The organizers of these activities are the UPLB University Student Council (USC) Gender Rights and Equality Committee, UPLB Babaylan, and Gabriela Youth-UPLB.
In 2013, the Philippines has been tagged by the US-based Pew Research Center as one of the few gay-friendly countries in the world. However, gender discrimination is still a problem in the country. Lesbians, gays, bizexuals, and transgenders—collectively known as LGBT—remain increasingly vulnerable to hate crimes because of their sexual orientation and gender. This is according to the Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch, which noted that 156 LGBTs have been murdered from 1996 to 2012.
The organization also confirmed that 61 of the killed victims were gay men, 26 were transgenders, 12 were lesbians, and 4 were bisexuals. The Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch sourced this information from online news sites, as well as from emails and messages sent to the organization’s Facebook page.
On October 11, transgender Jennifer Laude was allegedly killed by Joseph Pemberton, a United States Marine. According to Barbie, Laude’s friend, Pemberton killed the latter upon discovering that she is not a “real” woman.
However, even straight women were not spared of gender-related violence and discrimination. According to the 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) conducted by the National Statistics Office (NSO), one in five women aged 15-49 has experienced physical violence since age 15. In addition, one in ten women aged 15-49 had experienced sexual violence.
According to the Philippine Commission on Women, violence against women (VAW) is a manifestation of the gender hierarchy in society. It is also a tool used to maintain that hierarchy. VAW reflects and perpetuates the unequal and unjust relations between women and men, where men are seen as superior to and valued more than women.
Unfortunately, the national trend on VAW is also observed in the country’s premier university. In a span of four years, four rape incidents took place and victimized UPLB students and residents of nearby communities.
The most happened on October 15, 2014 when an unnamed UPLB freshman was raped off IPB Road in UPLB campus. That day was just three years and five days after the brutal rape-slay of Given Grace Cebanico, a BS Computer Science student in UPLB.
“That stereotype against women and LGBT is used to explain the crimes perpetrated against them begs the question rather than answers it,” GABRIELA-Youth and UPLB Babaylan emphasized in a joint statement distributed during the indignation rally.
The two organizations are demanding social justice for the victims. They criticized the police officers who seem to resort to “blaming the victim.” For the ULPB Babaylan ang GABRIELA-Youth, it is wrong to blame the victims for going home late at night and for wearing shorts. They also added that these are not reasons to rape a woman.
Discrimination big and small
Violence and gender discrimination happens in the university even in small forms.
Remarks, such as “Ano ba namang mga baklang yan, ang iingay!” can be heard when the UPLB Babaylan conducts general assemblies in their tambayan. “Parang nagmu-murmur sila na parang mga immoral kami,” Jane said.
“Yung iba kong orgmates, lalo na yung mga trans[gender], hindi talaga sila gumagamit ng CR sa campus.” Transmen experience difficulty in using comfort rooms because they hear discriminatory remarks from other students when they attempt to use the comfort rooms for females. “Hindi naman sila makakaposok sa CR ng boys kasi babae sila,” Jane added.
In line with such incidents, the UPLB Gender Center continues to promote gender equality in the university. The center holds campus-wide seminars, receives complaints of sexual harassment, coordinates special counseling and referral programs, and orients new students on gender sensitivity and anti-sexual harassment.
But this six year-old organization admitted that it is hard for its staff to monitor the presence of discrimination in UPLB because not all victims report their experiences. According to Sairah Mae Saipudin of the UPLB Gender Center and Director-General of UPLB United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Club, the center conducted a research regarding gender discrimination but they were not able to generate a large enough sample; not everyone has the courage to speak.
Jane said speaking about the experience is not an easy decision for victims. However, this step is very important. “Nung nasabi ko na, na-release ko na yung stress. Yung feeling ko na madumi ako, nawala. Pati yung feeling ko na wala nang makakatanggap sa akin at magkakagusto sa akin. Noong nasabi ko, parang naging buo ulit ang sarili ko. Nasira ako pero ngayon buo na ako. Mas mahal ko ang sarili ko. Mas mataas [na] ang pagpapahalaga ko sa sarili ko,” Jane narrated.
Victims can find refuge in organizations that advocate for gender protection. Jane found her refuge in UPLB Babaylan. She told her story and discovered that there are other people who also have the same experience.
Other organizations in UPLB also promote gender equality, including GABRIELA-Youth, Sigma Alpha Nu Sorrority, UPLB USC (particularly the Gender Rights and Equality Committee), and the UNESCO Club-UPLB. They hold educational discussions, workshops, and projects aimed at alleviating gender-related violence and discrimination.
“Mas lumaki ang hakbang tungo sa pagkakapantay-pantay dahil sa dami na ng mga sumusuporta. Naniniwala ako, malapit na matanggap sa UPLB, sa ating bansa, at sa buong mundo na andito kami, na andito ang mga LGBT,” Jane said.
“Maging matatag tayo. Gawin nating instrumento ang mga naranasan natin para hindi na maranasan ng iba, o para ang ibang tao ay makapag-out din o makpagsabi ng kanilang problema. Sabay-sabay tayong labanan ang existing problem; mas maganda na makipaglaban na marami tayo kaysa nag-iisa. May mga taong handang tumulong.” (Let us be strong and use our experience as an instrument for other people to not experience the same fate, for them to be empowered and report their problems. Together, let’s fight against the existing problem. Fighting together is better than fighting alone. Always remember that there are people ready to help us.)