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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

No token tributes

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A celebrity couple checked into a hotel in Tagaytay City last week. There was nothing extraordinary about this—until the actress sought help from friends, who in turn alerted the police, who then stormed the hotel to rescue her. There emerged photos of the actress with bruises on her face—she said he attacked and detained her in the room. On social media, she expressed disbelief that one could profess his love for another person and yet hurt her. Hotel staff also reported the commotion behind closed doors.

The boyfriend was detained by police and slapped with violations of the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act.

We know these details because the personalities involved are relatively famous, good-looking, and active on social media. The incident also coincided with the commemoration of Women’s Month.

We wonder, however—how much attention do other victims of domestic abuse get, especially those who are neither famous nor articulate. Worse, what is the recourse of women who do not even know they have the option to protest or leave their violent relationship? What happens to those who are not aware that there are things they must not be subjected to, or who are too fearful to start anew if they rock the boat and flee their abuser?

Every March, we celebrate women and utter some tribute or another to our mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters. There are countless proofs that women are able to lead as well as, or even better than, men. Many women with unassailable competence and integrity are running in the coming elections, leading organizations ably, and inspiring others.

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And yet, despite these gains, we remain imprisoned by some mindsets —products of our culture, religion, upbringing, experience—whether we are aware of them or not.

One of these is that women are supposed to endure and sacrifice, and that men can get away with their follies—even as these include dishonesty or violence—just because of their gender. Women who dare speak up, leave, or worse, file cases that put their men to shame are selfish and vain.

It is this kind of thinking that has prevented countless victims of domestic abuse from even acknowledging their situation publicly. A stigma is still attached to a broken marriage, even when the grounds are apparent and justified. And yet, many people harp about the “sanctity of marriage” even when they commit their own dark deeds in secret, or do nothing even when they are witness to violence and abuse.

This women’s month, may more women be aware that they can do something to take charge of their own lives. If we are able to help even one woman realize that she is not powerless to improve her situation, and thus enable her to chart her own course, then we would have truly observed the spirit of women’s month instead of just paying lip service to a month-long event.

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