Moving forward with the Safe Spaces Act

"Implementation is next."



The Implementing Rules and Regulations of the “Bawal ang bastos” law, or the Safe Spaces Act (RA 11313) is now being developed by the Technical Drafting Committee for this purpose.

Led by the Philippine Commission on Women, the TDC is composed of the government agencies that will lead in the law’s implementation such as the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Philippine National Police, Metro Manila Development Agency, Department of Labor and Employment, Commission on Higher Education, Civil Service Commission, Commission on Human Rights, and the Department of Information and Communications Technology. They are joined by three civil society organizations, Saligan, Women’s Legal Bureau, and the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines in writing the IRR set to be launched in late October.

In addition to the TDC processes, the Philippine office of Plan International, an international development organization, is holding a series of public consultations mostly outside Metro Manila to further enrich the IRR through the inputs of other stakeholders. These consultations will bring together local government units, regional offices of implementing agencies, and CSOs and will happen in the cities of Baguio, Cebu, Cotabato, and Davao; and Masbate, Pampanga, and Metro Manila.

According to Ernesto Almocera Jr., Plan International’s Communications and Advocacy manager, these public consultations are important for the perspectives of stakeholders on the law and how it can be effectively and efficiently implemented to surface. After all, it is at the local level where most of the implementation will happen. The resulting recommendations from these activities will be forwarded to the TDC for possible inclusion in the law’s IRR. Almocera added: “We work with PCW and the implementing agencies of this law to defend the rights of women and girls to be safe wherever they are in public, and speak up without fear of harassment or violence.”

It is commendable that as early as the IRR drafting, perspectives from various stakeholders outside Metro Manila are already being solicited. Not only will the IRR be more inclusive; doing this may also result in a better grasp of the law by implementing government agencies. This is particularly important for laws that go against discriminatory acts and practices that some people consider as culturally acceptable. A good number of these is penalized by the Safe Spaces Act.

While most of us have heard of, or understand sexual harassment, the law has for the longest time been limited only to acts committed in relation with employment. I remember in a Senate committee hearing on SH chaired by Jinggoy Estrada several Congresses ago, I remarked that SH happens everywhere, in streets, commercial areas, schools, neighborhood, etc., yet the SH law focuses only on those that are employment-related. My call then was for a comprehensive anti-SH law. And now, the law is here.

This law is not simple. For starters, it is 20 pages long and reading and trying to understand it might be a chore for some. The law is comprehensive as it penalizes four types of gender-based sexual harassment: In streets and public places; online; in the workplace; and in educational and training institutions. Each type has its own peculiarities, dynamics, and covers many specific acts. Therefore, this is a law that needs to be explained very well to people.

According to the law, gender-based streets and public spaces sexual harassment are acts “committed through any unwanted and uninvited sexual actions or remarks against any person regardless of the motive for committing such.”

This provision is worth emphasizing because it recognizes that the motive of the perpetrator is irrelevant when it comes to the determination of what constitutes sexual harassment. What matters is how the recipient of such action regards it, and its effect/s on the victim.

Some of the acts penalized as streets and public spaces SH are: Catcalling, wolf-whistling, unwanted invitations, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist slurs; persistent uninvited comments or gestures on a person’s appearance; relentless requests for personal details; 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, and committed in public spaces.

Closely looking at these acts will make one realize that many of these are encountered by women particularly on a regular basis. Moreover, catcalling, wolf-whistling, jokes about women’s bodies and the like, are regarded by many as part of women’s normal lives, and even culturally acceptable. However, this law says that these acts are not okay and should be penalized.

In effect, this law goes against the patriarchal culture that we have. Thus, implementing this kind of law will be quite challenging and will need the full cooperation of all government agencies that have the responsibility to implement it.

The final provision on Educational Modules and Awareness Campaigns that requires the implementation of education programs on the law so it is understood by the people must be seriously followed. CSOs and women’s organizations must help out especially in relation with awareness campaigns in poor communities. Otherwise, this good law may just be good on paper.

The Safe Spaces Act is a revolutionary law. At last, there is a law that addresses the many acts covered by gender-based sexual harassment in streets and public spaces, online, employment, and educational and training institutions. Implementation is next.

[email protected] Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook

Topics: Elizabeth Angsioco , “Bawal ang bastos” law , Safe Spaces Act , RA 11313 , Technical Drafting Committee , Philippine Commission on Women
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