#MeToo and sexual harassment in the Philippines
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - October 28, 2018 - 12:00am

The first anniversary of the #MeToo movement is being celebrated this month. However, its real origin was in 2006 when American activist Tarana Burke told fellow sexual assault survivors “me too.” Eleven years later came Alyssa Milano’s #MeToo tweet on Oct. 15, 2017, making Burke’s movement viral and leading to more than 12 million related posts, reactions and comments on  Facebook within 24 hours. Suddenly the world became aware that sexual harassment was a serious problem.

For too long, when a woman speaks out against a man, the suspicion was turned back on her. In many countries today, thanks to the #MeToo movement, women’s testimony is at last being taken more seriously. The corporate world is also taking this very seriously. In the United States more than 300 high level executives have been fired due to sexual improprieties. 

In Asia and Africa, the #MeToo movement has not yet had any major impact. In the Philippines, the results of a survey by the Social Weather Station and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality actually had some alarming findings.

The results revealed that three in five women have experienced being sexually harassed; majority of the incidents of sexual harassments happen during the day and in public places; one in two women did nothing after they were harassed and a lot of those who chose to be silent did so out of fear; a significant number of victims blame themselves for being sexually harassed; perpetrators commit sexual harassment regardless of their educational background and employment status.

However, a large number of sexual harassment happen either in the workplace or in school. The law is very clear  about these acts. The Anti-Sexual Harrassment Act of 1995 states:

“Work, education or training related sexual harassment is committed by an employer, employee, manager, supervisor, agent of the employer, teacher, instructor, professor, coach, trainor, or any other person who, having authority, influence or moral ascendancy over another in a work or training or education environment, demands, requests or otherwise requires any sexual favor from the other regardless of whether the demand, request or requirement for submission is accepted by the object of said Act.”

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, sexual harassment can be verbal, nonverbal and physical. Verbal sexual harassment includes innuendos, suggestive comments, jokes of a sexual nature, sexual propositions, lewd remarks and threats, requests for any type of sexual favor (this includes repeated unwelcome requests for dates); and verbal abuse or “kidding” that is oriented toward a prohibitive form of harassment, including that which is sexual in nature and unwelcome.

Nonverbal sexual harassment includes the distribution, display or discussion of any written or graphic material, including calendars, posters and cartoons that are sexually suggestive or show hostility toward an individual or group because of sex; suggestive or insulting sounds; leering, staring, whistling, obscene gestures, content in letters and notes, facsimiles, e-mail, photos, text messages, tweets and internet postings or other forms of communication that is sexual in nature and offensive.

Physical sexual harassment includes unwelcome, unwanted physical contact, including touching, tickling, pinching, patting, brushing up against, hugging, cornering, kissing and fondling and forced sexual intercourse or assault.

In the Philippines, there have been very few publicized sexual harassment cases in the workplace where the investigations are known by the public. Two of these cases are in the Ateneo and ABS-CBN.  It is too early to know whether these are unusual cases or whether these cases are the beginning of a #METoo movement in the Philippines.

In the Western world, men have begun to be more careful with their behavior in the workplace. Joan C. Williams recently wrote an article in the Financial Times Weekend, the article #MeToo and the new work rules. In her article, she recommended five simple rules that men can follow:

First, if you want to date a colleague, feel free to ask her. But if she says no, that’s your answer...Remember she is at work. She signed up to be your colleague, not your girlfriend. She is entitled to keep work relationships as work relationships.

The second rule is simple: treat male and female colleagues equally. That may mean you have to change the way you interact with work colleagues. We all know that professional advancement often rests on social interactions, on the golf course, at drinks or dinner,or other social interactions. That means you need to reassess whether you are interacting with colleagues in a way that’s comfortable for a broad range of people. If you bond by drinking after dark, you may want to shift to breakfast or lunch, or drink within a group setting and know your limit.

The third rule concerns the widespread panic whether a guy can give a girl a compliment. You can say, “That’s a nice dress,” but not “You look hot in that dress.” If you feel that compliments are making someone uncomfortable, cease and desist. It has become not a compliment but a power struggle.

 The fourth rule concerns sexual joking. In “SexualBehavior at Work,” only 10 percent of women enjoyed ambient sexual behavior like sexual joking...the issue is whether you are entitled to subject your work colleagues to your sense of sexual humor as a condition of employment. You are not.

The final rule concerns touching. Don’t do it. The only exception is if the occasion is appropriate like after a funeral;  and, after you have asked her consent. 

It is said that in the novel Noli Me Tangere, Maria Clara was the victim of sexual harassment, but she chose to suffer in silence. I hope that the modern Filipina will stop suffering in silence and create a Filipina version of the #MeToo Movement.

Creative writing classes for kids, teens and adults

Young Writers’ Hangout on Nov. 10 and 24 (1:30pm-3pm; stand-alone sessions), writing in the workplace with Ginny Santiago on Nov. 17 (1:30-4:30 pm) at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration,  email writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com.

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