For The VIOLENCE Issue, we interviewed women’s rights and peace advocate Samira Gutoc. We asked her a few questions and talked about why and how violence affects women. Read more on Samira’s intersectional lens on violence below.
Sexism Fuels Violence Against Women
According to UNICEF, a pattern of intergenerational trauma is observed in most cases of violence against women and children, especially when it comes to the pratice of corporal punishment. This means that most perpetrators of violence have also been victims before. In another survey, 28.8% of women reported that they were victims of intimate partner violence (IPV). 1 out of 3 women worldwide have experienced either IPV or non-partner violence as per WHO’s global estimates. This is alarming. Ang hirap maging babae.
As feminists, we ask the following questions almost on a daily basis. Why are women more susceptible to violence whether physical, mental, verbal, emotional, or sexual? How do we break the cycle of violence? How do we make other women realize that they deserve better and that love is not supposed to hurt like that? How can we help the victim-survivors reclaim their lives?
In this interview, we asked Samira what she thinks is the root cause of violence. As a women’s rights and peace advocate, Samira has been working with organizations like Philippine Center for Islamic Development (PCID), Young Moro Professional Network (YMPN), and the Asian Peace Alliance, which forwards initiatives and solutions for relevant communities. Along with her advocacies come the topic of violence against women.
According to Samira, sexism influences the cultural and systemic framework in which we get to exercise power and control. With regard to IPV, she says, “[It’s a matter of p]ower and control. Kung sino ang mas nakakaangat sa relasyon” and that the power dynamic is influenced by male machismo.
Male machismo is the sense of exaggerated masculinity that puts men in what is called the man box. Here, stereotypical traits of men like being dominant, heads of household, physically strong, opinionated and decisive, etc. are celebrated. This is why being “under the saya” is a running joke and gives men the feeling of emasculation. Like, when they don’t fit the box, they are less of a man. And when they feel less of a man, they use violence as a tool to assert their dominance, to prove just how much of a “man” they are.
Men who are raised in toxic masculine environments believe that they are entitled to power and to sex. They embody male machismo. Relating this to how society perceives men’s and women’s bodies, Samira goes on, “It’s not abnormal to talk about, to see, the private part of the male. It has its symbolism. We’re at the receiving end of cultural perceptions of the yes part and [society tells us] we shouldn’t question that.”
With this, men have a sense of control over their bodies while women are always policed for exercising body autonomy. In terms of sexual encounters, Samira agrees, “We don’t shame men for their sexual relationships. Lalaking-lalaki pag marami[ng nakarelasyong babae]; pag babae, laspag.”
The notion that women should always say yes, strips us of our right to consent as well as our right to participate actively in society. It further encourages the idea that men always get to decide. This imbalance of power reinforces the male machismo wherein men push themselves to check every point in the man box.
Men get to provide financially. Men decide whether sex happens or not. Men think it’s their place to be served and to be supported at all times by their wives. Where are the women in the decision-making process and how do we get a say in this setup?
Here we can see that sexism actually fuels violence against women. When men think that everything about them is more important than women’s humanity, it creates an environment where women become passive participants in society
When women try to shake things and assert their places as deciding members of a household, the male machismo gets threatened. This can resort to fights of various degrees of violence. Nakakalalaki ka na, ah. Babae ka lang. I have needs. Again, how do we get a say in this setup? How do we restore peace and balance?
Before we can move on to peace building, Samira told us that we have to recognize that violence is present and persistent especially within the intersections. It is important to revisit the notion that women are complex beings. Our perception of violence as women living in Luzon may be different with how women in Mindanao experience violence in their lives. Or how people within religious communities react and position themselves when it comes to cases of domestic violence.
Women in Mindanao
Given the armed conflict in Mindanao as well as lack of developmental support, the fight for equality within the household sometimes takes a step back. As Samira narrated, “For the women here [in Mindanao], na-give up pag-usapan ang domestic rights. [Women are] resigned to the reproductive role.” She goes on to tell us the ongoing situation of child brides, “Ipapaasawa na lang ang anak mo para di na siya problema ng family [in terms of resources]. So the parents are actually contributing to this culture of harassment.”
When women have wars to win within their communities, how can they even begin to think about equality within the household? How can they empower their daughters when they don’t even know where they will sleep or if they are safe in makeshift shelters?
Women and Divorce
When we asked Samira if she thinks religion as an institution contributes to the violence culture, Samira explained that the focus of religion nowadays is usually on the spiritual level. According to her, “Nakakalimutan natin to talk about the realities of the day [like] sexual violence and economic abuse [against women].”
Samira further expounded that we need a supportive community that allows us to educate from bedroom to classroom, to include the concept of consent in sexual and reproductive health awareness.
“Nakakalimutan natin to talk about the realities of the day [like] sexual violence and economic abuse [against women].” —Samira Gutoc
Samira informed us how despite divorce being illegal in the Philippine law, Shariah courts recognize divorce in Muslim law, with women able to initiate filing for divorce. In her previous Senate campaign, Samira has always been vocal about her stand in promoting divorce as an option for women.
When institutions of religion urge women to stay in abusive relationships to preserve the sanctity of marriage, who protects the victims from their abusers? How are they supposed to wrap their minds around why they don’t feel safe in their own homes? Samira told us with a sad smile, “Women are left to suffer in silence because of the stigma and economic consequence of divorce.”
Women and Structural Solutions
In our conversation, Samira stressed that violence is indeed a structural issue and that gender is at play here. So, maybe the solution should be structural as well and integrated down the line: in barangays and schools. Even if laws are present, we need to implement gender sensitivity training and allow men to experience household management as well without shaming them for it. Communities must be able to provide day care centers so that women are empowered to pursue our own careers and help with financial stability.
As an ambassador for peace, Samira urges the government and public institutions to be sensitized to women’s needs. Samira fervently said, “Solidify the ability of women to get the support we need daily [whether it’s for the] household, childcare, etc. [To make sure women’s needs are not neglected,] gender has to be on the forefront [of societal issues]” On the cases of domestic abuse, Samira is passionate about seeking accountability for the perpetrators.
“[G]ender has to be on the forefront [of societal issues]”—Samira Gutoc
Samira's Advice Corner
To conclude our interview, we asked Samira what advice she could give people to empower the women in the fight against violence.
Prevent it through conversations, para hindi natin ina-accept ang ganitong mga bagay. Do not talk in secret. If you are unsure whether what you experienced was abuse or not, talking about it with an unbiased expert or a friend will indeed help you.
Peace education starts in the household. Even within the family, parents have the responsibility to teach kindness.
Especially in heterosexual households, women must be empowered to equalize domestic responsibilities. Men must also be open to talk about reallocating household labor. Educate people on “quantity of time”. Time (to do labor/work/chores) for all genders should be considered equal.
To find peace, you need to find violence and understand the way it works. Labanan natin ang negativity, ‘yung stereotype kasi kung hindi, forever magiging biktima ako. So I choose to fight that, to embrace that reality.