Press Release
August 22, 2017


"Hi Sexy!" "Wow legs!" "Pahipo naman!" "Ang ganda mo, te, L ako sa iyo!" "Hoy, babae ka ba o bakla?"

Imagine walking down the streets and alleys of the city, and being subjected to catcalls of that sort and wolf-whistles from jeering bystanders. Imagine feeling reduced to the sum of your body parts, imagine being judged for the way you dress. And then imagine having to fear this every day of your life, imagine never feeling safe in the public spaces of the city that you call your home.

Mr. President, magandang hapon po.

What I just described are the realities that confront women and LGBT every day in streets and public spaces. Street harassment and public spaces harassment remains to be a persistent problem of our time. An overwhelming 88% of women aged 18 to 24 years old experienced sexual harassment in the streets (SWS, 2016). While wolf-whistling and catcalling are the more common cases, other forms of sexual harassment include stalking, rubbing or touching, indecent gestures, exhibitionism and public masturbation. Majority of these incidents take place on the streets and small alleys, but they have also been reported to happen in public vehicles, public washrooms, schools, and workplaces.

Seeking to address this problem, the Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality wishes to sponsor on the floor Committee Report No. 156, entitled Safe Streets, Public Spaces and Workplaces Act. This committee report consolidates Senate Bill 1326, or An Penalizing Gender-Based Street and Public Spaces Harassment, Senate Bill 1250, or the Anti Sexual Harassment Act of 2016, and Senate Bill 1254 filed by Sen. Grace Poe, otherwise known as An Act To Eliminate All Forms Of Sexual Harassment In Work Places, Educational Institutions, And Public Places.

This substitute bill imposes penalties against unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a person in a public place without their consent and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation and identity. Specific acts include but are not limited to unwanted cursing, wolf-whistling, cat-calling, leering, sexist, homophobic or transphobic slurs, persistent requests for someone's name, number or destination after clear refusal, persistent telling of sexual jokes, use of sexual names, comments and demands, following, flashing, public masturbation, groping, and stalking.

Secondly, it also specific provisions for harassment in schools, harassment in public utility vehicles, and harassment in privately-owned spaces that are open to the public such as restaurants and malls.

Moreover, it addresses an important gap in our existing Sexual Harassment Law by penalizing peer-to-peer sexual harassment. This has been a long-sought amendment by women's rights advocates, in recognition of the inherent power relations between the male and female gender that can lead to oppressions and aggressions even between individuals of similar rank in the workplace.

Finally, the bills provide for awareness-raising programs and educational modules in order to propagate awareness of and vigilance against gender-based street and public spaces harassment.

Mr. President, our women and brothers and sisters in the LGBT community have a right to be protected in public spaces. Men and women should have the same opportunities to thrive within their cities and communities, and to have an active public life. Men and women have the right to feel safe in their workplaces. This cannot be possible if we constantly feel under threat of what lurks behind the shadows. Many countries have already recognized the pernicious problem of street and public spaces harassment. In fact in Nicaragua, its street harassment law has generated so much awareness and consciousness that Nicaraguan women have been known to cry out "La ley!" (translated as, the law) right on the street when confronted with an abuser.

We needed our version of this law yesterday, Mr. President. Let us make our streets and public spaces safer for women. Let us make our schools and workplaces free from gender-based harassment and sexual violence. Let us make public recreation areas truly recreational and uplifting.

Maraming salamat po.

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