AWAKE Seminar Helps Change Gender Perceptions in Siapo, Philippines

By Rev. Ma. Elvira Peras Sienes, the Philippines

AWAKE Seminar Helps Change Gender Perceptions in Siapo, Philippines

The AWAKE (Awake Women and Men Through Knowledge and Education) Seminar on the Prevention of Violence Against Women and Girls was implemented in Siapo, San Jose, Negros Oriental, on three consecutive Saturdays in February 2019.

Siapo has a small UU congregation; most of its members are small-scale farmers; a few work for the government or the private sector. 22 attended the first day of training, four of which were men. Men are usually the breadwinners and most work all day long (only very few men can attend church even on Sundays).

Rev. Rebecca Quimada-Sienes started the training, singing together the song for reflection entitled “Buta” (Blind). The song depicts the reality of women living in a “culture of silence:” if they witness or become victims of a violent situation, if their rights are violated, they will just keep quiet and choose not to tell because they are frightened. The sharing of reflection of the song was very moving since it opened the opportunity for the women to share their thoughts and – to some degree – even their personal experiences. That activity turned out to be a good warm-up for the day.

The second topic that Rev. Rebecca tackled was the “personal perception of women by women.” In this activity, the participants were asked to write down their thoughts about “women in general.” After the activity, I helped in the processing of the shared thoughts. The results indicated that the participants’ perception about women is greatly influenced by the prevailing Filipino culture.

I continued with a lecture on the “history of women’s oppression,” attributed to Spanish (and partly to American and Japanese) colonization in the Philippines. This topic made participants understand why there is violence and why it is so rampant even in the most secure place we call “home.”

On the succeeding Saturday, February 9, I was the facilitator of the workshop on the “personal perception of men by men.” Of the 25 attendees, only 6 were men. Since they were very few, I decided to include the women in the workshop; women were asked to share their perception about men in general.

What transpired was that a deeply entrenched patriarchal culture enforces the notion that men are first-class citizen while women are second-class, even “possessions” of men. I stressed that this is the very reason why seminars and workshops are so important, for women and men both, to understand and deepen the understanding of the root causes of violence in the family, institutional structures, and society at large. This activity led me to discuss “the oppressors” and “the oppressed.” I tried to emphasize that the purpose of the discussion was not to undermine the potential of men or to personally attack them. I strongly encouraged everyone to share their thoughts and even personal experience related to the topic. It was indeed a fruitful day for all of us!

The third and final day (February 16) focused on the Philippine law RA 9262, The Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act (VAWC) of 2004. It is a special law that defines acts of violence against women and their children, penalizes such acts, and provides protective measures and remedies.

A member of the Barangay/Village Council, who is also the VAWC Desk Officer, discussed the definition and types of violence against women and children and the protection orders this law provides. A lot of sharing happened during this day. One woman confessed, “something really happened in ourselves; if we are just willing to change our mindset and embrace new ideas, we can achieve change in the family, which will eventually resonate in the community. Let us always keep in mind that we, women, have equal rights. We just need to practice and use our rights if we want to achieve something.

In closing, I highlighted that each of us has the power to prevent abuse. I encouraged all to work together for lasting change: a peaceful, violence-free world.

I want to personally thank all who contributed to IWC’s Faithify fund raising efforts to make the AWAKE training possible in Philippine UU communities. Together, we can change the world!

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