PGTW: Rape by Any Other Name

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 20 June 2013, Thursday

Rape by Any Other Name 

The recent revelation by Akbayan partylist representative Walden Bello about overseas foreign workers in distress being preyed upon by several officials in Philippine embassies or offices abroad is an eye-opener about cultural norms about power and sex.

Named and shamed by Bello were Mario Antonio, Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) welfare officer in Jordan; Blas Marquez, a contractual employee of the POLO in Kuwait; and a certain “Mr. Kim,” belonging to the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Augmentation Team in Kuwait.

Bello said that Antonio and Marquez are running prostitution rings (the former in Jordan, the latter in Kuwait), while “Kim” was said to have engaged in an “intimate act with a female OFW in an embassy shelter for distressed OFWs.”

The Akbayan representative urged that these men be recalled and fired from their positions.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz created an investigation team that will look into the matter, while Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has ordered the three officials concerned to return to the Philippines immediately to “explain their side.”

The DFA chief added that the heads of embassies in Jordan, Syria, and Kuwait have also been asked to “come home immediately so that they can provide us with all the necessary information for us to be able to pursue this case.”

The use by males of force, coercion, or abuse of authority to obtain sex is nothing less than rape. It is an ugly fact of life that women, even in this supposedly “modern” day and age are not safe from the depredations of men who do not have the conscience or self-control to prevent themselves from doing harm to women.

Even more disgusting to think about is the possibility that Philippine officials sworn to serve and protect their kababayan abroad are themselves the predators. People who overstep the bounds of their authority for their own advantage to the detriment of their fellows’ welfare are masamang damo – “bad weeds” that need to be uprooted because they abuse their power, fail in their mission, and in some cases even perform acts against the law.

Let us clamor that the investigation be conducted with impartiality, with no whitewash and no slaps on the wrist after on the culpable ones.

Further, the Civil Service Commission should let all public servants undergo gender sensitivity seminars. There is something called the Gender and Development (GAD) Plan that the CSC requires all government agencies to implement, but in at least one government agency I know about, all their GAD plan is about is sports.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a company sports program – in fact it is an essential for employee wellness, both physical and mental, and should be offered by all government agencies, if possible – but a sports and exercise program does not address the sexual harassment and insensitivity that occurs, sometimes unconsciously, in the workplace.

Among the GAD Plan’s objectives are to “ensure that explicit, implicit, actual, and potential gender biases are removed” with the “end goal of promoting gender equality”. Shouldn’t the GAD Plan also work towards eliminating, or at the least reducing, the sexist mindsets that lay a conducive environment for sexual harassment to occur?

Such problems in the workplace stem from patriarchal cultural norms, wherein power and privilege in a societal system is held primarily by adult men. In the case of the Philippines, how many women workers have kept silent on harassment by their bosses, for fear of losing their jobs?

Social norms are “constructed,” in that the dominant members of a group (or a society) agree on these things and perpetuate them through socialization. Messages that convey the ideas inherent in the norms are reinforced through the family, the dominant religious organization, and mass media, among other institutions.

In other words, we can say that cultural norms are made up as the society goes along. Many such norms are not universal, in that they differ across time (history) and space (places, countries).

Therefore, norms can be reshaped and adjusted as times change. Such change, however, takes a tremendous amount of effort to bring about – it does not come easy nor fast.

But change must come, and as swiftly as possible. Because women are not safe, neither abroad nor here. And that is not the kind of Philippines that we want to live in nor leave to our children.   ***

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