My work allowed me to go to many places and meet people of various walks of life. I had the chance to listen to a number of stories, but what stricken me along the lines of sexual harassment among women and girls, is when I hear the line, “boys will be boys”. 

“Boys will be boys” is an expression of stereotyping boys and men of being mischievous – naughty and full of surprises. It is an ironic manifestation of a macho culture that reasons out sexual harassment perpetuated by boys are normal and fine.

A number of familiar phrases: “Hi miss”, “ang ganda mo ate”, “wow hottie”, “ang sexy”,  often greeted by male strangers to a woman or girl is not a compliment; it is sexual harassment. It does not make one a real man.

 

Public Space Sexual Harassment

I remember one summer afternoon while I was waiting for my family in an open parking of a supermarket in Quezon City, there was this lady probably in her thirties wearing tight white jeans that boasts of her proud curves. The sun is bright, and her white outfit shines even brighter under the sunlight. What caught my fancy is how the security guard standing next to me who out of nowhere described his sexual fantasies for that lady, to a stranger like me. I tried to keep my cool and told him while holding my temper that he is beyond disgusting. How many more females are sexualized with whatever they choose to wear?

Public spaces are expected to be open for everyone . It is a shared space where people of various culture and standing points encounter one another. However, to most women and girls, it could be an open hunting ground for some leering lascivious men. And this predatory behavior should never be tolerated by our society, as it only reinforces a more dangerous behavior of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment in public spaces is unwanted; and unwelcomed remarks, gestures and actions of sexual in nature – being forced by an unfamiliar person, directed to a person because of their sex, sexual orientation, gender, and gender expression. This may come in any form of violence against women, like catcalling and wolf whistling, name calling and even something physical, such as unwelcomed touching and groping. 

According to the Safe Cities – Quezon City baseline survey in 2016, 3 out of 5 men admitted to committing a form of sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime. While 2 out of 5 men committed the worst form of sexual harassment such as flashing, public masturbation and groping. 

If we do not put an end to and call out these faulty macho behaviors, we are empowering sexual harassers further. Acts may begin with whistling, leering and some sexist remarks, but if not stopped there, it could escalate to worse forms like stalking, groping, flashing among others. 

 

Solidarity in Action to Eliminate Harassment and Violence Against Women (VAW) in Public Spaces

In 2016, my organization, The Forum for Family Planning and Development, Inc. an NGO based in University of the Philippines, Diliman Campus, partnered with Quezon City government in the implementation of its “Magastos Mambastos sa QC”. There is good evidence to show that tapping the local public transportation groups, like the Tricycle Operators and Drivers Association (TODA), help stop harassment in public spaces. Organizing such groups through awareness raising and building capacity proved to help mobilize citizen action against sexual harassment.

After a number of learning sessions and workshops, the TODA of Bagong Silangan and Payatas in Quezon City, among their peers, endorsed an organizational policy that any member who is reported and proven to sexually harassed a woman or girl, will be penalized to a minimum of one week suspension, which means the driver will not be allowed to drive his tricycle on the streets. A huge cost to pay for choosing to harass someone.

Their tricycles were body wrapped with information and education materials, and the TODA members committed themselves to keep watch on the streets.  

This is a promising effort which more village chiefs and local governments heads can consider in keeping a safe public space for women and girls against sexual harassment. Early signs on how this action is working well is that most tricycle drivers who were raised with a ‘boys-will-be-boys’ mindset are now part of the process in transforming this culture.

 

Safe Spaces Law 

“Republic Act 1131 – An Act Defining Gender-Based Sexual Harassment in Streets, Public Spaces, Online, Workplaces, and Educational or Training Institutions, Providing Protective Measures and Prescribing Penalties Therefor,” also known as the Safe Spaces Act.

Safe Spaces Act was signed into law in April 2018. This set a new milestone to advocates, and definitely a win for women and girls. It defined gender-based streets and public spaces sexual harassment as a crime committed through any unwanted and uninvited sexual actions or remarks against any person regardless of the motive for committing such action or remarks.

The law also defined public spaces as the streets and alleys, public parks, schools, buildings, malls, bars, restaurants, transportation terminals, public markets, spaces used as evacuation centers, government offices, public utility vehicles as well as private vehicles covered by app-based transport network services and other recreational spaces such as, but not limited to, cinema halls, theaters and spas – also included are an public transportation utilities and privately owned properties open for public use.

If found guilty of committing crimes of gender-based streets and public spaces sexual harassment, the culprit is to spend medium period behind bars with a fine of not less than one hundred thousand pesos (P100,000.00) but not more than five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00).

(source: Republic Act 11313: Safe Spaces Act)

 

This macho culture needs to evolve into a culture of trust and respect for each other. ‘Boys will be boys’ way of thinking along the discourse of sexual harassment is unacceptable. To some who would argue that it has been a part of a long existing and traditionally Filipino culture, take the lessons from the male tricycle drivers who were transformed from a culture of pambabastos to a culture of dignity and respect for all.