When I was still working in Makati, I used to take the cab from home to work. But to keep my wallet happy, I take the train going home. Besides saving moolah, I also find it far more convenient—it saves my sanity. It takes me about an hour to get home via taxi, but if I take the train, I arrive at the house in 30 minutes, tops. No traffic; just disheveled hair, a few scratches here and there, and the occasional catfights-in-my-head. Alright, scratch that—I never had violent thoughts even when the person next to me on the train was being a complete asshole.
That said, I can safely say that at least for me, commuting via the MRT and the LRT spelled convenience. But this was so because at that time, I used to ride in the all-women/ senior citizen coach. Had it not been the case, I would have been glad forking over a fortune taking taxis in going home instead.
Why, you ask? Well, I’ve heard too many stories of how unpleasant train rides used to be for women. Horrible tales of how they get groped, ogled at, winked mischievously at, and received sexual innuendoes never fail to make me cringe.
And I couldn’t help but wonder—women of all shapes and sizes have been subjected to sexual harassment in plenty of places—but why is it that such atrocious advancements happen more often in public transport? Is it because trains are too crowded, buses are too congested, and jeepneys are bursting at the seams? Is it because everyone else turns a blind-eye because it just seems, uh, commonplace? Or is it because women are ashamed to speak up and tell their tale?
I’ve heard friends complain about it. One friend laments, ‘Some manong was happily groping himself while staring at my legs at the MRT! The nerve!” But when I asked what she did, she simply shrugged. I also had an encounter with a 60-something walking libido once. This was when I was about two months pregnant. I was wearing a tunic blouse which was somehow revealing. I knew I would be riding in the women/senior citizen-only coach so I didn’t bother covering up—and besides, I actually thought there was nothing to cover in the first place. But to my horror, this old man, whom a pretty lady had given her seat up for, suddenly winked at me and started to touch himself while ogling at my bosom! I stared back at him hardly and within earshot of everyone, said: ‘Sir, nakakahiya naman po sa inyo, kanina pa kayo tumitingin sa dibdib ko, eh wala naman kayong makikita d’yan. And parang lolo ko na po kayo kaya tigilan nyo na please?’ (Sir, please stop staring at my chest, there’s nothing in there, and besides you’re too old to be my grandfather so stop it.)Then I got off at the next station and pointed him to the guard. The guard smiled at me and said, ‘Si tatang? Talaga ?” (That old man? Really?) Then he approached him and said something to him which I didn’t get to hear. But whatever it was, it must have jolted the old man back to his senses because he shot me a remorseful look before the train door closes.
Looking back, was I happy with what I did? Not really. I could have done something more than retaliating with a badass attitude. It would have been better if I filed a formal complaint. But what I did, I believe, was better than just shrugging it off.
I wonder why women, even those who seem to know exactly what their rights are and those who would lift a finger at the slightest hint of injustice done to them, shrink in shame when something like this happens to them? Why be embarrassed? Shouldn’t those turds be the ones to feel ashamed of themselves? Shouldn’t women who ever fell victim to this kind of harassment keep their chins up and defend themselves staunchly?
The first step to combating our lack of know-how in what to do in the event we experience sexual harassment is to empower ourselves with information. I’ve come across a neat little campaign on YouTube, aptly dubbed, ‘Empower!’ Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmI4ecX6QWk. ‘Empower!’ is a campaign against sexual harassment on public transport led by a bunch of 6 SMU students, in collaboration with Association for Women’s Action & Research (AWARE).
In our country, people tend to think that this offense can only be referred to as sexual harassment when it is committed at the workplace, by someone who demands sexual favor in exchange for work, promotion, or other privileges.
In fact, the Philippine Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 defines sexual harassment as “a request for a sexual favor, accepted or not, from an employer, employee, manager, teacher, instructor, professor, coach, trainer or other persons who have authority, influence or moral ascendancy over another.”
But the thing is, sexual harassment happens everywhere and takes several forms. It happens on the streets, in transit, in public places—anywhere there are perverts who take advantage of a woman’s perceived weakness. If you’re the object of attention, you could be at the receiving end of malicious stares, jokes, comments, notes, letters, graffiti, or physical contact.
In New York, there’s a movement called ‘Hollaback!’ which aims to put an end to street harassment via mobile technology. It encourages women to hollaback and share their tales so others can learn from it and know what do in case it happens to them. At present, the movement already has chapters in other states and countries. You may check their website here: http://www.ihollaback.org/about/.
We don’t have an organization that specifically tackles this sensitive issue—well, there’s Gabriela, but they are not entirely devoted to sexual harassment cases—so the best thing we can do to raise awareness regarding this matter is to come out in the open and share stories. If you were ever offended by such transgression, silence is not the answer. Speak up and recount what happened—we share everything online anyway, we rant on Facebook, we gossip on twitter, we blog about experiences. So here—feel free to use this blog as your platform.
If we could get the ball rolling, then perhaps, one day there’d be no need for a separate coach exclusively for us, and each train ride would be a pleasurable cruise.
Let me end this post with a question: aside from full on confrontation with the perpetrator, are there any solutions to curb this type of behavior? Tell me your thoughts. And from here on we can empower others and share tips on how we can avoid becoming a victim.