By Emmanuella Iellamo
March is a month for celebrating women. This was declared by the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) in 1988 and signed into law by the first Filipina president and first female president in Asia, Corazon Aquino.
The late President Aquino embodied women empowerment, breaking the glass ceiling in politics. Like her, one thing that made me strive to break that barrier is the influence of my elementary and secondary school, St. Scholastica’s College Manila, which is also the late President’s alma mater.
St. Scholastica’s College Manila has been educating young women for many years on socio-political issues. I remember having debates at nine years old regarding the 2010 elections, and attending rallies against the pork barrel scam and against the Marcos burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
But one of the most significant memories I have of my alma mater is the One Billion Rising Movement, or Isang Bilyong Babae ang Babangon advocacy, which we celebrate on the 14th of February to pave the way for Women’s Month.
The Isang Bilyong Babae ang Babangon is a dance against violence against women, a global movement created to end violence against women and girls. It was created to celebrate the anniversary of the play and book The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler.
I remember singing and dancing and pouring my heart out because of the song’s empowering lyrics:
Bakit nga ba? Di mabubuhay ang bayan, Kung walang kababaihan / Ngunit kung tayo’y saktan, Parang walang hanggan? Bakit nga ba? Nakaguhit sa ating mukha, Na tayong lahat ay biktima, Ng kalupitan, karahasan? Pilit tayong dinadapa. Isang bilyong babae ang babangon, Ito na ang ating panahon!
(Why? The nation cannot survive, without women/ yet when we are hurt, it is like it never ends? Why? It is drawn on our faces, that we are all victims, of cruelty, violence? We are forced to fall down. One billion women will rise, it is our time!)
The dance and song performance is so empowering, highlighting the “Huwag matakot at lumaban na, Tama na ang pang-aabuso” (Don’t be afraid and fight now, it is time for the abuse to end) call to action for women to stand up against violence.
Violence against women is pervasive in the Philippines. The 2017 Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) National Demographic and Health Survey showed that one in four Filipino women aged 15 to 49 have reported experiencing some form of physical, sexual, and emotional violence.
Further exacerbating the problem of violence against women in the Philippines is the high prevalence of excessive alcohol use.
Alcohol may encourage aggression or violence by disrupting normal brain function. It weakens brain mechanisms that normally restrain impulsive behaviors, including inappropriate aggression.
In a UNICEF study conducted in 1997 analyzing 1,000 cases of domestic violence in the Philippines, alcohol misuse was cited in one out of every four cases.
The use of limited household funds to buy alcohol often causes arguments and violent outbursts within a relationship, according to a 2009 qualitative study of 19 married women in Cebu by Fehringer and Hindin. A third of the women in the study mentioned the husband’s alcohol consumption as a source of conflict which led to violent acts.
In a study on husband/partner intoxication and intimate partner violence against women in the Philippines conducted by Kerridge and Tran (2016), 92.9% of women reported their partner being intoxicated at least sometimes. Intoxication was significantly associated with all three types of intimate partner violence, namely physical, emotional, and sexual violence.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that alcohol use is a major factor behind domestic violence. Men are prone to be violent if factors — including low education, history of child maltreatment, exposure to domestic violence, and exposure to unequal gender norms — are present together with alcohol use. The WHO, UN Women, Human Rights Council, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and Movendi International list alcohol as a major risk factor and a determinant of violence against women.
The link between alcohol and domestic violence was extensively discussed by Dr. Maricar Limpin, immediate past president of the Philippine College of Physicians, in a 2019 Senate hearing on alcohol taxes. She shared: “Once an alcoholic wants to drink, they will do anything in order to get what they want, even to the point of hurting family members. Alcohol use is why there are so many battered women among the poor.”
Alcohol-related violence against women is nonetheless preventable. Alcohol taxation and pricing legislation are known to be the most effective alcohol control measures.
Our legislators can prevent violence against women and protect public health through increasing alcohol excise taxes, thereby increasing prices, making alcohol less accessible, and reducing alcohol consumption.
Although Republic Act 11467, which was passed in 2020, raised taxes on alcohol products, consumption has barely dropped in the past decade. In 2013, binge drinking among current alcohol drinkers was at 56.2%, according to the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DoST-FNRI). In 2021, 54.7% of current alcohol drinkers binge drink.
According to a 2021 study by Movendi International, four in 10 Filipino adults (40.1%) reported alcohol use in the past 30 days. Men used more alcohol than women (51.5% vs. 28.9%). One in three Filipinos (33.1%) reported high-risk and heavy alcohol use while consuming six or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting. The Philippine government estimated alcohol harm to cost the government P200 billion annually as of 2019.
This tells us that we still need to increase alcohol excise taxes to reduce consumption.
The Philippines also needs a comprehensive regulatory framework to reduce alcohol consumption.
Let us celebrate women’s month by protecting women from alcohol-related violence.
Emmanuella Iellamo is a policy researcher for Action for Economic Reforms and since her high school days has been an advocate for women empowerment.