July 22, 2024

This year’s nationwide observance of the “18-Day Campaign to End Violence Against Women (VAW)” from Nov. 25 to Dec. 12 aims to promote awareness about the Safe Spaces Act (Republic Act 11313 or SSA), for the public and the institutions that are mandated to implement the law.
In 2016, the Inter-Agency Council on Violence Against Women (IACVAWC) has adopted the theme “VAW-free community starts with Me” for the 18-Day Campaign to End VAW.
The council also agreed the said theme shall be used every year from 2016 to 2021. The theme elevates the campaign to positive advocacy as it enjoins everyone to pursue the common vision of a community free from violence against women and girls, and highlights what can be done to achieve such.
The Safe Spaces Act, previously known as the “Bawal ang Bastos Bill” was enacted on April 17, 2019. It was aimed at ensuring equality, security, and safety of every individual in private and public spaces, public utility vehicles, including online and in workplaces, among others. It also included the protection even to cyberspace and provides for prohibited acts and their corresponding penalties.
Prior to the passing of the law, there were several local government units that passed ordinances in the effort to put a stop to what they call catcalling, panghihipo, and use of lewd words, etc.
With the passage of the law, LGUs are mandated to pass ordinances localizing the applicability of the Safe Spaces Act. The Metro Manila Development Authority, the Philippine National Police, and the Women and Children’s Protection Desk of the PNP have been given the task of apprehending violators of the law. With regard to online cases, the task falls on the Anti-Cybercrime Group of the PNP.
In addition to penalizing acts of the gender-based sexual harassment in public places, the Safe Spaces Act also expands the 1995 Anti-Sexual Harassment Act. Formerly, sexual harassment was only punished when committed by someone who has authority, influence or moral ascendancy over the victim. Under the Safe Space Act, acts committed between peers, by a subordinate to a superior officer, by a student to a teacher, or by a trainee to a trainer are now covered as punishable sexual harassment.
The law supplements the existing Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 by broadening the crime of sexual harassment in the workplace to include the following acts involving any unwelcome sexual advances, requests, or demands for sexual favors or any act of a sexual nature, whether done verbally, physically, or through the use of technology, that has or could have a detrimental effect on the conditions of an individual’s employment, job performance, or opportunities.
Any conduct of a sexual nature or other conduct based on sex affecting the dignity of a person, which is unwelcome, unreasonable, and offensive to the recipient; and any conduct that is unwelcome and pervasive and creates an intimidating, hostile, or humiliating environment for the recipient.
In addition, the law explicitly provides that the crime of gender-based sexual harassment may also be committed between peers, by a subordinate to a superior officer, or by a trainee to a trainer. This widens the scope from that set out in the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, which required that for any act to be considered harassment, the offender had to be more senior than the person who was harassed.
To ensure compliance, the Department of Labor and Employment for the private sector and the Civil Service Commission as part of its enforcement functions shall conduct yearly spontaneous, random, and unannounced inspections to ensure compliance of employers and employees in accordance with their rules on inspection and their obligations under the law.
Acts of gender-based sexual harassment are punishable by administrative sanctions, without prejudice to other applicable laws.
Employers that fail to comply with their duties, including taking action on reported acts of gender-based sexual harassment committed in the workplace can be fined.