Posted at 06/21/2013 5:35 PM | Updated as of 06/21/2013 9:33 PMMANILA – From worms in restaurant food to defective PCOS machines, social media has become a way for the public to call attention to things that would, decades ago, may only have been confined to a select few.
However, aside from complaints about food quality, safety issues and the government, social media has also made it easier for issues such as violence against women to surface. It has become a means to chronicle events of note such as protest movements and human rights violations, not only the goings-on in people's daily lives.
In 2009, Iranians used Twitter to protest the results of their country’s Presidential election, in a move to counter the government’s suppression of access to websites and text messaging, and its ban on rallies.
Twitter has also been used to bring attention to national events not covered by the mainstream media, such as the recent protests in Turkey, where the authorities used force to subdue demonstrators.
Instagram and Facebook have also been used to document what happened during the protests in Turkey.
In the Philippines, social media has been one of the most effective ways to bring issues to the attention of government officials. Sometimes, policies have been changed because of clamor from Filipinos online.
Even cases of women abused abroad, such as OFWs being taken advantage of by their employers and even government envoys, have been brought to public attention and received action due to social media.
Social networking sites have also been a way to shatter the culture of silence surrounding domestic issues such as violence against women, said Jean Enriquez of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific.
“Our office itself (CATW-AP) received cases through the social media, and has assisted victims-survivors of trafficking and violence against women, with the help of social media,” Enriquez said in an email interview with ABS-CBNnews.com.
“It can be one of the many tools to call for help, to create awareness and even to build networks around fighting VAW [violence against women], trafficking, illegal recruitment [and] other forms of exploitation. That is in fact, the only reason I came on Facebook and Twitter even as I have been resisting it in the past, and still have many misgivings,” she said.
“Many young people are on these social networking sites, and a huge way to sustain organizing among huge sections of them is to be on these sites.”
Breaking the silence
Recently, TV personality Daiana Menezes was thrust into the limelight when she tweeted about violence against women on her Twitter account, and posted photos of injuries on Instagram.
She got overwhelming support on social media from fans and advocates of violence against women, and even reportedly approached a women’s group to help address her “situation”.
Menezes was married to outgoing Cagayan de Oro Rep. Benjamin Benaldo in a civil ceremony in Las Vegas last year. They are reportedly planning to hold a religious wedding soon.
In an interview on ABS-CBN, Benaldo apologized for their fight, though he did not give further details on what occurred that may have prompted Menezes to speak out on social media.
After their interview, Menezes said she was considering filing for divorce, but also said she loves Benaldo and was undecided on whether she will wants to go through with a religious wedding.
According to Enriquez, she first heard of the issue on Facebook, when she was sent the story by an employee of the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) on Facebook.
“I asked the DSWD employee to tweet the DSWD hotlines and those of the Women's Crisis Center to Daiana, as I could not give my number, as I was abroad then,” she said.
She added that others could also help for Menezes, because violence against women and children is a public crime. “It is not only up to Daiana, but also to government authorities and the public...Any authority or two concerned citizens with personal knowledge can file a protection order for the victim.”
Unfortunately, Enriquez said, while the Violence Against Women and Children Act (VAWCA) or Republic Act 9262 makes it easy for victims to get help, government officials need in-depth education on issues such as violence against women so that they can be more responsive and gender-sensitive.
In a statement, Cong. Benjamin Benaldo said in reaction to his wife Menezes’ posts on social media that he "[believes] that any woman, any foreigner (woman) who might be facing a situation worse than ours must find an avenue for the redress of her grievances in our country."
However, Enriquez said that the VAWC Act should already address the issues even of foreign women who are violated in the Philippines. “The Anti-Trafficking Act of RA 9208 also covers foreign women trafficked to the Philippines,” she said.
No school like the old school
Social media is one of the easiest ways people are able to reach institutions such as CATW-AP.
“Often the ones we took action on were also endorsed by friends on social media, so there's pre-verification of the case,” Enriquez said.
Based on information they got online, they were able to coordinate with government agencies and non-government organizations abroad on providing abused and trafficked women support services, legal assistance and repatriation.
However, social media could not fill the gap of responding to cases, she said, as many people online only post and do not act or call the attention of groups which may be able to provide assistance.
“Nothing could replace old school in-depth education on women's issues, patriarchy, and feminist responses. We should continue our education in communities, schools, in the local levels on social injustice, violence against women and training on gender-responsive, child-friendly interventions,” she said.
In the Philippines and abroad, social media has often been used to call for action on certain issues. One successful campaign against violence against media abroad was done in Saudi Arabia. The campaign, entitled “Multiply”, called on men and women to express their anger with men who hit women.
In the US, website and mobile app “Hollaback” lets women report street harassment by letting women post photos of their harassers and posting them online.
Even Facebook has taken action, recently pulling down pages on the site depicting violence against women. It had earlier been accused by activist groups of being lenient, allowing pages depicting violence against women to remain, while photos of women breastfeeding their babies were reportedly flagged as unsuitable and removed.