Making a difference: Soroptimist support for Philippines rape-survivor

Sina Stiffler, one of SI’s UN Representatives in Geneva, describes how meeting rape survivor Karen Vertido from the Philippines reminded her of the difference that Soroptimists can make.

Two horrible rape cases in India in December 2012 and March 2013  drew the world’s  attention to the fact that rape is still treated as trivial offence  although  India, along with  most other countries in the world, has ratified  the  Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person  (Art.3)”

“Society can no longer turn a blind eye to these sorts of incidents, which are happening every day," the New Delhi’s victim’s  father told the British television network ITV. "We have to change ourselves. If there are no changes, then these horrible things won’t stop. The public has to wake up now."

“Soroptimist International will improve the lives and status of women and girls”, SI states in Goal 1 of our Programme goals.  But sometimes when I am sitting in UN conferences, listening to long discussions about human rights abuses, I have serious doubts if we are powerful enough to improve women’s lives.

However my short encounter with a rape victim at UN Geneva gives hope and should bolster all Soroptimists  who are struggling for the rights of women in their society:

In February 2013  I attended the CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) conference “Women’s Access to Justice”. Wilder Tayler, Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists, explained that after sexual violence, women are often blamed or asked to settle problems outside court.

Even if countries have adopted equal rights in their legislation, there are many obstacles that are responsible that women have more difficulty to get to their rights, i.e. women don’t know how to  find their way to justice or don’t dare, they are not treated equally.   After they have been to court they are  often regarded negatively in their society, even if they are not guilty.

Karen Vertido (Philippines) told her story. She had successfully brought a complaint to court under CEDAW’ s Optional Protocol 1997. She was raped while at work. In the Philippines  many women are victims of sexual violence but most of them don’t take action afterwards because of stigma and lack of money. Karen went to court but afterwards she felt that society avoided her, she was stigmatized, because in the Philippines talking about being raped is just not done.  But Karen continued:

"As horrendous as that experience was, it was nothing compared to the next decade which was characterized with unspeakable pain. Mine is what therapists consider a text book rape. I knew the man who raped me. He was a former president of the organization of which I was executive director. It was done in a work situation. Extensive media coverage I guess was inevitable just based on the personalities of the protagonists. It was a double edged sword. The widespread interest in the case aggravated the stigmatization for me. But on the other hand, I exposed him for who he really was: a criminal, a rapist, not the respectable man he projected himself to be."     

I met Karen Vertido  a couple of hours after her presentation.  When I introduced myself as a Soroptimist, she flung her arms round my neck and told me, that it was because of the Soroptimists in the Philippines she had been able to persevere and bear all the hassle. The Soroptimists had actively  supported her in her struggle for her rights.

This is a good example of how Soroptimists’ dedication for women and girls make a difference!!  

Image: Sina Stiffler (left) and Suba Parthiban of Soroptimist International Europe at the UN in 2010

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