x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

New film highlights sexual harassment of Filipinas in Gulf

A large majority of Gulf-based Filipinas who responded to a recent poll said they were routinely sexually harassed, according to a new documentary that aims to shed light on the issue.

Lalaine Chu-Benitez, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Illustrado lifestyle magazine at Dubai Media City.
Lalaine Chu-Benitez, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Illustrado lifestyle magazine at Dubai Media City.

DUBAI // A large majority of Gulf-based Filipinas who responded to a recent poll said they were routinely sexually harassed, according to a new documentary that aims to shed light on the issue.

The Filipina on Top, a 30-minute production by the filmmaker Kamil Roxas, was sponsored by the publishers of Illustrado, a Filipino lifestyle magazine in Dubai. It will be screened at its fourth Women of Substance event in Dubai on Friday

After shooting the film in locations around Dubai at the end of February, Illustrado this month carried out an informal poll of 100 women, aged 20 to 50, via the phone and Facebook, who live in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait.

The findings showed 75 of the 100 Filipinas polled had experienced some form of sexual harassment.

"The most shocking revelation was that sexual harassment was more widespread than what we had actually expected," said Lalaine Chu-Benitez, the magazine's publisher and editor-in-chief. "The ultimate message of the film is for Filipinas to take charge in all aspects of their lives.

"Sometimes it makes one think, are Filipinas the only ones experiencing this? Is it because people think we are timid? Does it happen to other nationalities?"

According to a recent survey on harassment for Al Aan TV's Nabd Al Arab (Arabs' Pulse) show - carried out by YouGov Siraj - two-thirds of 156 female respondents of various nationalities said they were subjected to some form of harassment in the UAE.

The incidents occurred in places such as a shopping malls, supermarkets and on the street. One-third of the women said they experienced incidents at work and one-quarter felt the degree of harassment in the UAE was increasing.

"People need to be careful and should be mindful about how they present themselves," said Dana Shadid, the media manager at Al Aan TV and a producer of Nabd al Arab. "If you feel uncomfortable, get out. But if you're subjected to it, report it. You should never be quiet."

In the documentary, Filipinas are encouraged to be aware of rules and cultural norms.

"Smiling is a very common thing for us," said Chu-Benitez. "We smile all the time, even when we are in an uncomfortable situation. We smile even at strangers, not knowing that a smile could be misinterpreted in other cultures as a sexual come-on, or misconstrued as being accessible and ready for anything."

Representatives from Migrante, a Filipino migrant rights group, are also featured in the documentary, urging women to fight back, report incidents to police and seek assistance from their group and from the Philippine authorities.

The Filipina on Top is a sequel to The Empowered Filipina, a documentary Illustrado produced last year that told the inspirational stories of 13 Emirates-based Filipinas.

Chu-Benitez said it was a difficult decision for them to tackle a more controversial and sensitive subject in the new documentary.

"It is a hard lesson to teach," she said. "But we hope the Filipina emerges triumphant, hence the title The Filipina on Top."

Although many of the women were hesitant to tell their stories, when Chu-Benitez volunteered her experiences it spurred the women to talk about their own stories.

Chu-Benitez, a resident of the Emirates for the past 20 years, recalled an incident when a man grabbed her from behind as she was about to cross a busy street in Deira.

"I was in my corporate clothes," she said. "He sped off so I didn't see him, so I didn't have a chance to react."

She recounted another time, shortly after her arrival in Dubai, when her ex-boss tried to force himself on her.

"I thought being friendly was normal," she said. "I just froze and my tears were streaming down my face."

The women who responded to the Illustrado survey described being stalked, grabbed from behind, groped by a group of youngsters and propositioned.

rruiz@thenational.ae

This version corrects the spelling of the Al Aan TV.