“I was thrown. I was kicked. I was a punching bag."
These days, the world of 39-year old Clara is filled with art, food and laughter, but she was a 'battered woman' — an admission she says is part of her healing process, along with poetry and essays.
“I am a stronger person now. I am healed and I am continuously healing myself, that is why I do all these things. This is self-therapy. I convert negative thoughts into positive ideas,” she says.
Clara is certainly not alone. The government's social welfare department reported that cases of domestic violence are rising. From January to August of this year, 12,948 cases of physical abuse had been recorded.
That number is just 2,000 incidents shy of the number of cases in all of 2011, which saw 15,104 incidents, itself a significant increase from the 9,485 cases in 2010.
Clara's abuse started when she was 20 years old — when she was still finishing a degree at the University of the Philippines. She was pregnant, and one night her boyfriend drunkenly held a blade to her throat and threatened to slash her, she says.
“I am a very calm person so I humored him while we were talking.... Obviously, I was hurt but there was fear. He was drunk and he wasn’t thinking right," she says. "I thought that in the morning when we wake up he will be OK. Well, I had yet to see my worst nightmare."
The first time was followed by more battery. And like the first time, she says, the outbursts of her partner were caused by jealousy spurred by his insecurities.
Clara finally ended the relationship in 2004 and married a different man, who was also abusive.
“He verbally abused me and my son. He threw a glass pitcher and the television set at me and threatened to kill me,” she says.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman says the prevalence of domestic abuse makes it "a pervasive human rights violation."
"It violates the fundamental freedom of women and impedes the development of their full potential," she said.
In conjunction with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a three-day workshop to address the growing phenomenon of violence against women in ASEAN countries concludes today in the Philippines.
The Training Workshop on Strengthening Capacities of Communities, Practitioners and Policy Makers to Address Violence Against Womenw is being put on by the Philippines' Department of Social Welfare and Development, Soliman said.
"The workshop hopes to identify common approaches that service providers and practitioners can adapt to effectively address violence against women in this region," she said.
Social workers, law enforcement officers and non-government organizations from across ASEAN were participating.
"The passage of local and national laws has helped women and the general public break the silence about violence against women but it has not eradicated the violence,” Soliman said. “Systemic beliefs and perceptions about women as objects and occupying a lower position in society remain unchanged.”
In Davao City, where women are supposed to be protected under the 1998 Women Development Code, violence against women has undergone a steady increase, according to statistics from the Women and Children Protection Desk of the Davao City Police.
The Women Studies and Resource Center Southern Mindanao Region said that from 184 cases in 2004, cases of violence against women and children shot up to 422 in 2005, 815 in 2006, 1034 in 2007, and 1634 in 2010.
Leah Emily Miñoza, executive director of the center, says the increase is brought by the “awareness and assertiveness among our women to file cases.”
“But at the same time, it is a grim reminder of how violence against women remains unabated and how true equality and empowerment for women are impeded by this violence,” she adds.
Looking back, Clara says she thought it was her fault that her partners hit her, leaving her with that feeling that the abuse was justified.
“At the time this was all happening, I thought it was my fault. Now that I may not be physically hurt anymore, the memory of it lingers and makes you a scarred person. However, it matters a lot when you rise up to it and claim whatever is left of your dignity as a person, as a woman,” Clara says.
“My children and my faith have kept me alive."