The alleged public shaming of several lesbian women by shaving their heads has sparked outrage in the Philippines during Pride Month and prompted an investigation by the national human rights ombudsman.
LGBTQ acceptance has expanded in the Philippines over the years, illustrated in part by the success of some members of the community in politics, media and entertainment industries. But rights groups say gender-based discrimination and violence are still a major problem.
The independent Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said last week it is investigating reports of forced head shaving of women in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines.
Videos and photos of the alleged punishment went viral on Facebook and were picked up by local news outlets, where reports said an estimated six women were targeted. Although the video was taken down, it triggered condemnation and calls for action.
A provincial officer who condemned the punishment was quoted as saying that members of the local community suggested it.
The CHR said a local news outlet claimed the public head shaving was carried out because the Muslim-majority town was opposed to same-sex relationships.
“We stress that not even a religious belief can justify a human rights violation. Religious freedom, while it includes the absolute right to believe in a dogma, cannot transgress on the rights of others nor be used to justify harm and violence,” the commission said in a statement.
Although the Philippines has yet to pass a gender equality bill which has been languishing in Congress, the country’s Safe Spaces Act ensures that all individuals are free from harassment.
“CHR continues to stress that no person should ever suffer discrimination and harm on the basis of one’s affiliation or creed, or because of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or sex characteristics,” the commission said.
The Lagablab LGBT Network called on the Bangsamoro Commission on Human Rights to “investigate the act of violence and to bring justice for the victims.” Bangsamoro is a Muslim-majority autonomous region in the southern Philippines.
“This incident highlights that violence against LGBTQI persons is a national concern. Numerous attacks against LGBTQI individuals have been reported just this past month, and these incidents occurred in various areas in the country,” Claire De Leon, the organization’s secretary-general, told VICE World News.
“This incident highlights that violence against LGBTQI persons is a national concern.”
An umbrella organization of advocacy groups also stressed the need to pass a hate crime law that would penalize attacks and violence on the basis of gender and sexual orientation. Ryan Thoreson, a researcher from global monitor Human Rights Watch, made a similar call on Monday.
“Forcibly shaving lesbians’ hair is a violent and humiliating violation of their rights. Officials in the Philippines should make sure justice is done and redouble efforts to combat discrimination against #LGBTI people,” Thoreson said in a tweet.
A representative from the Bangsamoro Commission on Human Rights told VICE World News that a special investigator was deployed in the town and is in touch with the victims and their families. They declined to comment while the investigation is ongoing.
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