Written by Pia L. Camagay / Photos by Renz Baluyot
A typical day at the Quezon City Hall can be characterized as tense, dour, and perhaps for some, even dull. To the outsider, the halls are but a monochromatic dishevelment. Unbeknownst to them, hidden behind the unrelieved panels of the legislative wing is the office of Councilor Mayen Juico.
Mayen Juico – young, beautiful, and poised. One would have mistaken her for a celebrity rather than a politician. Her office felt a little out of place in the City Hall. One side of the wall was painted a vivid pink, and the furniture looked like it belonged to a dollhouse rather than a local government office.
Most people do not know that Councilor Mayen is actually the woman behind the Anti-Catcalling Ordinance in Quezon City (QC). The Anti-Catcalling Ordinance, otherwise known as the Gender and Development Code, imposes penalty (i.e. fine and jail term) for acts considered as street harassment. It was signed in 2016. Since then, QC, the biggest city in the Philippines, has recreated itself as the safest city in the country.
The issue of catcalling has been gaining a lot of traction in the past few years. People from various sectors of society have been joining the discourse because the problem is not only something that concerns women – it is, sadly, something that is embedded within the national culture.
Councilor Mayen admits that she herself has also been a victim of catcalling. “Not even just one time, a number of times. Too many times, too many times than you would care to recall. I’ve been a victim of not just sexual harassment, sexual violence. Believe me, I’ve been through all of it. That also kind of propelled me to all the more fight for the [passing of the ordinance],” she shared.
In fact, ironically, when asked about the challenges she faces as a female politician, the issue of harassment came up once again. “When we go down to the barangay (or not even the barangay) there is always that risk of harassment. There are people who will hold your hand a little longer, whose hands will crawl down to beyond your waist. There is also that risk that they will assume that some tasks are not for you because you are female,” she said.
But despite these challenges, Councilor Mayen continues to break stereotypes – she is a woman who has embraced her femininity in a man’s world. “There is a strength in femininity that is not stereotypical of strength,” she said, while talking about all the strong women who have influenced her – her mother and her boss, Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte, among others. They are, perhaps, the biggest reasons why she keeps going and why she has managed to stay true to her advocacies.
Aside from pioneering the Gender and Development Code, she also the pioneered the passing of the Ordinance Against Discrimination on the Basis of SOGIE – which gave birth to the existence of LGBT help desks in QC.
“There is a strength in femininity that is not stereotypical of strength.”
Yes, there is a myriad of challenges for female politicians like Councilor Mayen, but for her, there is nothing more rewarding than serving people: “One of the reasons why I entered public service was that desire to effect change and in whatever little way that you can. And that’s precisely what I’ve done with [the Anti-Catcalling] Ordinance and with the SOGIE Ordinance. Like with the SOGIE ordinance, I’ve had lesbians, gays who I do not know, I’ve never seen, come up to me and say, “Thank you. Thank you for that.” You would think, sometimes, that the job is a little thankless because you’re [just] there, defending it. People don’t even know that there exists a law that is such, but then you have people that come up to you and say, “Thank you,” and then somehow you feel, “Okay, it’s not that bad.”
Because of Councilor Mayen and the ordinances she passed, QC is now a safer space for men, women, and LGBTs alike. And because they feel safe, they also feel more empowered.
But beyond passing ordinances and laws, Councilor Mayen believes that there is a better way to empower women: “I think the best way to empower women is to everyday live an empowered life for your fellow women. So I feel that it is to everyday, you walk your talk and you live your life as an empowered woman no matter how hard it is because there are days that it gets hard. So I feel that’s it. So maybe by law of osmosis, we will be able to touch each other and will be a more empowered specie.”
“I think the best way to empower women is to everyday live an empowered life for your fellow women.”
Thank you, Councilor Mayen! You are an inspiration.