Inclusion of Violence Against Women & Children (VAWC) and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Emergencies and Distress Calls in Emergency 911 National Hotline


This case looks into how a group of young feminists working in response to gender problems were able to push for the inclusion of VAWC and GBV under the purview of the 911 hotline, which was accomplished through a Joint Memorandum Circular. Instead of amending the existing Implementing Rules and Regulations, the team simply had to reiterate that VAWC and GBV can be considered as an “emergency” under Executive Order (EO) 56.  


  1. Team and coalition partners
  2. The development challenge
  3. Identifying the reform and introducing the reform
  4. Impact of the reform

The team and coalition partners

The team was led by Shebana “Bans” Alqaseer, who has been working for eight years in government, civil society, and INGOs focusing on women’s rights and empowerment, reproductive health, ending gender-based violence, and pushing for women’s political participation. Bans works with grassroots communities, conducting research to understand the root of the problem and provide recommendations, as well as organizing campaigns specific to ending misogyny and sexism in society. Bans and her team worked with one of the State Counsels of the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Emergency 911 Executive Director, and the University of the Philippines Center for Women’s and Gender Studies in pursuing her reform.

The Development Challenge

While there are many initiatives specific to addressing the twin issues of VAWC and GBV, our efforts always seem to be lacking. That’s when I realized we had a sustainability problem. For one, our programs as women’s rights organizations and civil society are reliant on external funding. These are usually just 1 to 3- year programs that you almost always have to tailor-fit for the donor. Also, for initiatives by NGOs or local and elected officials, they’re reliant on the Head of Office if they will pursue the programs or not since these are not permanent positions. The programs are usually done on a small scale or in specific areas only because again, funding is a problem.

That’s when it hit me: our community work needs to be paired with policy reform. Change doesn’t happen easily. Even if we influence more people on the ground—without the right policies in place or the proper implementation on the part of the government—we can only do so much. So at the end of the day, if we want sustainable, long-term solutions to our problems that are not reliant on funders, we need laws and policies in place. This should also be complemented with the equally important work of ensuring their implementation and changing behaviors on the ground.

Identifying and introducing the reform

I, like probably most women, experienced abuse firsthand. I have also witnessed or have been asked multiple times by friends and acquaintances for help or rescue. Almost always, I feel helpless. There’s the feeling of helplessness…of going against a deeply entrenched system of violence and abuse. But there’s also a sharper kind, one that hits closer to home, when you realize there’s only so much you can do as a friend, and even as an advocate, to send immediate help.

There really was no proper, sufficient, and sustainable mechanism to respond to VAWC and GBV. Even our colleagues in other NGOs have limited resources to respond to these issues. This has been recurring with such frequency and consistency that it already feels like a vicious cycle: encountering the problem; scrambling to find people to connect with survivors; and ending up sending whatever help we can later than we would have liked because we had to scour our networks to find help first.

From our data, we knew that 2 in every 3 Filipino women experienced abuse at least once in their lives; but only 1 in 10 victim survivors would seek help from the police. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 18, 945 VAWC cases reported to the Philippine National Police Women and Child Protection Services from March 2020 to August 2021.

We believed that many cases remained underreported, and knew that GBV increased significantly during the pandemic. Hence, it was called a “shadow pandemic.” My friends created a volunteer-driven online counseling for GBV and this was a huge help for all victim survivors during the pandemic. However, even the founders acknowledged that since this initiative was only volunteer-driven, it was not sustainable in the long run.

As we were working on finding a solution to this problem, our team decided to call all the VAWC hotlines for two weeks. In the Philippines, various agencies provide numerous services for victim-survivors. However, we found out some of the barriers to access:

  • We had to search for the phone numbers via Google, which in itself requires mobile data and using specific search terms to come up with the right results.
  • Specific hotlines only provide specific solutions. What if survivors do not know what they need at a specific moment? For example, if they need legal assistance.
  • Survivors do not know that the hotlines exist, and what they are for
  • There is no one hotline for everything; there are so many numbers and are difficult to memorize; the calls are not toll-free; and the calls take too long to be answered.

There are many other reasons behind the underreporting of VAWC and GBV in the country: the inaccessibility of help, unfamiliarity with the systems in place, the overall apprehensions with the process. This is all because we were taught that domestic violence is a private matter between couples; or worse—that rape, leaked photos, or physical assault—are ultimately the survivors’ fault. Our society is still heavily misogynist, and we have to find a way to change this. Normalizing reporting is one; providing appropriate support for survivors is another.

Women need to know that immediate help is available. That help is accessible 24/7, free of charge, comprehensive, and most importantly, survivor-centered.

Executive approach

We actually have an Emergency 911 National Hotline Service that was implemented through Executive Order (EO) 56 signed by then President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018. The hotline responds to emergencies requiring police, medical, fire, rescue services, as well as bomb threats. The machinery already exists, but we needed to ensure a process flow and to also look at it through a gender lens.

Under EO 56, an “emergency” refers to an unforeseen or sudden occurrence that poses injury, loss of life, damage to property and/or interference with the normal activities of a person, demanding immediate action or response. It didn’t directly include VAWC or GBV as an emergency, and we needed to find a way for the government to include it.

Our first reaction was: ok, let’s change this. Let’s have the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) amended to include VAWC as one of the emergencies the 911 hotline will cater to. But while we were pitching this idea from one department to another, the State Counsel of the Department of Justice said we didn’t have to have the EO amended. If you review the definition of “emergency” under the IRR, VAWC falls under the definition of “an unforeseen life-threatening situation that poses injury, loss of life, damage to property and/or interference with the normal activities of a person demanding immediate action or response.”

We didn’t have to amend the EO, we just needed to reiterate it! So what was the lesson here? This was not our original policy proposal. This was an unexpected track for our reform. However, it was also a happy and welcome surprise, suggested by the Department of Justice State Counsel during our pitch meeting. Thankfully, this was affirmed by everyone we met afterwards, from feminist lawyers, other agencies, and civil society partners.

Impact of the Reform

The team is happy to report about our policy win on the successful inclusion of VAWC and GBV emergencies in the 911 National Hotline for Emergencies. To cut a long story short, from only a couple of life- threatening emergencies listed like fire, medical crises, and search-and-rescue situations, the team was able to push for the inclusion of VAWC and GBV as emergencies under the purview of the 911 hotline. This was accomplished through a Joint Memorandum Circular signed by the three agencies [Bans to identify] involved. The Joint Memo also includes adopting the Guidebook on handling VAWC or GBV emergencies along with the referral pathways.

This policy win means that survivors of abuse can now call 911 to seek immediate rescue, psychosocial first aid, or referrals to other government agencies for the specific support they need. 911 is toll-free, available 24/7, and undeniably easy to remember.

But we didn’t stop there. The team worked with the University of the Philippines Center for Women’s and Gender Studies to develop a guide for handling GBV cases, especially for survivors under distress. We also worked with the 911 emergency call takers who underwent training, exams, and simulations to ensure that those who call for assistance will get the help they need.

References to 12 Principles

Development Entrepreneurship PrincipleHow this was Applied
Just start“We knew this was a problem encountered by many people, and that this was a problem we wanted to solve. We also knew that cases of VAWC and GBV increased during the pandemic, which put more spotlight on the issue. We also knew that the government had current initiatives, however flawed.   So clearly, we knew the problem, we knew the solution. We just needed to find a way to get there. Just start and find your way!”
Make small bets“The 911 IRR happened out of luck. This came up during our trial- and-error period. At first, we were too ambitious and we thought we should create a new hotline from scratch!   Apparently, the solution was right under our noses. It was already existing, it just needed a bit of tweaking. It was an easy reform to do if we only we speak to the right people. We didn’t have to make it complicated!”  
Expect and exploit surprises“You need to expect resistance to change. We were consistently told: ‘we tried this so many times, it couldn’t be done.’ However, the COVID-19 pandemic offered a silver lining: we met with the E911 Executive Director and DOJ State Counsel; the government acknowledged and prioritized ending GBV during the pandemic; and President Duterte’s EO56 institutionalized the 911 hotline.”  
Harness coalitions and networks“We reached out to multiple organizations—asking and offering solutions, resolutions, partnerships—to make this happen.”
Influence the future  “For me and the team, we just kept pushing for it. It’s a mix of everything: you have to have the technical knowledge to write the policy document. You need to know and talk to the right people. You need to have the gender lens to be able to come up with a reform that is not just technically and politically feasible, but that it will make sense to the people who need it the most. You also need to find the right team to work with and share the work.”  


Our 911 VAWC-GBV hotline is something that we are really proud of. It’s not perfect, and it can definitely be improved by additional supporting reform work that we’re currently pushing for. But what I could say is that we tried to cover what we could. For one, this reform doesn’t just cover violence against women.

The reform solutions are also based on lived realities on the ground. We did our research on top of our theoretical knowledge. We tried calling the hotlines ourselves, and spoke to service providers and victim-survivors to ensure that all concerns were addressed. Having a toll-free, easy-to-remember 24/7 hotline is not enough. We had to make sure that the survivors are the center of this reform…that their concerns, safety, and well-being are of utmost priority. We also made sure that the special needs of persons with disabilities are noted at the onset, in the intake form. And that the language used in all our policy documents is gender-fair and sensitive.

Personal Note 

Our goal is to have all our policy reforms look into the gender aspect of things. That is why having an intersectional lens is crucial in reform work. We need to understand that issues and reforms affect people differently based on their multiple and intersecting identities.

Even if it’s not a gender issue you are trying to solve, ask yourself : how will this reform affect other sectors, especially the marginalized—women, children, elderly, LGBTQI, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, etc. How are the needs and specific issues experienced by these sectors can be taken into account and addressed by your reform ?

I hope that we apply this principle in whatever we do, especially in reforms and legislation because the impact of these reforms are long-term, if not forever. We have to ensure that we’re helping address issues and supporting the marginalized, rather than putting them further at the margins.

Shebana “Bans” Alqaseer
DE Gender Consultant


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