KASAMA Vol. 10 No. 1 / January-February-March 1996 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network


by Emere Distor

In celebrating International Women's Day we must not only remember what women have achieved so far, but also we should remember the suffering of countless women in Australia and overseas.

In Australia, as women of colour, we often find ourselves in situations where we are subjected to abuse and discrimination mainly because of our race and gender. The situation is of course even worst for non-English speaking background women who are struggling three ways. Indeed, I can frankly say that women of NESB in Australia are not "relaxed and comfortable."

Last night while walking on the street where I live, three young teenagers shouted abuse to me and my companion out of whim. I shouted back using invectives they can easily understand and relate to. For some reason, I felt really good expressing my anger and disgust. The act of releasing what I truly feel is empowering.

Unfortunately not a lot of my Filipina sisters in Australia are openly shouting back against abuse and discrimination in our society. The stereotyping of Filipino women as "mail-order-brides" is overwhelming. This stereotyping which is often malicious, untrue and unfair, is encouraging many people in this country to attack Filipino and other Asian women in the guise of freedom of speech.

It is my opinion that the anti-discrimination legislation in this country is yet to be desired. So while waiting for any positive solution, Asian women in Australia are expected to hear more from Bob Katter who won a seat despite his controversial "slanty-eyed ideologues" comment. And our Aboriginal sisters can also expect to hear more from the "fish and chips" shop owner.

Violence against Filipino women alone is very alarming. Since 1991, 19 Filipinas were violently killed in Australia and there are still unsolved cases of disappearances. Most of the suspected perpetrators of these crimes are either the women's husband, partner or de facto, the majority of whom are Australian nationals.

According to the statistics from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Filipino women are five times more likely to be victims of domestic homicide as compared to the general community in Australia. This is traumatising our community because we are also in a situation where Filipino women are victims of serial sponsorship. Serial sponsorship is a process wherein Australian men sponsor a series of women, mostly from third world countries, who are unfamiliar with the language and the law, making them vulnerable to abuse and violence.

The involvement of men coming from developed countries like Australia in the trafficking of women and children from Asian countries is despicable. Asian women are still being sold in catalogues just like any merchandise from K-Mart. The Philippines has banned introduction agencies operating in the Philippines and yet you can still see advertisements in the Courier Mail for Filipina Princess and other introduction agencies specialising in Filipino women.

The depressing economic situation in the Philippines pushed many Filipino women to go overseas. The lack of opportunities in our country paved the way for the institutionalisation of overseas contract workers (OCWs) by creating a government agency devoted solely to dealing with Filipinos wanting to work abroad. Some of the OCWs are successful but many are unfortunate. In particular many Filipino women became easy targets of the abuse and violence of their foreign employer. Sadly, many Filipino women have already died.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many women's groups in Australia who have been supportive to our campaigns. We not only think of you all during IWD but in every step of our struggle. Again, let us be your partner in building a much better environment in Australia for all women regardless of race, regardless of colour. Thank you for listening.