KASAMA Vol. 13 No. 1 / JanuaryFebruaryMarch 1999 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
The Feminization of our Migrant Workers
Speech delivered by Rep. Loretta Ann P. Rosales [partylist: Akbayan] during the celebration of International Womens Day on March 8, 1999 at the Philippine House of Representatives
The feminization of Philippines overseas contract workers has its benefits and costs. Remittances of Filipino workers abroad prop up the Philippine gross national product (GNP) often at the cost of their rights as human beings. Philippine labor statistics show that the trend of Filipinos going overseas to work has changed from a male to a femaledominated one.
Feminization of migrant workers can be traced as early as the 1980s when the demand for tutors was easily filled by Filipino teachers who were receiving meager salaries. When the demand for tutors dropped, the majority of teachers began working as babysitters and eventually as domestic helpers. From then on, Filipinas worked as domestic helpers and caregivers to the young and old of Hongkong, Singapore, Australia; as dancers and singers in Japan; as chambermaids in the hotels in Dubai, Germany; as maids or servants in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other middle east countries; and as laborers in Taiwanese semiconductor companies.
Separated from home and family, despised in foreign lands and discriminated against in the workplace, women migrant workers span the occupational spectrum from professionals on fixed term contracts to laborers who perform jobs that are considered too dirty, dangerous, or difficult for locals.
Women migrant workers are more susceptible to maltreatment, physical and sexual abuse. Most prone are the domestic helpers and those in the entertainment trade. In the 1998 survey of world human rights practices submitted by the Department of State to the US Congress last February, Hongkong, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait stand out as the places where overseas Pinays suffered most human rights abuses.
Despite the growing attention and the creation of specific norms, procedures and institutions to protect the migrant workers, these do not assure women migrant workers protection. One major constraint to dealing with the issue of migrant women workers is the lack of adequate information not only about the prevalence of violence but also its extent and magnitude. Violence against migrant women workers, a problem that concerns both sending and receiving countries, should be viewed from the wider context of genderbased violence. It is necessary to view the vulnerabilities of migrant women workers in the context of globalization and unequal economic and political relations between sending and receiving countries, and of competition among sending countries.
Violence against women workers has both shortterm and longterm effects on the individual woman, her family and her society. It damages the physical and mental health of the victims and leaves longterm psychological effects. Overseas work means leaving ones family. They face myriads of psychological and emotional difficulties in the process. This includes loneliness, isolation, neglect and even feeling of being helpless.
Moreover, it also affects our countrys image and esteem and erodes peoples confidence in our governments capacity to provide a decent life for its citizenry and to protect them.
We note with pride and deep appreciation that the Philippines is one of the first states that signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. This is a significant victory for the millions of Filipinos working as migrants in various parts of the world. Yet, we are disheartened because until now, the UN convention remains a mere paper document with only 10 countries ratifying the instrument out of the required 20 signatories to enforce the agreement.
It is for this reason that I appeal to the Philippine government to take an active role and lead its own campaign for the ratification of the UN convention. By doing so, it can earn for our country the admiration and respect of the international community. I further ask the Philippine government, particularly agencies concerned with overseas migration, to take a lead in the ratification campaign by showing a good example in championing the rights of its own migrant workers.
It is sad to note, however, that even our government falls short of its international commitments and its responsibilities as protectors of our rights and welfare. I therefore ask our government, particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs, to look more closely into the situation of our migrant women workers and take appropriate measures to extend prompt and effective onsite protection and assistance to all overseas Filipino workers.
Specifically, I ask our government to:
Our migrant women workers have braved new worlds and endured the pain of separation from loved ones if only to keep and uplift their families. They have experienced humiliation, abuse, torture and slavery. Many among their ranks have returned home dead or badly bruised or psychologically impaired.
They have contributed more than their share in propping up the local economy. Perhaps, it is not too much to ask for closer attention and better treatment.
The text of Rep. Rosales
speech submitted by: KAKAMMPI,
701 Matahimik St., Teachers Village,
Diliman, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES