KASAMA Vol. 13 No. 1 / January–February–March 1999 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Speech delivered by Rep. Loretta Ann P. Rosales [party–list: Akbayan] during the celebration of International Women’s 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 female–dominated 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 baby–sitters and eventually as domestic helpers. From then on, Filipinas worked as domestic helpers and care–givers 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 semi–conductor 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 gender–based 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 short–term and long–term effects on the individual woman, her family and her society. It damages the physical and mental health of the victims and leaves long–term psychological effects. Overseas work means leaving one’s 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 country’s image and esteem and erodes people’s confidence in our government’s 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 on–site protection and assistance to all overseas Filipino workers.

Specifically, I ask our government to:

  1. ensure prompt, thorough and transparent investigation of all cases of abuses and adequate assistance to victims, particularly those involving mysterious deaths, sexual abuse, trafficking, detention and mental illness;
  2. forge bilateral relations with labor–receiving countries;
  3. institute a system of consultation especially for policies affecting Filipinos in specific countries;
  4. ensure the recruitment, training and deployment of personnel who are genuinely committed to uphold the rights and interests of overseas Filipinos and who are gender–sensitive; and
  5. institute appropriate measures to reorient foreign service such that it would give primordial importance to overseas Filipinos.

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.

Thank you.

The text of Rep. Rosales’ speech submitted by: KAKAMMPI,
70–1 Matahimik St., Teacher’s Village,
Diliman, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES