Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Time for Transformation

Time for Transformation


The sight of a populist President coercing a migrant woman to ‘kiss’ him in South Korea has caused outrage by many and confusion amongst others.
Obviously this scenario represents a cumulative effect of many political, economic, social and cultural issues in the Philippines.
Populist leaders multiple ‘performances’ are known to act as a distraction from failures to deliver on policies – something not new to Philippine politics.
The positive impact of the ‘performance’ was enriched by many things; including celebrity culture, the overvaluing of male attention by some women and the desire to seek alignment with the powerful in a hierarchical society where the realization of rights is largely absent.
This performance was not solely for the audience, being also ‘dog-whistle’ politics to other misogynist and sexist men including those in South Korea and the Philippines. A President behaving this way sends a message that women have unequal political status and men can take advantage of pervasive sexual inequalities. Progressive men hopefully will push the debate to challenge gender inequality, any dominant gender ideologies that validate powerful violent male stereotypes and also challenge benevolent chaunivism. This would lay the foundations for women’s safety and the conditions for a different type of leader (including a woman on her own merit) to be elected.
The Women’s movement watching in horror will no doubt continue to challenge the patriarchy and gender stereotypes and the traditional Catholic Church, which blocks desperately needed sex education for healthy intimate relationships. In the void the template for sexual relations is filled by commercial mainstream pornography that feeds male entitlement to women’s bodies and a subversient position for women, undermining positive relationships. Consciousness-raising about rape culture and about the reality of female powerlessness associated with conforming to a stereotype appearance for the male gaze, could also contribute to change.
Finally the issue of the migrant audience: Political performance and emotional nationalist rhetoric by successive Philippine governments has a long history in perpetuating the labour migration regime with its essential flow of remittances for the Philippine economy.
The patriarchal nature of the labour migration regime is also well known.
The sensationally named “sex-for-flight” scandal in 2013 revealed an abhorrent systemic exploitation and commodification of women's bodies. Government officials abused female migrant workers during their stay in Philippine Embassy shelters in several countries in the Middle East. Serious allegations included: sexual harassment, abuse of power by demanding sexual favours to facilitate repatriation, rape and systematic coercion of numerous women to perform sexual acts for money, which was reported to be pocketed by corrupt POLO-OWWA personnel. What made this particularly horrific was that these were distressed women who had fled exploitative and abusive workplaces. Systemic and cultural change to protect migrant women workers did not follow this appalling revelation - neither did legal justice. It failed to send the message that the violation of migrant women's rights is unacceptable. It also emboldened the message that sexual abusers of women can practice with impunity.
The recent blatant visibility of this represented by the current President’s coerced ‘kiss’ symbolizes a backlash to the challenge posed to the continuation of the current labour migration regime, as calls grow louder to overhaul it to reflect women’s migrant rights. The performance of a man coercing a migrant woman sexually in a situation where he holds power as the President (and condones violence) is abhorrent. It sends a permissive message to other men, including employers to engage in gender-based violence against Filipino migrant women. It also risks promoting and reinforcing negative sexual stereotypes about Filipino entertainers. Significantly, it raises serious concern that the patriarchal labour migration regime is ‘selling’ more than women’s labour.
Oras na para sa Transpormasyon: The response must be comprehensive - It must include strengthening the call for a rights-based labour migration regime.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

A Bargaining Chip or Confirmed Labour Migration Policy


A ‘Bargaining Chip’ or Confirmed Labour Migration Policy?

Call for Clarity to End Confusion Regarding the Kuwait Deployment Ban

“The ban stays permanently. There will be no more recruitment for especially domestic helpers. No more,” Duterte told reporters on Sunday in Davao.
“I would like to address to their patriotism: come home. No matter how poor we are, we will survive. The economy is doing good and we are short of our workers,” he said.
The announcement made by President Duterte that the temporary ban on Filipinos going to work in Kuwait is now permanent has raised the anxieties of many migrant workers about their livelihoods, families and futures.

It has also focused attention on the Philippines labour market and whether it can realistically immediately provide decent employment with a living wage to the thousands of Filipinos that could potentially return - given 11 million Filipinos are in part-time jobs or unemployed. Additionally underemployment and in-work poverty make re-deployment with all the associated stress and expenses more likely.

President Duterte suggests people could be re-deployed to China, however there is no guarantee of any improvement in labour conditions there, especially as they do not have a domestic worker law - unlike Kuwait.  

However there is also confusion about whether this is: confirmed government policy or initial reaction or diplomatic bargaining in an attempt to secure the release of those arrested following their involvement in the controversial video ‘rescue’ of migrant workers in Kuwait or to facilitate the return of undocumented workers or to extract concessions from the Kuwait government for improved Filipino workers labour conditions or related to trade.

There have been contradictory statements regarding the “permanent” deployment ban such as:
Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello said there is no permanent deployment ban of Filipino workers to Kuwait, following the announcement of President Rodrigo Duterte for such. "The President never mentioned that the deployment ban has become permanent. That is not true. He never said that. What the President said is that the Philippines and Kuwait are good friends and are allies and he does not want the presence of our OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) there to cause an irritant in that relationship," Bello said in an interview with CNN Philippines Sunday.
As the Labor official added he will be meeting with Kuwaiti officials on May 7 to discuss the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Foreign Affairs officials and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.

Perhaps then the situation for workers will become clearer?

Until then the migrant workers struggle has just become harder faced with the uncertainty about what to do in the short-term (and future) and living with the tension in Kuwait.

Friday, March 9, 2018

International Women’s’ Day 2018

Show Solidarity - Be An Ally in Our Struggle!

Migrant workers are often spoken about and constructed in a variety of ways from “victim” and “runaway”-implies ownership (both mainly applied to women) to  “illegal violater absconder”– criminal to “OFW” and “Hero” by the Philippine state. Each one leads onto different treatment of migrant workers and shapes their behavior and ability to speak out and represent themselves on their rights and demand protection and justice.

On International Women’s’ Day, Kanlungan asked women migrant workers how would they describe themselves:

I'm like a bamboo - even how many typhoons I’m still trying to be strong, so that I will not fall. Sometimes you bow because of so much problems that you are facing constantly. Sometimes I will bend where the wind blows so that I will not be hurt again so much, then I will stand and be strong.

Facing problems is by giving time on how to possibly solve the problem and find solutions. This process is not only applicable to women migrant workers but to all is well. The only difference I think is that you have to make strong decisions as a migrant worker because you are away from home and good friends that always gives you advice regarding the problem that you are facing.

As a woman migrant worker I can describe myself as someone having positive actions in all the problems that I have encountered. Like by avoiding the young sir who was courting me - it is a violation of my right as an OFW.

As a woman migrant worker the hardest part to accept is I'm looking after someone's child while my own kids are hungry for my touch.

As a woman migrant I will describe myself as someone who will not leave the country again if there is job opportunities waiting for me in the Philippines.

I would describe myself as a strong woman because I left my child behind for his future and that's the painful part of being a mother.

I became strong in all the problems that I encountered as a woman migrant worker

As a woman migrant work it was not easy to adjust but in some way I can describe myself as BRAVE

As a woman with power  “ Woman Empowerment”.

Women migrant workers struggle is to be strong, brave and feel powerful in the everyday and in their lives must be recognized, celebrated and be the foundation upon which any interventions are designed to support them. ‘Protection’ for women migrant workers must not be built upon an asymmetrical power relation that undermines their strength.

The struggle for women migrant workers also includes working together with other migrant workers and their allies to fight to reduce the number of “sacrifices” and “problems” they face due to gender discrimination and inequality, exploitation, abuse, control and violence.

Many migrant workers show solidarity with other workers day to day, others have individually or organized as a group to call for their rights and justice, often by social media. These independent practices of mutual support and collective action should be recognized and supported.

We must continue to struggle for ALL migrant workers human and labour rights.

As “women’s rights are human rights”, this includes women migrant workers struggle against systemic discrimination, gender inequality and discriminatory gender norms and stereotypes that underlie certain practices, beliefs and behaviours. Subsequently when we speak of ‘protection’ for women migrant workers these rights must also be included.

There are competing claims to ‘protect’ women migrant workers – some are rights based, others are not – few include women’s rights.

Every time policies of protection for women migrant workers are suggested they must be scrutinized for: the rationale that lies behind, the type of power relations created, whether women migrant workers are central in their development and evaluation and the consequences to women’s and labour rights.

This is now more urgent globally as all migrant workers face increasing surveillance and mechanisms to control them – with some legitimized in the name of humanitarian ‘Protection’. This has added to the considerable risks and dangers facing migrants. ‘Protection’ must be grounded in solidarity with the migrant workers struggles.

Women migrant workers have a voice they just need to feel empowered to use it and people need to be encouraged to listen. More must be done to create sustainable space where women migrant workers can collectively bring their demands in person.

Women’s movements must be inclusive with diverse groups of women, including migrant workers representing and speaking for themselves. (Women can become powerful it doesn't need to include the domination of another) All women's work needs to be noticed and valued, not just those that are most visible.

Women migrant workers need to be recognized as political speaking beings, so they can assume positions of authority and influence in their own movement.

                  Celebrate as Women Migrant Workers
                        Who You Are and What You Do!

I am proud that I have seen my children, siblings, nieces and nephews finish their studies and also to provide things they need.

I'm proud to help families and relatives on the financial, you become more independent, strong and smart in making decisions.

I'm very proud to say that I am a strong woman, brave and show to my employers that I have a real principle as a migrant woman, that no one can break my positive decision in life.

I am proud that I was able to help my family and am proud of my profession.

I'm proud of being me. I'm proud that I am not only a woman, but a daughter, sister, mother to my children. But beyond all I've said I'm proud I am a father to my children. I'm proud of myself because for almost 6 years I learned how to become a man. Without asking anybody to support my children. I did it all by myself. I'm proud of myself when sometimes I look back at all the pain and hardship I surpassed. I'm proud I am strong enough.

As a mother I am proud that I have established my family and sent my children to school even though I am a solo parent.

I'm proud I was able to defend myself and help others as well.

I'm proud that I was able to establish and send my children to school. As a parent, education is the only thing they can inherit from me. I'm happy because my children are studying hard, even though how tired I am in my work, my sacrifices are with it.

I am proud because I was able to withstand being a mother and father to my children (to support their studies)

I am proud because in some ways I was able to go to another country at least I have learned a lot from the country where I was.

Women migrant workers strive to cope and develop themselves often in very difficult circumstances – whilst building many other peoples lives upon their shoulders.

                   Show these women the RESPECT they deserve!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Hands Off our Passports!!!


The Labour Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad, is heading a delegation to Kuwait and other GCC countries to ensure “sufficient protection” for overseas workers against the background of the recent Filipino deaths and the subsequent deployment ban. He reported that President Duterte has ordered the team to ensure that the passports of Filipino workers are deposited with the Philippine embassy.

Filipino migrant workers strongly reject this proposal, especially the idea that it would mean they would be better protected in Kuwait (or elsewhere):
“They are our personal documents, they have no right to hold them.”
“ Nobody, even the employer, nor agency or embassy cannot hold it”
“That is wrong. The passport is not in their name, it’s in the migrants name”
“ What is the purpose then of us paying to make our passports?”
“ Its better that the owner should have it. This is important to us”
Legally their claim is supported by Article 9c, ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (2011) – which has been ratified by the Philippines.

Each member state shall take measures to ensure that domestic workers are entitled to keep in their possession the travel and identity documents.
Practically, how could they send remittances? A passport is required as an identity document for the money transfer from abroad.
This proposal’s emphasis on labour regulation will not improve the protection of migrant workers rights, safety and welfare. Filipino migrant workers regularly express distrust and criticism of some embassy staff. Some report experiencing a culture of impunity despite the discrimination, corruption and/or coercive practices such as physical violence, psychological intimidation and verbal threats they have encountered. Thus enhancing the control and power these government officials have over them through holding their passports is unlikely to improve their situation.

“ It is not a secret to everyone that the embassy are incompetent”
“ They are easily bought with money. I do not agree they should hold them”

Some workers recall the horrendous abuse of power present in the ‘sex-for-flight’ abusive practice - women workers who sought help were subjected to systemic sexual exploitation and commodification by Philippine officials in GCC countries, in exchange for their repatriation flight home.
Migrant rights advocates have proposed many policies to improve migrant workers protection in this situation - few have ever been put into action.
As a worker states: “what they need to do is organise the system. It is the computer age already and yet they have not developed. They are the one holding the system and have all the information about us” to monitor our workplace conditions and improve protection.
Ultimately, workers situated in a position of inequality and immobility renders them at risk of exploitation, abuse and violence. A key component of protection for migrant workers should be to establish A SAFE AND LEGAL EXIT from exploitative and/or abusive workplaces.
Migrant workers should be active participants in the development of all policies that affect their lives.
Kanlungan Centre Foundation Inc.