Monday, November 12, 2007

Holding up half the sky from the depths of hell?

“People are more violently opposed to fur than leather because it’s safer to harass rich women than motorcycle gangs.”—Unknown

Congratulations, therefore, are in order for all the women: our mothers, daughters and sisters! And certainly, the entire society deserves credit as well. The Philippines’ 2007 Gender Gap Index ranking indicates that culturally, the Philippines has come a long way from a feudal past when parents thought society should not invest in women’s education and personal advancement because they were going to be married off anyway and will stay in the homes of their husbands. These days we are increasingly seeing the influential roles being played by women in Philippine society, be it in civil-society organizations, business or politics.

Indeed, it’s a fitting tribute to women in a society that is increasingly relying on its women to move the economy forward. If we look deeper into the numbers, it’s obvious that our new growth drivers—outsourcing, electronics and overseas labor migration—are mostly “manned” by women. Increasingly, we are sending more skilled professionals going abroad. They are mostly medical professionals, caregivers and artists who are predominantly women. We are increasingly sending abroad information-technology professionals, many of whom are women.

But on hindsight, some of these trends are not necessarily favorable to women and society as a whole. For one, it means we are increasingly sending abroad women who are sorely needed to give motherly care for our own children. The fathers and relatives could probably supplant the mothers, but reality—or at least the common anecdotal evidence in our immediate community—seems to indicate that households with single parents are not always the best environment within which children should grow up in. Horror stories about teenage pregnancy, alcoholism and drug abuse, even incest, among OFW families are too common to ignore.

That many of the women have to go beyond the borders to become breadwinners indicate that, increasingly, women are disproportionately bearing the burden imposed by a flawed economic strategy that traces its roots to the 1970s. Nothing is wrong with labor migration per se, but if it’s the only thing that keeps the economy afloat, as is the case of the Philippines lately, something must be wrong somewhere.

It means women are being forced to take roles and so much risk they probably wouldn’t want to take if only there were more options within the country. We are specifically referring to caregivers and domestic help, mostly women, who are prone to abuse in alien cultures. Isn’t that another form of oppression?

A recent episode in the multiawarded TV documentary Probe Team dwelt on human trafficking, and the stats were appalling, bearing out what we just had a hunch about all this time, i.e., that the Philippines ranks also among the top five countries from where originate victims of human trafficking, especially young women. This shouldn’t be surprising. For many decades, it had been quite easy for unscrupulous recruiters and the network of traffickers to ship out young, unsuspecting, unsophisticated poor women from the countryside, promising them jobs in the Middle East or some Southeast Asian destination (usually Malaysia or Indonesia), only for them to find themselves stranded in some brothel, broke and broken, their documents all tampered with or forged, and thus no good for any decent job.

Until recently, it wasn’t surprising to find queuing up at the Naia an illiterate woman bound for Kuwait or some similar destination, there to work as a domestic.

The government early this year bucked massive protests by setting a floor wage of $400 for domestics, at the risk of losing a big chunk of the overseas market to nationalities that will bite at cheaper rates. Policymakers justified this by saying it was one way of discouraging a surge of OFWs in such low-end positions, which attract the more vulnerable types, anyway, and encouraging deployment of better skilled—hence, more educated and less risky to abuse—workers. Last time we checked, the controversial policy seems to be working in this wise, although the recruiters are complaining because the deployment is declining.

To be fair, the government may be right after all on this score, but until then, it should keep pursuing the line that one can’t build an economy on the backs of its women, especially those prone to all forms of abuse, while tearing, because of their absence, the social fabric back home. Let’s hope next year’s gender index will show even better results.

5 comments:

stuart-santiago said...

"That many of the women have to go beyond the borders to become breadwinners indicate that, increasingly, women are disproportionately bearing the burden imposed by a flawed economic strategy that traces its roots to the 1970s."

i hope you will blog soon, or again, if you already have, on this flawed economic strategy that traces its roots to the '70s. i haven't been blogging or surfing long but i find that there is very little awareness among bloggers and commenters about the flaws of this economic strategy. if they're not blaming the church for the poverty because of overpopulation, they're blaming the poor for wanting more than they already allegedly have.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

"these trends are not necessarily favorable to women and society as a whole. For one, it means we are increasingly sending abroad women who are sorely needed to give motherly care for our own children. The fathers and relatives could probably supplant the mothers, but reality—or at least the common anecdotal evidence in our immediate community—seems to indicate that households with single parents are not always the best environment within which children should grow up in."

I can't believe, that you, Dave, of all people, would have built your argument on mere anecdotal evidence.

There is no study I know of (if you know of any, point them out please) that shows single parent households are more prone to abuse or "teenage pregnancy, alcoholism and drug abuse, even incest."

(I can give you my own anecdotal evidence from my years teaching in an all girls school -and drug abuse, teenage pregnancies and the like seemed to me to abound with the well-heeled more than the children of OFWs.)

I think the jury is still out on "tearing the social fabric." Parents have always adapted to the meet the demands of raising their children. Taking longer hours at work, traveling long distances -and yes, moving to other countries, to provide for their children. You also point out that extended families take a strong role in parenting. Does this make up for the absence of mothers and fathers?

In fact, some studies indicate that, despite the emotional stress and displacement, children of migrant workers are doing better than their peers (ceteris paribus).

See the Scalabrini Center's 2003 Hearts Apart study.

Particularly, paragraph 2 of this chapter.

I agree we need to create more jobs at home. I agree we need to put on greater protections for our migrant workers (and put an end to human trafficking).

But we cannot ignore that labor migration is a global phenomena, no matter how much you lament the flawed labor export policies of the 70s.

Neither should we resort to maudlin arguments on "motherhood" when examinining and understanding the effects of labor migration.

(btw, may i remind you that the very same argument about "how mothers should focus on caring for their children" was used to oppose the entry of more women into the labor force.)

Dave Llorito said...

if you have read my previous posts, you will see that i agree with the idea of choice, of people migrating to find happiness. but this article is the other side of me trying to balance out the issue. its anecdotal evidence too many for me that goaded me to make that observation. migration indeed is a global phenom, a reality in todays world. but im wondering just how costly it is socially.

one example anecdotal evidence: i have a friend who runs a huge private school in Laguna and i always find him complaining that the most problematic children in school (lack of focus, troublesome, lack of motivation, etc) are those whose parents are abroad. i also have several close friends who are having similar problems. there's no study yet, yes but i just cant help but think the social cost might be quite high.

Dave Llorito said...

i guess this issue should really be studied using longitudinal approaches.

Jurisprudence said...

Hi, Nice work on really exposing the plight of our OFW's and their day - to - day trials just to keep their families alive. I appreciate you using the angle of gender-roles in shedding light into the diaspora happenning into our country. As a psychologist, I can truly say that this has a deep impact on the formation of the siblings of OFW'S. I guess these are just the effects of living in a global community.

It's Ironic that we Filipinos equate globalization with so much oppourtunities (ie. Jobs abroad) that in the end, we forget that what is offered abroad (most anyway) are those jobs who other most citizens of the host country dont want. Most Filipinos who aim for a better social standing, find themselves still in the bottom of the social pyramid.

In another view, let us conceed to the fact that there are little money and opportunities here in the Philippines. Hence, people have to work abroad for more money. I think with the condition of the philippines today, it is really difficult to raise the standards of living of Filipinos (or even minimum wage). Economic equilibrium wouldnt allow it.

So Filipinos must evaluate the two paradigms of going abroad vs staying here. Decisions are sometimes difficult; but no doubt will not just affect the person making the decision.

TO Urbano Dela Cruz:

I think the absence of OFW's really does make a difference in the development of their children, makes them prone to drugs, premarital sex and other vices. My mom did a study of OFW siblings and the effect of their absence on their performance. Litt. on her study found that children with raised with one or both parents working abroad, are more likely to use drugs and be involved in teenage pregnancy. Ill post the source here later. My classmates also did a thesis about effects of OFW on behevior of their siblings. Ill post a summary of their study in my blog (if I get permission).

Check out my new blog

http://citizenoftherepublic.blogspot.com/

Nice blog.