“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.