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The following is a presentation given by the Philippine Women Centre at "Towards the Transformation of Race and Gender", a conference organized bythe Race and Gender Teaching Advisory Group at the University of British Columbia


Filipino Women's Identity: A social, cultural and economic segregation inCanada

When Filipinos started immigrating into Canada in the late 1960's,
a preponderance among these immigrants were nurses who were recruited by hospitals and health care institutions. As more Filipino nurses entered Canada in the early 1970's, the nursing profession has almost become the"inscribed" social identity of the Filipino woman.

In the 1980's, another social identity would soon be inscribed on the Filipino woman's body. At this time, more Filipino women are coming into Canada to work as domestic workers under the Immigration Canada's Live-in Caregiver Program or LCP. Even Filipino nurses who applied to work in Canada are accepted only if they come in as domestic workers. A new "social construct" of the Filipino woman began to emerge- that of a domestic worker - a lowly paid migrant worker, highly marginalized and segregated
from mainstream Canadian society.

Today, there is another emerging identity of the Filipino woman. In our major research at the Philippine Women Centre, we are finding out that, like domestic workers, mail-order brides are slowly emerging as a new identity for many Filipino women in Canada. And like the domestic workers, this is a social construct that pushes the women in the margins of society and makes them virtual modern-day slaves.

Context of Filipino woman's identity in Canada
These various "social construct" or identity of the Filipino woman in Canada must be seen within the backdrop of global developments and the political and economic crisis in the Philippines today and several decades ago. The economic integration of countries under a globalized capitalist economy has caused massive shifts in population and dislocation of peoples. As more countries come under the dictates and influence of global institutions like the World Bank, IMF and WTO, countries of the South like the Philippines continue to experience economic crisis.

In the case of the Philippines, this economic crisis under globalization would translate in the country's inability to provide employment and livelihood for its people such that migration has become not a choice but a necessity for many Filipinos, especially women. Since the Philippine government institutionalized the export of its people through the Labour Export Program (LEP) in 1973, millions of Filipinos have left the country.

Today, around 8 million or 10% of the Philippine population is outside the country working in various trades and profession in over 180 countries. One unique thing about Filipino outmigration is its feminization. Lateststudies show that between 65% to 70% of Filipinos who leave the country are women. In Canada, 65% of Filipino migrants and immigrants are women.

Majority of these Filipino women are working in dangerous, difficult and low-income occupations such as domestic work and entertainment. An article by a leading Filipino woman activist mentioned that domestic worker contracts make up as high as 70% of contracts in the international labor market and domestic workers form a large segment of the world's migrant population. Housework being historically defined as women's work, women as domestic workers form the bulk of this worker category. Majority of Filipino women work as domestic workers in Hongkong, Singapore, and other cities of Asia, Middle East and Europe.

Filipino nurses under the LCP
In Canada, over 50,000 Filipino women (around 30% of Filipinos) have entered Canada through the Foreign Domestic Movement and the LCP where they are mandated to work for twenty four months within three years as "live-in "domestic workers before they can go to other occupations. Failure to meet this requirement becomes a ground for deportation. As well, the "live-in" component of the program makes these women virtual indentured servants.
This is why the Philippine Women Centre call the LCP an anti-woman and racist policy. It not only preempts demands for a national daycare program, it also transfers gender oppression from one group of women to another group of women. That these oppressed group of women happens to be women of colour
further illustrates the racist bias of the LCP.

In BC alone, it is estimated that there are over 8,000 domestic workers majority of whom are Filipinos. Through our study and organizing efforts at the Kalayaan Centre, we have located over 250 trained and skilled Filipino nurses doing domestic work in B.C. While these nurses hold a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing, they have migrated to Canada under the LCP because it is the only effective way for them to enter this country. No points are given for nursing under the General Occupations List of Immigration Canada. Filipino nurses are drawn to Canada because of the chance to eventually apply for landed status, bring their families from the Philippines and return to their nursing profession. But they soon realize the impact of de-skilling and systemic racism upon their economic and social situation.

One participant in our research stated it emphatically this way:
(Quote) I feel like I'm afraid. I'm a nursing graduate from the Philippines. I passed the board and then worked in the hospital for about a year. Then I came to Canada. Now, I feel that my competency to work in the hospital is already lost. I don't have confidence that I can still manage to work in the hospital. (Unquote)
Besides discriminatory immigration policies and the basic exploitative nature of the LCP itself, there are other factors contributing to the dire situation of Filipino nurses doing domestic work. In another research at the Kalayaan Centre, it identified the role that systemic racism plays in maintaining these women as source of cheap labor in Canada. The participants in the research identified barriers in the areas of immigration, education, economic equality and professional institutions. For instance, they find the obligatory English tests being expensive, inaccessible, and irrelevant. Philippine trained nurses are educated in English using North American textbooks under a U.S.-patterned nursing curriculum. But despite this, an official in the nursing profession in BC belittles this by describing the English competency of these nurses as "home-based English" - hence, they are unfit to practice in the profession.

Despite the recognized acceptance of an acute shortage of nurses in Canada, health care institutions, organizations and professional bodies continue to put up barriers for the return to profession of Filipino and other foreign-trained nurses. This can only be construed as systemic discrimination and racism.


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