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

Filipino women as mail order brides
Historically, Filipino women migrated to other countries as nurses, teachers and other professionals. In Canada, these women came to work as nurses and teachers in the 1960s and 1970s. The nurses were very visible and it was during this period when the Filipino woman identity as a nurse came to be defined.

As the economy of Canada continued to expand and became more integrated witheconomic globalization, the demand for more Canadian women to participate in the formal sector of the economy also grew. To replace their unpaid labourat home, the need for foreign domestic workers also became a necessity. This need for domestic workers was filled up mostly by Filipino women since the 1980s and it was during this period when the social construct of the Filipino woman as a domestic worker began to emerge.

But the relentless expansion and growth of globalization necessitated
further inroads of capital in all areas of human endeavor. Long ago, Karl
Marx already saw this globalization when he said that the expansion of
capital would compel it to chase markets "over the whole surface of the
globe" and commodify everything that comes across its path.
This is precisely true in the trafficking of women today.

Trafficking in women has become such a lucrative business that it ranks number three after trade in arms and drugs. This is one major context of the mail-order-bride business in the Philippines. Mail-order brides are the latest sector of Filipino women to leave the Philippines. According to the Philippine government, close to 150,000 Filipino women left the country between 1989 and 1998, as fiancées or spouses of foreigners. The top destinations of these women are the United States, Australia and Western Europe.

Today, Canada is becoming a new frontier for mail-order brides from the
Philippines. In our research published this year, we interviewed 40
Filipino mail-order brides in five provinces. We found out that we have
only scratched the surface of this subject. More studies need to be done.
But one thing that is slowly emerging is a new identity of the Filipino
woman as a mail-order bride.

Marginalization and Segregation
While it is true that a large number of Filipino women may have integrated
successfully into the mainstream of Canadian society, it is also a reality
that our community continues to be marginalized and segregated. Filipino
nurses continue to do domestic work and they face systemic barriers wheneverthey try to return to their profession. Besides doing the traditional domestic work, they are also being used as 24- hour home support workers to care for the affluent elderly and people with disabilities. This is part of the slowly emerging privatization of the health care system and cheapening of the nursing profession. It also creates a division a between the nurses from the South and nurses from the North where the former are looked down as inferior to the latter.

The LCP, which continues to be in place, has had a severe impact on the community as whole and second generation of Filipino Canadians. The long years of separation due to this program has created dysfunctional and disempowered members of families. Filipino youth has the highest drop out rate among high school students in the Lower Mainland. This will only perpetuate further segregation of the community and deepening of economic marginalization.

What is to be done
Despite all the barriers and our marginalization, Filipino women have
continued their resistance. We have always defined our work at the Centre
within the context of our situation in Canada that uses us as cheap labour,
in the Philippines that "forces" our migration and within the global reality
that intensifies our dislocation and forced migration. Our presence in
Canada has been largely shaped by our history of migration with its roots
going back to the crisis in Philippine society and the need for cheap labour
by advanced capitalist countries like Canada. This cheap labor is often
provided by women from the South who end up at the bottom of the economic ladder enduring class, gender and racial discrimination.
With this understanding, our work at the Centre involves three major
components. The first one is in the area of education. We do
community-based research and education in order to fully understand our
reality and root causes of our presence in Canada. The next component of
our work is organizing. We organize in order that we can collectively and
effectively present our issues both within and outside out community. This
way we develop both our personal and collective empowerment. The third
component is our mobilization work. We do not only educate and organize
ourselves. We mobilize ourselves and our community for action to change our reality. We develop alliances and coalitions with other women and their
organizations. We also do lobbying work with the government for policy
change and/or development of policies that are not oppressive, anti-women and racist.

Thus, our work at the Centre involves mainly three key areas: education,
organization and action for social justice, genuine development and just and lasting peace not only for this generation but also for future generations.

Cecilia Diocson
May 4, 2001

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