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
Women's Identity: A social, cultural and economic segregation
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
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
Context of Filipino woman's identity
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.
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
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.
women as mail order brides
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
Marx already saw this globalization when he said that the expansion
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.
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.
is becoming a new frontier for mail-order brides from the
Philippines. In our research published this year, we interviewed
Filipino mail-order brides in five provinces. We found out that
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
woman as a mail-order bride.
While it is true that a large number of Filipino women may have
integrated successfully into the mainstream of Canadian society, it is also
that our community continues to be marginalized and segregated.
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.
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.
is to be done
Despite all the barriers and our marginalization, Filipino women
continued their resistance. We have always defined our work at
within the context of our situation in Canada that uses us as
in the Philippines that "forces" our migration and within
the global reality
that intensifies our dislocation and forced migration. Our presence
Canada has been largely shaped by our history of migration with
going back to the crisis in Philippine society and the need for
by advanced capitalist countries like Canada. This cheap labor
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
components. The first one is in the area of education. We do
community-based research and education in order to fully understand
reality and root causes of our presence in Canada. The next component
our work is organizing. We organize in order that we can collectively
effectively present our issues both within and outside out community.
way we develop both our personal and collective empowerment. The
component is our mobilization work. We do not only educate and
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
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:
organization and action for social justice, genuine development
and just and lasting peace not only for this generation but also
for future generations.
May 4, 2001