Women in Canada:
Their Struggles and Resistance
Diocson, Philippine Women Centre of B.C.
presented at Asian Connections
behalf of my organization, the Philippine Women Centre of B.C.,
I would like to express our thanks and appreciation for this opportunity
to share with you our work and experiences in working with Filipino
women in Canada. Since the late 1960’s, Filipino migrants and
immigrants have been growing in Canada. 65% of these migrants
and immigrants are women who are mostly college or university
educated doing lowly paid and dead end work mostly unrelated to
their training and education.
brief look at history
The coming of Filipinos to Canada is just the latest
in the long history of migration of the Filipino people abroad.
During over three hundred years of Spanish colonialism, Filipinos
were recorded to have migrated to various parts of Mexico and
California. Many of these Filipinos were forced to work in Spanish
ships as seafarers during the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade. Others
were sent to work in California to help establish Spanish missionary
settlements. To escape their harsh treatment, some of these Filipinos,
especially the seafarers, jumped ships, crossed the Gulf of Mexico
and built a settlement in the southern parts of the United States.
the American colonial occupation which started one hundred years
ago, Filipinos were brought to the United States to work in the
pineapple and sugar plantations in Hawaii, in the orchards of
California and in the canning and fishing industries in Washington
and Alaska. And immediately after the Second World War, many Filipinos
joined the US navy and ultimately settled in the United States.
Since then, there has been a continuing flow of Filipino migration
to the United States and in other parts of the world including
of Filipino migration
Our presence in Canada must be seen within the backdrop of
global developments and the economic and political reality in
the Philippines today and several decades ago. The aftermath of
the Second World War, which devastated the world, was followed
by relatively rapid economic growth and recovery in the advanced
industrialized countries of the North. Industries were gradually
rebuilt, urban centers grew rapidly and relative prosperity occurred
among these countries and their people.
this period of relative growth and prosperity was happening mainly
in the industrialized countries of the North. The third world
countries of the South were experiencing underdevelopment and
economic crises. They continued to be dumping grounds of surplus
products and capital from countries of the North and suppliers
of cheap migrant labor and raw materials.
the case of the Philippines, the inability of the government and
its institutions to implement long term genuine economic development
has caused people to migrate, initially, from the rural areas
into the urban centers of Metro Manila and other cities. But these
urban centers cannot provide adequate and decent employment for
these rural migrants who end up in the slum and squatter areas.
Hence, the next step in migration was to go to other countries
of the world. The failure of the Philippine economy to absorb
its growing labor force is compounded by graft and corruption
in government, the phenomemon of "crony" capitalism
and the structural adjustment programs imposed by global financial
agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary
Fund (IMF) on the Philippine economy.
2,000 Filipinos leave the Philippines annually either with signed
contracts to work abroad or simply to look for work either legally
or illegally. The major factor pushing them to migrate abroad
is the continuing social, political and economic crises in the
Philippines where 75 to 80 percent of the population live in poverty
and deprivation. Historically, this chronic crisis in Philippine
society is deeply rooted in the Philippines being a neo-colony
of the United States. Foreign economic interests collaborate with
local feudal and comprador interests in keeping the country backward,
agrarian and without basic industries. Together with the neo-colonial
state, they carry out the impositions of global institutions such
as the World Bank, IMF and now, the World Trade Organization (WTO)
to perpetually keep the Philippines economically backward and
as source of cheap labor and raw materials for the global capitalist
market. The neo-colonial economy does not and cannot have the
capacity to absorb the growing number of people that enter the
labor force every year.
state of chronic economic crisis has forced millions of Filipinos
to seek employment abroad. This is further augmented by the Philippine
government’s policy of exporting Filipino labor to reduce unemployment,
diffuse social tension and increase foreign earnings to help pay
for foreign debts.
export of Filipino labor was adopted as a matter of state policy
during the 1970s through the Labor Export Program (LEP). Since
then, the Philippines has been described by its former Secretary
for Foreign Affairs, Domingo Siazon, as the "world’s largest
migrant nation with 5.5 million Filipinos working abroad, many
of whom are victims of abuses and human trafficking." (Unquote)
While women constitute over 55% of all Filipinos leaving for abroad,
in Canada, 65% of Filipino migrants and immigrants are made up
of women – thus underscoring the growing feminization of labor
the Philippines has become one of the top exporters and suppliers
of highly skilled and educated but cheap labor in the global labor
market. This export of Filipinos earns for the Philippine economy
over 5 billion US $ every year through remittances and government
taxes. In 1996 alone, these remittances constituted 6 to 7% of
the Philippine Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
The LEP and the demand for cheap but skilled and educated Filipino
worker are concrete manifestations of the current commodification
of Filipino migration.