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Filipino Women in Canada:
Their Struggles and Resistance

Cecilia Diocson, Philippine Women Centre of B.C.
presented at Asian Connections Conference

November 2000

Page 2 of 3

Filipinos in Canada
Filipino migrants and immigrants are relatively newcomers to Canada who started coming during 1960s. A good number of these Filipinos were professionals who worked in the United States and, after the expiration of their work permits, migrated to Canada instead of returning to the Philippines. As befits its capitalist economy that opens and shuts its immigration doors in accordance with its supply and demand for skilled labor, Canada opened its doors to Filipinos to fill its growing industries and expanding economy during that period.

Since then, the Filipino community continues to grow especially in the 1980s when Filipino women began entering as domestic workers initially, under the Foreign Domestic Workers Movement (FDM) and subsequently, under the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP). During the last couple of years, the Philippines consistently ranks among the top five sources for immigrants to Canada. Today, there are over 250,000 Filipino migrants and immigrants in Canada. These Filipinos are in their prime productive years – mostly between 25 to 48 years old; their training and education subsidized by the Philippines but utilized by Canada; and they are mostly women (65%).

Filipinos are among the most highly educated of immigrant groups in Canada, yet their incomes are lower than that of other immigrant groups and those born in Canada. There is extreme degree of occupational segregation: domestic work and childcare for women; cleaning and janitorial services for men. They thus, remain marginalized in Canadian society, primarily segregated as cheap labor in service-sector jobs. Filipino women who work as domestic workers must have at least a two-year college education to qualify to come in Canada.

The Philippine Women Centre and its work
among women doing domestic work

Together with six women, who included some domestic workers, we formed the PWC in 1989 to collectively address the root causes of our oppression as women and of our migration to other countries as cheap labor. As a grassroots-based non-profit society some of our main objectives are:

    • To promote awareness by Philippine women of their common interests, issues and problems as women of color and as migrant workers
    • To help foster feminist values – emphasizing them from the perspective of Philippine women and
    • To encourage inter-cultural understanding with women from other communities

An essential foundation of our work at the PWC is the understanding that Filipino migrant women are part of the massive forced migration of Filipinos to the industrialized countries of the North. This forced migration which was institutionalized through the Labor Export Program by the Philippine government constitutes one aspect of our presence in Canada and other advanced capitalist countries.

The other aspect is the need for cheap but educated and relatively skilled labor that advanced capitalist countries like Canada cannot produced on their own. This makes migration a commodity that is sold and bought in the international capitalist market. Canada and other wealthy countries offer themselves as attractive destinations for potential migrants and immigrants while poor underdeveloped countries, like the Philippines, offer their people as "internationally shared human resource." This flow of skilled Filipino immigrant women corresponds perfectly with Canada’s need for cheap labor to service its growing economy and to fill in those low-paying jobs that Canadian citizens would not normally accept.

Filipino domestic workers come to Canada under the Live-in-Caregiver Progoram (LCP). They enter under a temporary working visa and have to work and live in their employers’ house for at least two years before they are given the opportunity to apply for a landed or immigrant status. It is this two-year "live in" requirement that makes them vulnerable to various forms of exploitation and oppression. And if they fail to complete this 24-month requirement within three years, they are arbitrarily deported. The case of Leticia Cables is a classic example of this deportation. The latest information we received at the Centre is that there are over ten Filipino domestic workers who had been slated for deportation. This includes Melcah Salvador in Montreal and Acier Gomez here in Vancouver. Their only fault is their failure to complete the stringent requirements of the LCP as imposed by Immigration Canada. In the meantime, the presence of foreign domestic workers, has become an argument in the non-implementation of a national day care program that would have benefited many working women who cannot afford a domestic worker.

This is the context of our work at the Philippine Women Centre.

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