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Filipino Women in Canada:
Their Struggles and Resistance

Cecilia Diocson, Philippine Women Centre of B.C.
presented at Asian Connections
November 2000

Page 2 of 3

Some major issues
Since time does not permit me to go into so many details, I will try address a couple of issues related to our reality, struggle and resistance both as members of the PWC and as women migrant workers.

The first issue is the stalled development of Filipino women doing domestic work in Canada. Prior to coming to Canada, these women are working professionals in the Philippines. They already have reached a certain level of personal development have acquired certain professional and/or technical skills. Upon coming to Canada, they soon realized that their educational and professional training are not recognized. They are relegated to low-paying jobs and there are institutional and legal barriers to their attempts upgrading or improving their status. Later on, the dream of better opportunity and bright future becomes a nightmare. They slowly lost their skills and become trapped in a situation that leaves no room for economic growth or stability. This situation keeps them economically disempowered and perpetuates their underdevelopment. The institutional and systemic barriers virtually legislate them into poverty and modern slavery.

The case of Filipino nurses doing domestic work is a classic picture of this stalled development. Until the 1970s Filipino nurses came to Canada to work as nurses. Today, Immigration Canada gives them zero occupation points as nurses and allow them to enter Canada to work as domestic workers. It is ironic that while Canada is currently suffering from shortage of nurses, it still continues to bring nurses from the Philippines to work as domestic workers and not as nurses. And this unjust immigration policy is further compounded by the fact that many of these nurses who are doing domestic work have already passed the nursing exams in Canada but they cannot work as nurses because they are tied to the Live-in Caregiver Program for the next two years. By the time, they have gone through the LCP, some have already become de-skilled that they can hardly go back to the nursing profession.

The other issue is the exploitation and oppression of these women. Besides earning the lowest wages, domestic workers also work more than the mandated 8 hours without overtime pay. Some even don’t get paid at all for these extra hours. They also become victims of physical violence and sexual assaults by their employers. Part of our work at the Centre is to carry out what we call "rescue operations" of these women. In once instance, we had to call the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) to help take away a domestic worker from her employer who is also a member of the RCMP force. Also, in another case, we had to send back to the Philippines a domestic worker, who was originally a nurse, due a nervous breakdown in her workplace caused both by overwork and, we suspect, sexual assault by her employer.

Closely related to this issue of oppression and exploitation is the racism that they face as women of colour. Their marginal and segregated location in the whole political economy is compounded by the fact that they are women of colour in a white-dominated society. While they are visible because of the colour of their skin, they are almost invisible in terms of addressing their issues and their situation. Like the slaves of the past, these domestic workers are seen, but most often, they are not being listened to.

The government of the Philippines calls these domestic workers its modern heroes because of their dollar remittances. But the identity of Filipino women as a domestic worker has emerged as a social construct that stigmatizes them and makes them virtual modern-day slaves traded as commodities in the international trafficking of women.

The above are but small examples of the issues that we face at the Centre. We focus our work on the Live-in Caregiver Program because we find this to be an anti-woman and racist program that is not even legislated through Parliament. This is a program that Immigration Canada can scrap anytime it wants to and does not need any legislative act to do this.

Struggle and resistance
Filipino women in Canada have not been passive to their situation. In response to our marginalization, we have put up resistance both at the individual and collective levels. But we have long realized that there are limitations to individual resistance. Alongside individual resistance is the importance of collective resistance so that our voices can be heard and that genuine and concrete change can be achieved. One member at the Centre has put it bluntly that "if only one person shouts, she could not get much attention. But if there is collective shout, then, more people will notice and will likely pay attention to what we are shouting."

Thus, after we have formed the PWC, other women organizations were soon organized. We embarked on three major tasks: education, mobilization and organizing.

We did studies and research on our situation in Canada and shared these with the public through public forums and meetings. We had already come out with several community-based researches, which proved empowering and inspiring to our women members and the community. Among them are the important participatory action researched (PAR) studies on the following:

  • Housing Needs Assessment of Filipino Domestic Workers

  • Trapped: "Holding on to the Knife’s Edge" – Economic Violence against Filipino Migrant/Immigrant Women

  • Echoes, Cries for Freedom, Justice and Equality: Filipino Women Speak

  • Filipino Nurses Doing Domestic Work in Canada: A Stalled Development

  • Canada: The New Frontier for Filipino Mail-Order Brides

Some of these studies were done in collaboration with women academics.


In March 1999, we have successfully carried out a historic gathering of Filipino women all over Canada to address our issues and challenges. This gathering has galvanized the second generation of young Filipino Canadian women to participate in our work and deepen their commitment and understanding of their search for their roots and identity. For us this is very important as it provides the continuity for our work in the future.

We have also carried and continue to carry out the Purple Rose Campaign. This is an international campaign to end sex trafficking of Filipino women and children. This is also an affirmation of our resistance against "globalization."

We have lobbied governments for an end to double taxation of Filipino migrant workers and we also continue to lobby for the elimination of the Live-in Caregiver Program. We have also gone out into the streets for more militant and active advocacy of our issues.

But we are also aware that we have only scratch the surface in our work towards our liberation. We continue to have difficulties in accessing resources and support precisely because of our systemic marginalization. We have had projects that were appropriated by others even if these would have benefited our community.

This marginalization and disempowerment is part of our history in Canada that is and will continue to be embedded in our individual and collective memories. This is the history that will continually inform us. Unless we frontally and fully address these issues, many, or most of us will continue to feel excluded from mainstream Canada and never be fully integrated in the so-called "Canadian mosaic." The future of our young people and our community is at stake and we must do something about it.

And part of our organizing and networking is to link up with different women – individuals and groups. It is my hope that this conference will have achieved another step towards the building and strengthening of solidarity and links with Filipino women.

Thank you.

November 3, 2000


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