Women in Canada:
Their Struggles and Resistance
Diocson, Philippine Women Centre of B.C.
presented at Asian Connections
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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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
after we have formed the PWC, other women organizations were soon
organized. We embarked on three major tasks: education, mobilization
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:
"Holding on to the Knife’s Edge" – Economic Violence
against Filipino Migrant/Immigrant Women
Cries for Freedom, Justice and Equality: Filipino Women Speak
Nurses Doing Domestic Work in Canada: A Stalled Development
The New Frontier for Filipino Mail-Order Brides
of these studies were done in collaboration with women academics.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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