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Modern Day Babaylan- Published in Starweek Magazine

Our own very Filomenita Mongaya Hoegsholm was featured in the June 9, 2013 edition of Starweek Magazine a weekly magazine, the sunday magazine supplement of  one of the leading newspaper in the Philippines, the Philippine Star.

Traditional Terno popularized by the Imelda Marcos. Model: Filomenita Mongaya Hoegsholm

Traditional Terno popularized by the Imelda Marcos. Model: Filomenita Mongaya Hoegsholm

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Filomenita Mongaya Hoegsholm is only female awardee for the first time ever category of Migrant Women Advocacy Filomenita Mongaya Hoegsholm surrounded by 4 other male awardees plus the local and regional Executive Committee members of Rotary Club.

 

By: Helen Flores (reporter, Philipine Star)

 Taken from :http://www.philstar.com/starweek-magazine/2013/06/09/951704/modern-day-babaylan

MANILA, Philippines – “If there are issues that concern Filipinas in any part of the world like labor, violence, we are on that,” the 66-year-old Hoegsholm tells STARweek.

In 1997, Hoegsholm, along with other Filipinas, founded Babaylan-Denmark, a non-profit organization that has consistently worked on political, cultural-educational, social causes, including labor rights, to improve the situation of Filipinas in Danish society. Later, they co-founded the Au Pair Network.

“In our organization, we have had three cases of sexual harassment and one attempted rape. Some years back, there was a sensational one in Sweden, prompting the ambassador at that time to lobby for a ban on au pair deployment throughout Scandinavia and parts of Europe,” she says.

There were moves in the Department of Foreign Affairs to make it illegal to go to Europe as an au pair because of the reported abuses, including those by labor recruitment agencies.

“The ones who suffer the most from this ban are the thousands of young Filipinos who travel to Europe and, when some problem arises, realize that they are on their own,” adds Hoegsholm.

“This ban, however, was not honored in Europe. The Danish state, for example, continued to release visas or permits-to-stay to Filipino au pairs, even as it refuses to go into bilateral agreements with the Philippine government,” says Hoegshom.

“But our own immigration officials, or at least some operating from the Philippines, knowing that a ban was on, demanded money from each departing au pair for many years at the minimum of P40,000, which they knew the host family could pay if they really were in need of the au pair,” she says.

To help resolve matters, Babaylan-Denmark successfully pushed for the lifting of the ban in 2008 that would force the government to extend some form of protection or aid to distressed au pairs.

“This rapacious practice was finally stopped when the au pair scheme was formally transferred to the Commission on Filipino Overseas (CFO) portfolio since March 2012,” Hoegsholm says.   The CFO describes an au pair as a young Filipino citizen aged 18 to 30 years old, unmarried and without any children, and placed under a cultural exchange arrangement with a European/American host family for a maximum of two years.

“On a par” or “equal to” in French, the au pair scheme means living on an equal basis in a mutual, caring relationship with the host family and the children, according to the CFO.

An au pair learns a new language and culture by living with a family in the host country in exchange for light household chores.  Au pairs do not receive a salary but they get allowances which range from P32,000 to P33,000 a month plus free board and lodging, Hoegsholm says.

Since March 1 last year, the CFO has been in charge of registering au pairs and conducting pre-departure seminars.   Filipinos bound for Europe and the US as au pairs are now required to register with the CFO.   “The CFO Task Force has to clean up…they do not allow any recruitment agencies to be involved and Filipinos can now declare themselves as au pairs when they leave for other countries, but they have a maximum contract of two years,” she says.

There are around 6,000 au pairs in Denmark alone, according to Hogsholm.   Babaylan also pushed for the development of comprehensive insurance for au pairs in Denmark.   “As long as they are legal the host Danish family should have insurance to cover the au pair,” she adds.   “The Danish government also provides free legal assistance to au pairs. The system is there to support you and encourage women to file case if they have a strong case,” she says.

The Au Pair Network has also introduced modules on sexual and reproductive rights as well as financial literacy to Filipina au pairs.   “We make them aware of their fundamental labor and reproductive rights. We tell them that people here are different, they are freer sexually. Some of them get pregnant and when the host family finds out about this they will be sent home,” she says.   “We teach them how to invest their money, we tell them not to send all their money to their fa   milies, instead invest in a sari-sari store and other micro-enterprise,” she adds.

Hoegsholm was born in Surigao del Norte and is married to Anders Hoegsholm, a civil engineer, with whom she has three children. She works as a freelance journalist and is the editor of ABAKADA, a quarterly magazine on women, migration and development.   She has a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications and Journalism from the University of the Philippines-Diliman and a master’s degree in TV-Film-Radio from Syracuse University in New York.

“I have used that part of me to follow my advocacies. I used to write about mail order brides,” she says.   She has been appointed to several Danish governmental as well as civic committees, including the Women’s Commissorium under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior from 1994 to 1997.

Accomplishing all this over almost two decades, Babaylan-Denmark has been operating without an official workplace.   “The usual lowdown is the lack of funds. But we Filipinos are so resourceful, we don’t access the national funds that other nations are so adept at,” Hoegsholm says.

“We are 15 years but we don’t have an office, because you need money to rent an office. We are virtual. Our events are well attended because we post it on our website and Facebook, and use email,” she states.   “The au pair’s hub that we organized conducts parties to raise funds,” she adds.

“We provide seminars, trainings. We organize hotlines which are available on our website www.babaylan.dk. They can call us if they need assistance.”   Hoegsholm also continues to work for projects that empower not only the Filipino women but other ethnic groups in Europe as well.

“When you are exposed to different cultures then you realize this is what they think of me because I am just a Filipina… so we also tackle gender and ethnic equality,” says Hoegsholm.

“The centerpiece is really how you navigate as an individual, as a citizen in your community and in the global community to maximize your effect,” Hoegsholm says.

“You educate them, encourage them to become active, involved in the community, politics and entrepreneurship…because even if you are empowered, if you do not share it with others it doesn’t make sense.

You have to work for everybody. You have to work for those who are less than you,” she says.   Babaylan is a Visayan word which, in pre-colonial Philippines, designated as “empowered, wise and just women who were natural leaders in the community.”   “We believe that every Filipina is a babaylan,” Hoegsholm says.

 

You can check the Phil.Star http://www.philstar.com/starweek-magazine/2013/06/09/951704/modern-day-babaylan

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