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Women and Migration in Times of Crisis

On 16 September 2009, WIDE Austria, in cooperation with the Trade Union for Metal, Textiles and Nutrition, Women’s section (Bundesfrauenabsteilung der Gewerkschaft Metall-Textil-Nahrung, in short G-mtn frauen), arranged an evening around Women and Migration at the union’s comfortable fifth-floor lecture hall. The occasion for the evening event was the presentation of the latest issue of the magazine Solidarity among Women (Frauensolidaritaet no. 109), with the theme of initiatives against the financial crisis and poverty. Filomenita Mongaya Hoegsholm, a representative of the WIDE Danish platform, KULU, also presented her book at the event. Filomenita is a journalist and an editor who has focused her work on migration, gender and ethnic equality and multiculturalism; she has recently published and compiled the book In de olde worlde: views of Filipino migrants in Europe. It is the first comprehensive book on migration from the Philippines to the continent, published with support from UNESCO among others (the publication can be downloaded from www.unesco.org).

Daughters of globalisation

According to Ms. Mongaya Hoegsholm, in her talk entitled ‘Daughters of globalisation: Filipino women bridging the development gap’, the main push factor for Filipinas leaving the country in such huge numbers is poverty and its flipside: the lack of jobs or at least underemployment. In the Philippines, as in most Asian countries, the main focus is the family, and the main family value is education. In the case of the Philippines (which has a significant segment of its population in poverty in the rural areas), families still prioritise education, and without discriminating against girl children. But while the females in society educate themselves well (more women than men in the Philippines have PhDs), there are not enough possibilities in the job market, if at all. Therefore, the move from countryside to urban areas, thence from the overcrowded cities to leaving for abroad – even when accepting jobs not commensurate to their education – is a more and more common phenomenon, exemplified by au pairs in Europe.

Push and pull factors

Together with KULU and FOA (a labour union of unskilled workers), Filomenita Mongaya Hoegsholm founded a network of au pairs in Denmark with the aim of helping out the new arrivals from the Philippines. In her talk, she focused on the pull factors in this kind of feminised migration, namely the demographic deficit of an ageing Europe, where the elderly people need care, young women are busy with their careers, and young families need care for their young children and other household chores. It is for the latter that European countries open up for Filipina au pairs. Europe needs its cheap labour harnessed under what should strictly be a cultural exchange scheme for young people but is nowadays used as a source for young and cheap labour.

The disadvantage to Filipina women in this situation is not only the unfair labour practice of unjust compensation but also the fact of deskilling where their own educational qualifications slowly diminish from lack of use because they are mainly doing housework or ‘dirty work’. They also run the risk of becoming undocumented because of expired visas, which can occur unintentionally.

Double jeopardy

Filomenita also discussed diaspora philanthropy in the course of the evening. It is widely known that Filipino migrants send high remittances home. Filipinos rank among the top three worldwide in sending billions of dollars of money home. Here the Filipina women workers in Europe experience a double jeopardy: not only do they have obstacles in their everyday situation, fighting for labour rights and against discrimination, racial and gendered, but they also have to argue against European feminists who look at remittances as problematic.

While Filipina migrants see it as their primary aim in migration to help their families and thus send most of their earnings home, this is often seen negatively by European women coming from nuclear families. According to some views, remittances not only impinge on Official Development Assistance (ODA) but also affect a concept of family (as migrating women often leave their children back at home).

But in fact there is a paradigm shift today, so even in the UN the annual assembly called the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) is precisely looking at the question of remittances – of course, without reneging on migrants’ rights in either the receiving or sending country.

The evening’s panel also consisted of Renate Anderl, the Chairperson of G-mtn frauen, and Helga Neumayer, who is Frauensolidaritaet’s Editor-in-Chief. There were quite a few questions fielded by the participants who came with other competences to add different perspectives to the topic of women and migration and how women mobilise against the current multiple crises resulting in poverty.

First published: WIDE October 2009 Newletter

Filomenita Mongaya Hoeghsolm is also one of five members of the Executive Committee of newly joined WIDE member, Babaylan, the Philippine Women’s Network in Europe, and is the Founding Chair of Babaylan Denmark. She will be addressing a CEDAW+30 Roundtable in Geneva on Women and Migration on 4 November.

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Posted in Babaylan DK, Features, OFW, Philipine Migration.

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