Wednesday, October 29, 2008

PGA Women's Action Day: Women Organizers Speak Out Against Abuses, Hundreds March for Women's Migant Justice

By Arnoldo Garcia

(Tuesday, October 28, 2008, Manila, Philippines) Some 2,000 mainly women with youth, elders and men, converged on the Plaza Olivia Salamanca to speak out and march as part of "Women Migrants' Action Day against the GFMD" as part of the People's Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights.

Voices of Migrant Women

The women's day of action began with a press conference at a nearby restaurant where women representing migrant women workers organizations, unions and advocacy provided a panorama of the situation facing migrant women.

Sumiati (left), an Indonesian domestic worker in Hong Kong and chair-woman of the Coalition for Migrant Rights, described how migrant women face systematic abuse and exploitation. CMA has documented the violation of the rights of domestic workers in Indonesia, Thai, Hong Kong and other countries.

Malou Acid (right) of the Kanlungan Centre Foundation's Center for Migrant Workers, who moderated the PGA Women's Day of Action press conference, said, "Women migrants are subordinated, they are more vulnerable to abuse by employers and face discrimination [at home and abroad]."

Babie Lloren (left), a Filipina who worked as an entertainer in Japan for twelve years, spoke out against the violence migrant women face in the workplace. Ms. Lloren, a survivor of violence herself, spoke of her own experience abroad and her return home, where migrant women like her are additionally stigmatized as "Japayuki," a derogatory term for Filipina women connoting prostitution. Ms Lloren founded "Batis Aware," a leadership and capacity building organization to provide development to migrant women to defend and protect their rights.

Malou Padilla (left), with Babaylan: Philippine Women's Network in Europe based in the Netherlands, explained how the migration of women is the result of deep social, cultural and economic factors that force women to go abroad. She said, "Women migrate as wives, refugees, as cooks, caregivers, nannies and other domestic employment. They struggle to alleviate the poverty and status of their families back home."

Ms. Padilla explained how migrant women encounter a host of problems in Europe. "Migrant women work in the lowest category, putting us in a vulnerable position. Many times the women work in private homes, where employers elude scrutiny and supervision with no regard for wages and conditions," she added. Ms. Padilla said employers hold on to the women's passports, pay extremely low wages, are subjected to many types of abuses -- with little or no opportunity for advancement across the spectrum.

Magdalene Kong (speaking, left), a consultant with Global Union Asia & Pacific, closed out the presentations. Ms. Kong, based in Singapore, stated that the Global Forum on Migration and Development has yet to include migrant women's rights agenda and move beyond a business-centric model; she appealed for inclusion of the migrant women's agenda in the GFMD.

Ms. Kong declared, "It is the responsibility of national governments to create jobs in the national economy so people have a choice." She explained that if the governments create jobs, migration lessens. Ms. Kong added that the GFMD is an informal, non-binding process that will reinforce the substandard conditions facing migrant workers, making them disposable and treated as commodities.

Ms. Kong said "Migrants leave home physically fit, but return hunched over. If a women gets pregnant, she gets fired and deported. Many migrant workers come back in boxes, as cargo.

Ms. Alcid closed the session by reminding everyone that the GFMD is only on venue for advocacy. "Migrant women workers will organize to expand their rights."

"Women Migrants are Not Commodities"

After a brief Q & A, a theater troupe presented a short skit showing the diversity of jobs and skills migrant women workers take abroad (see right). The actors represented migrant women as nurses, business, entertainers and home workers in different countries.

Migrant Women's Day of Action Against the GFMD,
March for Women's Power & Rights

When the mass-up for the "Migrant Women's Day of Action against the GFMD" began, almost as many police were present. Several hundred women began readying for the march a police announced that if foreigners participated in the action they would be arrested.

Undaunted, Philippine women were joined by "foreigners" -- women and men migrant rights organizers, human rights defenders, and others attending the People's Global Action conference and activities. The police were unable to intimidate anyone and then before the march began at 2:00 in the afternoon, its ranks had grow considerably. The tables were turned and now the police were outnumbered and outnumbered.

At least half of all the marchers were young women, teenagers and adults, including some of their male counterparts. Their enthusiasm, sheer joy and almost boundless energy matched that of the majority women marching. Together they gave the march the imprimatur of a movement that is unstoppable.

Manila Police Block Peaceful March, Again!

The police again did the dirty work of the governments meeting at the GFMD. The women's march took off in a high spirit that never wavered. After about ten blocks of boisterous marching, chanting, mugging for photographers, waving at passerbys in cars, motorcycles, jitneys, buses and walkers, the police again blocked another PGA march.

In spite of the commanding officer's jovial attitude, an image for the press more than anything else, the march was blocked by a few dozen police agents wearing helmets and shields.

The police were unmoved by the brave women leading the march. They listened to our leader's pleas and arguments. The captain did not budge; neither did the marchers.

Blocked by police from going forward, a jitney was pulled over and used as a raised platform for speakers to address the marchers.

Different women spoke out during the program being held hostage by Manila police. They spoke out against the travails and injustices women migrants endure in their host countries.

Women migrants do triple duties as transnational home workers: they take care of their families, many times the families of their employers and send remittances to take care of their families back home.
Sumaiti had pointed out earlier that, "For many of us, working abroad is not a choice but the only option left in order to feed our families and bring our children to school. Who would want to be separated from our families and enslave ourselves ina foreign cuntry if there are decent jobs and livelihood in our home country?"

In a statement issued by over 25 organizations for the "Women's Day of Action on Migration and Development," organizers emphasized the increasing "feminization of migration" and the demand for "people-centered, gender-just, sustainable development." The statement, "A Rights-Protect Present, and a Just and Empowered Future for Women Migrants" stated among other things:

"In the Philippines, and in several other Asian countries, women comprise the majority of persons migrating largely due to the dearth of viable employment oppportunities at home, but also because they are pushed by government to answer to the demand for women-oriented, often low-paying service sector jobs abroad. Even as so-called 'regular' workers, they are not guaranteed their rights, often accepting less pay and under stricter conditions...."

Calling it a "human rights catastrophe... of staggering proportions for women in migration...." the Women's Day of Action called on the Philippine government to uphold the United Nations "Declaration on the Right to Development," which binds signator governments to end the massive rights violations that result from the structures and economies created by different forms of neocolonialism, apartheid, racism, foreign domination and other neoliberal policies that force people, especially women, to migrate internationally in order to survive.

All the women blasted the GFMD and the governments for the plight of women migrants. A contingent of women put an X of masking tape over their mouths to denounce the silencing of their and other migrants's voices and agenda at the governments' proceedings at the GFMD.

After about an hour of rousing speeches and non-stop chanting, ignoring the blistering heat of the sun, the program ended with Korean drummers energetically performing and dancing circles, literally, in front of the police line. The police blocked the march but they did not and could not stop the movement.

After the Korean drum troupe's performance, the march turned left and headed back on the boulevard back to the Olivia Salamanca Plaza.

At the Plaza, hundreds of marchers gathered in a cricle to hear more speakers and a dramatic theater performance.

Here are images from the return march to the Plaza.

Women migrants are a new type of vanguard, a human vanguard that will make borders tremble and walls crumble....

The Korean drum troupe leads us back to the Plaza Olivia Salamanca (right).

Women from different parts of the world marched, defying the police threat of arrest (left).

The march enters triumphantly back to where it started. Hundreds of marchers kept up the energy and enthusiasm of a monumental struggle for the rights of women migrants everywhere (right).

Organizers draw the marchers in a circle around the Plaza's center. Then the program continued with speakers and a theater troupe highlighting the issues facing women migrants and the demand for human rights and justice.

[All photos by Arnoldo Garcia, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights]

Monday, October 27, 2008

Solidarity Forever! The Movements Converge

by Colin Rajah
Oct 25-26, 2008

The People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights (PGA), reached its programmatic climax with a candle-light protest march and the global opening ceremonies this past Saturday evening, and convergence workshops, reporting, and adoption of its Joint Declaration on Sunday.

What was particularly unique and inspiring about these days, was the convergence of migrant groups with labor unions, struggling side by side together. Just like back home in the U.S., the relationship between these movements in other parts of the world and especially in Asia, have been tenuous at best, and more often, opposed. But here, we have come together in the PGA, found common ground in our principles, and have joined forces to challenge the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) and what it stands for.

After a long day of workshops and meetings, everyone who gathered in the Rajah Sulayman Park (the same one for which our permit had been revoked!) on Saturday evening, was rewarded with fresh energy from the sheer beauty of the scores of illuminating candles and the size and diversity of the crowd. A few turns around the park with chants in multiple languages (mostly raising the slogan for migrant rights), and we made our way to the school gym where we had been forced to hold our ceremonies instead of the park. (Click here for video clips of the march.)

After yours truly got to lead the crowd with some chants, an interesting and diverse slate of opening keynote speeches followed, comprised of the following:
  • Gemma Adaba (based in New York) from the International Trade Union Confederation and the Global Unions Federation;
  • Our own Mamadou Goita from the Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternative Development (IRPAD) in Mali;
  • Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the UN and former UN Human Rights Council President; and
  • Our own Rex Verona from the Asian Migrant Center in Hong Kong.
Gemma condemned the exploitation of migrant labor around the world, Mamadou decried the plundering of African resources (including its own people resources) in the name of development, and Amb. de Alba expressed frustration and pessimism that human rights is hardly discussed in governmental dialogues like the GFMD. Rex gave a moving testimonial exemplifying the plight of Filipinos and others being exported on a daily basis only to face repression and abuse as migrant workers.

Concluding the evening was another moving performance by a Japanese-Filipino youth group, who used interpretive dance to express their plight as victims of militarism and the exploitative sex industry.

On Sunday, another series of workshops were held along the themes of labor unions and human rights, trade and debt, and governance and migration policy. Unlike the self-organized workshops from previous days, these ones were jointly organized by alliances of unions, migrant groups, human rights organizations, women’s movements, anti-globalization and debt organizations etc. This mix allowed for rich debates and fresh insights and recommendations for joint actions.

All of these were then reported back and concluded with the adoption of the Joint Declaration which will be presented to the governments this Tuesday. To see a copy of the declaration, go to

Tomorrow should be another exciting day with since it will be the first day of the so-called official civil society discussions, and plans for a massive protest march and rally to confront the GFMD. Look for a report on that back here.

And also, to get a vivid image of the candle-light march and other key talking points from these couple of days, don’t forget to visit NNIRR’s YouTube channel ( for video clips, and then return back here for more reports the rest of this week.

Photos credit:
- Arnoldo Garcia
- Colin Rajah

Workers Lead Migrant Rights March in Manila

By Arnoldo Garcia

(October 27, 2008, Manila, Philippines) Today, convened by unions under the banner of "Solidarity Action of Labor against the GFMD," (SALAG), thousands of members of national and international civil society, workers, migrants, trade unions, migrant rights and human rightsAdd Image groups, women's rights, lgtb rights groups, working class political parties, youth and families "massed-up" in Likagawa Bonifacio Park to march through the broad avenues of Manila under the blaring sun, a blessing of rain, and blocked in the end by a police cordon.

The GFMD is the governments' "Global Forum on Migration and Development," a process that is pushing policies to further subordinate migration and migrant labor to the predatory needs and demands of trade and capitalist development at the expense of the human rights of all migrants and workers.

Dozens of members of international delegations that came to the People's Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights (PGA) hopped on several jitneys and were taken to the SALAG mobilization.

When we arrived at Bonifacio Park (named after one of the Philippine's independence leaders) we joined hundreds of workers of all ages and genders, mostly dressed in black, who stood in the sun, some in the shade, hearing speakers, chanting slogans and waiting as contingents of unions and other organizations converged for the march.

A few days before the march, the Philippine government announced that in September they had reached their 2008 goal of sending one million Filipinos to work abroad! 3,000 Philippine women and men leave the country each day as "Overseas Foreign Workers." Once abroad they are treated as disposable workers, subjected to all kinds of vile treatment and abuse -- a fate shared by all international migrant workers.

Migrant workers are a gold mine for governments and corporations. Corporations and other employers exploit migrant workers as cheap labor, which can be fired or deported if they complain or demand their rights; and governments receive with open arms the billions of dollars in remittances migrants send home. The economy of the Philippines depends on migrant remittances and not only encourages but facilitates the export of Philippine workers with different skills and capacity just like any other commodity, except this "commodity" is human and saves both the economies of receiving and sending countries.

The governments' GFMD is debating the fate of millions of workers worldwide as it considers "managed migration" schemes to make easier to export and exploit migrant workers to the almost exclusive benefit of corporations and capital. The GFMD agenda poses a historic threat that would destabilize communities everywhere, making everyone a candidate to forced international migration to survive.

"Migrant Rights! Human Rights! Worker Rights! Human Rights!"

Organizers called the march the biggest one in years. Estimates of how many marched ranged from 2,000 to 5,000.

However large, the numbers did not speak to the unprecedented nature of the march: people from all over the world convening to join their Philippine brothers and sisters to demand rights for the displaced in any country they may find themselves in.

As the march headed out of Bonifacio Park, the drumming swelled, the voices of thousands joined in chorus after chorus of chanting for human rights. From gigantic signs to life-size puppets depicting migrant men and women, banners, signs everywhere, the human rainbow of colors, class, genders, age, languages, nationalities, communities all walking at their own pace with the same dream and vision.

The march was full of excitement, energy and hope. Children with their parents, young men and women, teenagers, elders, people from Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia all walked together several miles chanting, holding up banners and signs, to proclaim the demand for rights and integration of migrants worldwide.

As we walked, diesel buses, jitneys, motorcycles and other vehicles zipped by almost grazing the marchers' shoulders. As we approached an underpass, there was a short burst of cool rain, alleviating us for a brief moment from the crushing heat of the sun bouncing off the pavement. Many began running to get out of the rain, most continued walking ignoring the climate change.

The march stopped on the slope of the underpass. Why? The march was being blocked by police in riot-gear. The planned route of the march included several stops to deliver a joint message from SALAG, PGA and others to the GFMD. The march organizers tried to negotiate with the police to let the march continue but they did not budge.

Everyone waited patiently. Many of the marchers walked to the side of the boulevard where there were slivers of shade. Many sat where they stopped under the shade of their banners and signs. A group of youth danced with unbridled joy to the hard driving percussion rhythm of a group of drummers. The sun returned with all its powers but the march remained undaunted by the heat or the police. The sheer energy and enthusiasm of the marchers made most of us oblivious to the blasting sun.

"Do they expect migrant workers to eat only grass?"

At the head of the march, the sound truck was eventually parked across the boulevard; the police were just 50 feet behind it, also being cooked by the sun.

A migrant rights defender from Korea then walked up to the police, turned his back to them and began a long silent protest with his message to the GFMD and the rest of the world. With a red head-band, the man stood silently, almost stoically ignoring the tension of the cops blocking the march with threat of force.

He placed a large handful of grass in his mouth and another bunch in his left hand. In his right hand he held a powerful message to the governments and the police: "Do they expect migrant workers to eat only grass!?!?"

Our answer is obvious or should be. The GFMD cannot ignore the reality of the power of migrant workers, families and communities. In spite of the shortage and even overwhelming lack of resources, migrant rights groups from across the world either sent their representatives and delegations or sent in their endorsement of the People's Global Action declaration to tghe GFMD and the world.

Then speaker after speaker railed against the GFMD, the governments and the corporations. The unifying message was unequivocal: migrant rights cannot be ignored or violated; the GFMD has to be accountable and responsible to migrant communities. Without migrants at the table, the GFMD is taking the world into a dead-end alley.

"Migrant workers are human beings, not commodities."

Migrants now number over 200 million -- about 1 out of every 30 persons in the world has been forcibly displaced across international borders by neoliberal policies and structures whose mantra is the privatization and exploitation of everything under the sun, beginning with workers. The migrant nation is as big or bigger than some of the countries that benefit and many times are critically dependent on migrant labor and/or their remittances.

However, migrant families, workers and communities have rights regardless of how much remittances they contribute. One of the main ideas of the PGA and other forces here in the Philippines reminds the world that "Migrant workers are human beings, not commodities." A simple idea that eludes many who forget that you have rights whether or not you pay taxes, are single, don't work hard or aren't straight.

Today, in Manila, I saw the future of our struggles -- a multi-national, multi-lingual, multi-generational, multi-border demand for justice and human rights regardless of migration status, citizenship or what country you happen to be working in or standing on.

Migrants have rights no matter what governments and their police, employers and their corporations, NGOs, non-profits, lobbyists and other organizations who think they can negotiate our communities' rights without consultation or consequences.

If we are an army, we are an army of Spring. If we are a nation, we are a nation of colors, a cross-pollination, that has been dispersed into other places strengthening humanity. If we are workers, we are indispensable. But above all, we are humans who have dignity and rights that nobody, no border, no corporation and no state can take away from us no matter how repressive or shortsighted their laws and legislation may be.

The People's Global Action brought together a new weaving of voices and dreams in the making that promise to change the world, just as the world and her injustices have transformed many of us into migrants.

Today, in Manila, I saw migrants reclaim their place in the world. And their place is everywhere.