(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 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).
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]