By Carolina S. Ruiz Austria

The word "Heresy"

was used by Irenaeus in Contra Haereses to discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. It has no purely objective meaning without an authoritative system of dogma.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Discomfort Zones : Voices in the Margin

A Filipino woman, who is a domestic helper in Hong Kong gets paid twice to three times higher than a government lawyer, most public servants (at least that is, officially speaking), or perhaps even more than triple or four times than a public school teacher.

In Hong Kong, it is also fairly "common" for Filipino domestics to be totally controlled by their employers from strictly enforced schedules and order of chores, right down to the length and number of baths to be taken in a day, what to wear and not to wear (usually jewelry, nail polish and tight jeans), and to limit "off days" to the daytime and impose additional duties (on top of the contractual duties of a domestic) like working in the employers place of business or work, service the employers' relatives and friends' households - without additional or overtime pay.

The paradoxes of globalization when it comes to women's rights is quite a long and complicated list. On the one hand, the availability of "better" (and better is relative, a term qualified by one's place and locale in the global economy) jobs abroad for women, has long represented a shift in the familial roles and responsibilities of "mothers," and women in the family.

As breadwinners, often of extended families, Filipino women bear the burden of an ailing economy, merely able to keep afloat because of dollar remittances.

Of course while many Filipino men have stepped in to fill the ensuing gap in the local "care giving aspect" of family life, many more have not done so.

Just as Filipino and migrant women workers of the "third world" step in to fill the "care/service/nurturing" work first world women have been freed (liberated) from and neither their spouses and partners AND their States have pitched in to take on or shoulder the work, the ensuing VOID for local families of migrant women is being filled in by extended families and networks of women, and in some cases, the men.

Yet mostly, migrant women workers still get blamed a lot by so-called child rights advocates when children who lack care and guidance fall into all sorts of trouble. Never mind that these children have fathers and that the state isn't exactly providing adequate child care support for working parents. Mothers still take the blame.

It is certainly a complicated issue, one which cannot be easily summed up or explained through the usual linear analysis of STATE vs CITIZEN. It is very much also between STATES (geopolitical inequalities) and among WOMEN (North-South) and our communities and families!

The devaluation of the "care economy" is not only demonstrated by the lack of professionalism and dignity by which employers treat their domestics, either by withholding just compensation and benefits, but also exists when we deny the humanity of these workers (and our own) by denying the bonds that form over periods of time spent together in the places we call home. Many domestics have suffered the wrath of jealous employers who get alarmed by their children's closeness with nannies, or get threatened when domestics have their own lives and express the need for days off and socialization with friends outside the family.

With thousands of Hong Kong based domestic workers going to the streets to protest the GMA administration's latest gimmick, an accreditation process that will impose untold fees and expenses on already working and employed HK Filipino domestic workers, surely there is more to this than the instant fees that we have every right to suspect will line the coffers of electioneering politicos!? (After all, funds have disappeared before)

Interestingly enough, huge transnational corporations have recently been making headway in terms of taking over what has been the usual occupation of "placement agencies," which are usually locally organized. While the situation and track record of such local agencies is hardly ideal, it is also interesting that a growing number of Filipino women domestics in HK have already been able to maintain their own contacts and work independently for many years. Many successful ones are the cleaning ladies who live away from their places of work and come in to do the work once or twice a week with several employers.

With the entry of huge companies to undertake "job placement," or even "sourcing" and "cleaning services" we again are likely to see mixed results. It may professionalize" the work on some level by imposing contracts for the protection of the worker, but on the other hand, it can greatly reduce the rates (all over again) because agencies impose a considerable fee, which in this case will not be a one time deployment fee. In fact, domestics who turn to work for the various cleaning companies (as is a growing trend in the US), do so as workers or employees of the company, not the household.

Of course, such an arrangement is not likely to easily alter or affect the need for nannies and other care work since unlike keeping house (laundry, cleaning, dishes etc.), taking care of relatives and small children undeniably requires more than paper proof of qualifications. Or does it?


Global Woman Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy (Ed. Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russel Hochschild

BBC Special Site on Migration (Stories and Features)


Post a Comment

<< Home