Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Usual Can Be Criminal

We Filipinos needed to re-calibrate our understanding of what’s usual or normal, the instant we began to move out into the world en masse.

Unfortunately, that has been difficult, because of the re-feudalization accompanying migration, particularly for women. The necessary re-definition of relationships – from the most basic (family relations) to the most complex (labor relations) – has been frustrated by the very nature of the work into which majority of exported Filipinas are funneled.

Household work has been historically women’s slave shackles, rendering her a service unit in the family power structure, stunting her growth and development, erasing her sense of self.

It is much more so when one works in a foreign household. Here, one’s needs, one’s hopes, come absolutely last – after the father’s, the mother’s, the children’s, the pet’s, the guest’s… Here, one is told what to do every minute of the day, how to look at events, what to think … One is forever a junior member of the household, isolated even while ensconced in the family bosom.

I had to tell a friend who had been an organizer, an activist and a former political prisoner to quit being a nanny when she turned out to be the only one among us who could finish the “I’m a teapot short and stout” song. Your brain has turned to oatmeal, was my reaction.

The irony is that most Filipinas who leave the country do so with a vision of achieving an Angelina Jolie-Laura Croft personality: self-sufficient, independent, adventurous, treasure-seeker... Many do have adventures galore but there’s hardly ever a treasure at the end; only drudgery and the black hole of a demand for money that becomes the family they left behind. The de-skilling of nurses and even doctors, of those holding degrees and doctorates in various fields, of artists and writers, is tragic to watch.

In an effort to re-calibrate the essence of household work, we call our women domestic workers, so that work standards may be set, employer-employee relations may be modernized and even the processes of entering into such relations brought into congruence with modern labor standards. As a consequence,, we miss the essentially feudal and patriarchal nature of this work into which we send millions of Filipinas.

The women have to be maintained in a docile state, beholden to a patriarchal system of power and obligation. Domestic workers are prime targets for religious recruitment by fundamentalist sects and cabals of all kinds. Whenever a domestic worker visits, she leaves behind inevitably a pamphlet or two about this-that charismatic group, the crudeness and inanity of which can take your breath away. Who’s this so-called prophet with a keyboard around his neck, singing in the worst voice possible?

But we ignore what it means really to tie women to kitchen and bed and children. And in a 30,000 year tradition, we accept that as normal and usual.

Hence, Marichu’s adversaries can make such claims as she was recruited in accordance with normal procedures, hence no trafficking was involved; or she’s filed a complaint against a man with an astonishing curriculum vita, more’s the pity he will be sullied on the word of only a maid…

Well, an intern’s word and a blue dress nearly impeached the president of the U.S., remember that.

We should remember that:

If one recruits for one category of work and substitutes another -- that is considered fraud and deception and will land one in the realm of trafficking.

Trafficking is not limited to the sex trade; it includes labor – as in slavery and peonage, and even debt bondage.

These definitions we Filipinas helped create, through the 11-year Purple Rose Campaign of GABNet.

They do not go far enough in bringing us to a thorough understanding of re-feudalization and the patriarchal surge that accompany the sale of women as domestic servants.

Yes, I know, that phrase is not the correct one. I use it deliberately, in the hope that we will come to a comprehensive understanding of the nature of this unconscionable situation into which we place roughly half a million Filipinas every year; and having come to that understanding, we can take full cognizance of all the issues and problems attendant to it.

As a Canadian reporter said to me, what Marichu underwent, this is normal treatment of servants in the Philippines, no?

Yes, I said to him; but this is not limited to Filipino employers. Something happens to the human psyche when one has control over another human adult. I was thinking of the Stanford prison experiment (see www.prisonexp.org) wherein students fell into their roles of guards and prisoners.

Unfortunately, for lack of radio time, I couldn’t develop my thesis: that having a household servant impacts even the employer who slides into this semi-feudal role of patriarch and patron. I hope others will seriously develop a political economy of housework. A serious one.

Please note: The U.S. GAO report on the abuse of “private employees” by diplomats was revelatory in what wasn’t said. Of the top ten countries bringing in household staff for diplomats (“A” visas for employees of foreign embassies, consulates and governments; “G” visas for employees of international organizations like the World Bank) -- four are likely to use Filipino domestic workers: Manila, of course, which leads the pack with 1,775 visas issued; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (558); Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (509); and Doha, Qatar (502). And although only 42 cases of abuses have been reported and hence, documented, like most cases of abuse and violence against women, it is likely that only one in ten reaches the ears of authority. -- ##

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm a little teapot
Short and stout
Here's my handle
and here's my spout
When the kettle's boiling
Hear me shout
Tip me up and pour me out.

That was GOOOOOD! Thanks for making me remember. I used to sing this with my nanny; yes, she was Filipino and no, I'm not. But I'm in college now and I still remember her.

Anonymous said...

i believe you wrote this a while back...

"the across-the-board devaluation of domestic work, for instance, in all 168 countries to which the Philippines export women, stems from the history of women as the first truly private property (in contrast to slaves who were tribally owned), hence from a historic devaluation of women, a historic devaluation of their work and skills, and hence, from the social perspective and economic view that household work creates no surplus value, requires no skills and is therefore subject to underpayment."

in the case of marichu, it's not only underpayment. it is literally SLAVERY.

criminal, indeed.

as you have also said (as i also believe), "it takes a woman."

Sign the Justice for Marichu Petition or visit The Justice for Marichu Campaign Blog

Kai said...

Ms. Rosca, thank you for your wonderful writing, which I've been reading with admiration for some time. Is there any chance that I could interest you in cross-posting at The Sanctuary? It's a pro-migrant human rights blog where I believe your perspective would be most beneficial and appreciated. Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments.

Warm regards,
Kai Chang

Ninotchka Rosca said...

To Kai Chang:

I'd be happy to -- if someone would show me how (I'm no techie) and if my being a somewhat secular siddhartha fan wouldn't offend. Of course, I could always blog at Zuky. I'm part Chinese.

Kai said...

Excellent! Hehe I didn't know you were part Chinese, that's even better! Just kidding. ;-) And being a somewhat secular Siddhartha fan will certainly not offend anyone! Despite the name, there's no prevailing religious orientation at The Sanctuary.

Anyway, it might be easiest for you to email me so I can reply with instructions on how to get started. Basically you just need to register yourself as a user, after which I'll upgrade the account you create, so that you can post to the front page. I'll walk you through how to do that. Don't worry, it's easy.

Looking forward to seeing your work there!

Peace,
Kai

Ninotchka Rosca said...

Dear Kai:

This blogger site does not provide me your email. If you send it, I promise not to publish it but will communicate directly.

I tried accessing your web page but there was no contact info there as well.

cheers,
N