Domestic workers' migration and gender

GMT 05:01 Tuesday ,07 February 2012

 Migrant Voice - Domestic workers' migration and gender


  The international division of reproductive labour: The case of Filipina domestic workers in London   “I came here to earn money to support them (children) for their education because what I was earning before is only enough for their [basic] needs. And my eldest was only grade 6 or first year of high school, then I was thinking that in 4 more years he’ll be going to college and I don’t want him to stop. I want him to go to school and finish his education, That’s why I had to go out of the country” (47-year-old housekeeper/ nanny, separated mother of two)   A new study by Mariko Hayashi as part of her dissertation for the University College London looks at cases of Filipina domestic workers to investigate gender relations as they relate to the pull and push factors of labour migration. The study explores the increasing trend of feminised labour migration from poorer to richer countries into care work and looks at the gender ideologies that lead to migration, while asking whether gender inequalities are maintained through the migration process. Based on 5 months ethnographic research, as well as a number of in-depth interviews, the study explores the experiences of the domestic workers as it relates to social networks, immigration status, the consequences of migration on family life and other challenges faced and how these are negotiated.   The study shows the particular challenges faced by those domestic workers, who are in the UK as undocumented and the role this plays in perpetuating their difficulties as domestic workers. For instance, some explained that they chose to be domestic workers because they would spend most of their time indoors and therefore avoid contact with government authorities. They often even avoid outings with friends for the same reason. Mariko Hayashi's has found that gender ideologies of women’s domesticity are internalised by Filipina domestic workers, who see domestic work as their given duties as women in order to cope with the decline of social status the jobs brings for some. Some participants also played a part in perpetuating the notion that domestic work is women's work: Some of the study's participants employed paid domestic workers for their families in the Philippines while they are away working as domestic workers in London. Women’s domestic labour, therefore, is passed on from more privileged women to less privileged ones both in the UK and the Philippines.   Read a summary of the full report below:     Introduction This study explores the increasing trend of feminised labour migration from poorer to richer countries into care work, through a case study of Filipino women’s migration into the British domestic service sector, specifically in the capital London.    The migration of women is not a modern phenomenon, however the increasing trend is the growing number of women becoming independent labour migrants. This is often a response to the increasing demand for cheap labour of women due to the growing forces of economic globalisation. Gender ideologies that link women with reproductive labour (i.e. domestic work and caring) are emphasised during their migration as the majority of migrant women, particularly those who migrate in search of employment in the informal welfare sector.    Research Methods and Questions Migrant women filling the demand for care work in host countries raises questions concerning gender relations within the context of economic globalisation:    - How do we understand gender ideologies that cause women to migrate as domestic workers and carers or purchase the labour of migrant women?    - How are gender inequalities arbitrated, maintained or entangled through the labour migration of women?   The study is based on five months ethnographic research of a church based Filipino community in North-East London as well as in-depth interviews with 17 London based migrant Filipina domestic workers both from outside and inside of the community, and 4 key state informants who are a priest of the church, a former volunteer English teacher of migrant domestic workers, a Filipino solicitor who provide legal assistance to many domestic workers, and an employer of a Filipino domestic worker. By focusing this specific case study, I sought to answer the following questions:     - To what extent do gender ideologies of women in the Philippines and in Britain influence migration of Filipina domestic workers?     - How does the labour migration of Filipina domestic workers reproduce inequalities?     - What difficulties do Filipina domestic workers encounter through their migration, and how do they negotiate those difficulties?   Backgrounds In the UK, like many other highly industrialised countries, the demand for paid domestic workers has grown substantially over recent decades, with the large increase in women’s employment in so-called ‘professional’ occupations outside their homes. The privatisation of care and the needs of the ageing population are also linked with the growing demand for paid carers, and it is estimated that the amount of money spent on domestic helpers increased drastically from £1.1 billion to £4.6 billion between 1987 and 1996. Since housework and caring for young, elderly and sick family members are still widely regarded as women’s tasks, the employment of domestic workers has been the only strategy for many professional women in the UK to negotiate dual responsibilities of work and home.   The popularity of Migrant workers, predominantly females, in the domestic service sector is remarkable and is due to their cheap labour and flexibility. According to a survey conducted into domestic recruitment agencies, it is estimated that non-EEA nationals meet up to 70% of the demand for domestic workers (J. Harris, The Housekeeper Company 2006). The Philippines is one of the largest sending countries of migrant domestic workers working for private households in the UK. The Philippine economy depends highly on the income of its overseas workers. According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA 2011), Filipino contract migrant workers alone remitted about US$18b to the Philippines in 2010. Feminised labour migration is one of the most prominent trends of the contemporary migration of Filipinos. The representation of registered Filipino emigrants has been female dominated for over three decades, for example, 72% of Filipino overseas contract workers in 2007 were female (Tyner 2009). However, Filipina workers abroad are highly concentrated in particular service occupations such as carers and domestic workers and the health care sector.   The highly patriarchy society of the Philippines is said to be one of the important push factor of Filipino women’s labour migration. For example, women in the Philippines experience a relatively high degree of gender discrimination in the labour market, where employment opportunities for women are far fewer than those of men and they are required to achieve higher qualifications than men in order to gain comparable positions. Moreover, women’s wages severely lag behind those men in most of the sectors of the Philippine labour market.     Gender, Labour Migration and Domestic Work Filipinas migrate into British domestic service industry in response to the patriarchy societies both in the UK and the Philippines where gender ideologies exist that link women with reproductive labour duties such as housekeeping and caring at home. Migration of Filipina domestic workers is a movement from one patriarchal society to another, where their unpaid labour as wives and mothers in the private context becomes a way of earning money and support their families financially in the global economic context.   The feminised trend of labour migration from the Philippines is also a response to the shift in demands of host countries. During and after the Gulf War, demand for male-oriented construction and manufacturing workers in the Middle East has declined in contrast to the increasing demand for domestic workers in many industrialised countries. Due to this shift in demand of Filipino migrant workers many women found themselves having an advantaged over their husbands in finding overseas employment, particularly because most employers do not require domestic workers to have any professional or academic qualifications.   Filipina domestic workers in London come from various social and economic backgrounds. Six of the 17 domestic workers interviewed did not have waged jobs in the Philippines but did housekeeping for their own families, and three were self-employed or worked for family businesses prior to migration. Many of them described their paid domestic work to be the only job they were capable of due to their lack of education and qualifications. On the other hand, seven informants had so-called ‘professional’ jobs which including teaching, nursing, office work, and working as a government officer in the Philippines prior to migration. Among these ex-professional workers, the most common reasons for becoming domestic workers in the UK was because “it was the only offered job”. Their academic qualifications and professional skills gained in the Philippines tend to be devalued or even unrecognised in the UK, and many of them found it almost impossible to work in their profession after leaving the Philippines.    For those ex-professional domestic workers, migration into the British domestic service industry meant deskilling and the decline of their social status. However, they achieve significantly higher income compared to their salary as professionals in the Philippines, as many of them stated that their earnings in London as domestic workers were up to ten times more than what they could have earned in the Philippines. Many informants showed their acceptance of deskilling and the decline of their social status by mentioning their economic achievement and recognising domestic work as their second occupation as women or child caring as “commonsense of mothers”. “I came to like it (working as a domestic worker), I accept that as it is. I was also a housekeeper of my family back home anyway.” (61-year-old, housekeeper - former teacher)   This shows that gender ideologies of women’s domesticity are internalised by Filipina domestic workers, who see domestic work as their given duties as women in order to cope with the decline of social status. Moreover many informants stated that being a Filipina gave them more employment opportunities as a domestic worker because there was certain popularity of Filipina domestic workers over some other nationals among many employers in London.    Furthermore, despite the fact that Filipina domestic workers working in London come from various backgrounds, they do not tend to be from the poorest backgrounds in the Philippines. They have financial and social capital, which enable them to migrate the great distance and maintain their transnational lives. Some informants even employed paid domestic workers for their families in the Philippines while they are away working as domestic workers in London. Women’s domestic labour, therefore, are passed on from more privileged women to less privileged ones both in the UK and the Philippines.     The Production and Reproduction of the Transnational Family ‘I miss my family, I miss my children every single moment.’ (37 year-old housekeeper, married mother of three)   All of the informants stated family separation as one of the difficulties they faced since leaving their home in the Philippines. In particular, mothers who had migrated to earn better wages to raise their children back home and provide them with a better education struggled with transnational motherhood. In many societies in Asia, where family ties are regarded as more important than individual lives, labour migration is often a family based decision for family survival rather than individual choice. Most informants of this study stated that the decision to migrate was their own rather than that of family members, however the decision was made in order to raise their family’s living standards in the Philippines.   “I came here to earn money to support them (children) for their education because what I was earning before is only enough for their [basic] needs. And my eldest was only grade 6 or first year of high school, then I was thinking that in 4 more years he’ll be going to college and I don’t want him to stop. I want him to go to school and finish his education, That’s why I had to go out of the country” (47-year-old housekeeper/ nanny, separated mother of two) Many Filipino families, face financial difficulties when it comes to provide their children with quality education, and mothers often have little choice but to leave their children and work abroad as domestic workers. However, the price of providing this financial and material support to their families is the emotional hardship of family separation. They might long to return home, but their families’ dependence on their earnings often prevent them from doing so permanently. Some informants have migrated repeatedly back and forth between the Philippines and some destination countries including Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and the UK in order to keep supporting their families financially.    Furthermore, for Filipina nannies, looking after someone else’s children while leaving their own children behind can cause overwhelming emotional pain. “It’s very difficult. At the first time I was crying because looking after them (employers’ children), every time, every minute I need to be careful with them. I’m doing this for my children, but I cannot do this to my children…” (38-year-old housekeeper/nanny, separated mother of three)   Family separation resulting from migration can have negative impacts on domestic workers’ family relationships. Because Filipina domestic workers are often away from home for many years, in many cases over a decade, the breakdown of marriages is common and children often grow up feeling abandoned even though some workers might visit their families regularly. “They (children) tend to forget you or you feel there is a barrier. There is this doubt; ‘if you are my mum then why will you leave us?’” (47-year-old housekeeper, married mother of three) “I worry sometimes about my husband because I haven’t seen him last three years (…). Some Filipinas here have this problem because they haven’t seen their husbands for a long time, sometimes they find another woman…” (36-year-old housekeeper/carer, married mother of two)   Some might achieve family reunification by bringing family members to the UK as dependants, however this option is unavailable to most Filipinas whose financial circumstances and/or migration status prevent them from doing so. Most Filipinas stated that they cope with the difficulties of family separation and maintain their relationships with their family by communicating with their family members frequently via telecommunication technologies and internet, providing as much as financial support as possible, and justifying that their migration was the only and the best option for family survival.   The negative impacts of parents’ labour migration on their children have become one of the largest social problems in the Philippines. The Philippine government and media accuse migrant parents, particularly mothers, of causing breakdown of marriages and abandoning children and imply that only single women without children should consider labour migration. In fact, in 1995 the Philippine president Fidel Ramos called for migrant mothers to return: ‘We are not against overseas employment of Filipino women. We are against overseas employment at the cost of family solidarity’ (Agence France-Press 1995). Therefore Filipino mothers abroad also face the stigma of damaging family relations through their migration, which does not normally apply to migrant fathers. The accusation of family abandonment aimed at migrant mothers come not only from the media and authorities in the Philippines, but also from other migrant Filipinos and may reproduce complexities within the community. In fact, some members of the community state that the absence of mothers and excessive material giving can directly result in the misbehaviour of children left in the Philippines. This accusation clearly comes from the patriarchal social expectation on women to stay at home and care for their families. Fathers, on the other hand, tend not to experience this type of accusation and are even encouraged to work abroad as breadwinners if their families are experiencing financial difficulties. At the same time, it is important to note that many informants stated that their children had become more understanding of their parental dilemma and financial success achieved my their mothers, as they grew to be adults. However, the instability brought upon family relationships often continues after financial security is achieved.   Filipina Domestic Workers and Social Networks Although labour migration is an economically motivated decision, the existence of social networks plays an important role in the migration process of Filipina domestic workers. These social networks include kinships, friendships, local communities, nationality based network and occupation based networks. All of the informants mentioned that having close friends in London help them overcome hardships they had experienced since being away from home, and they often rely on friends’ recommendation in order to find employment. This study recognises two main routes through which Filipina domestic workers came to London. 1) They migrated directly from their home towns in the Philippines to London; 2) they initially migrated to relatively closer destinations in Asia such as Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia as domestic workers and were brought to the UK by their employers.   Direct migration from the Philippines: Church based Northern Filipino Community   The field of ethnographic research, an Anglican church in north-east London, hosts a Filipino community from the Cordillera region in northern Philippines, as part of its ‘multicultural’ congregation. The Cordillera region is home to a number of tribes and people from this region are collectively called Igorot. Integration of the church with Igorot migrants started as long as thirty years ago, when several Igorot families settled in the community and began attending the church. Since then, they have developed their own migrant networks, where people can provide each other with various forms of support with migration, engage in cultural activities, and organising formal and informal gatherings.   Most of the Filipina domestic workers in this community migrated to London directly from their home towns in the Philippines through support from other community members. They mentioned that they knew several people who were either members of this communities in north-east London prior to their migration and the decision to migrate to London was partly due to the existence of this network. Receiving support from the community meant that they were guaranteed temporary accommodation upon their arrival, and were most likely to able to find employment without paying expensive fees to use overseas employment agencies. The well-developed networks even enable undocumented migration and employment. The strategic use of social networks can also reduce the risk of working in inadequate conditions. “I didn’t want to spend a huge amount of money on agencies, and jobs they offer are most of the time in the Middle East or sometimes in Hong Kong. I didn’t want to go to those places because I heard a lot of stories about people are abused badly and don’t get paid as much, and I know some people like that myself. (…) My friend told me that I can move here [London] first and stay with her until I find a job. So I did.” (43-year-old housekeeper/nanny)   The migrants’ social networks are established and developed not only by migrants themselves but also by wider community members such as local residents and religious leaders. In this case study, the parish priest of the church in north-east London and other supportive members of the church also provide various support for migrant workers, mainly those from the Philippines, in response to needs of the congregation, and to organise a better church community. This kind of relationships between Filipino migrant workers and the local community members can lead to more practical support including immigration advice and campaigning work.   Step Migration via Third Countries   Today, many non-European migrant domestic workers enter the UK accompanying their employers on Overseas Domestic Workers (ODW) visas. This type of visa was first introduced as a British immigration policy in September 2002, as a result of a ten-year campaign, in order to free migrant domestic workers tied to abusive employers and trapped in exploitation. Under this policy, migrant domestic workers are given rights to change their employers while they are in the UK. Six informants of this study had entered the UK under this category, and at the time of the interviews, all of them were employed by employers different from those who brought them to the UK. London’s large Filipino community as well as higher wages available in the capital are the common reason for those Filipina domestic workers to work for new employers in order to remain in or move to the capital. Being closer to Filipino friends and relatives gave them emotional support for settling down and overcoming homesickness. Some informants have experienced being rescued from abusive employers by Filipina friends, or have helped other friends escape from exploitation and find better employers.   Filipina domestic workers, no matter how they entered the British labour market, use formal and informal social networks to update each other about relevant changes to immigration policies and to provide useful information and support to newly arrived workers. Social networks are particularly important for them to find employment as the majority of informants found their employment through recommendation of Filipina friends. In some cases they found employment through former employers recommendation.   Citizenships and Migration Status British employers and the non-British employers who are settled residents or what the government calls ‘high-value migrants’ have far more rights than Filipina domestic workers on temporary visas or undocumented ones.     The Filipino domestic workers who had overstayed in the UK were living everyday in fear of detention and deportation. Their anxieties were due to the rumours circulating of people being detained after random stop and searches by police officers, and rewards being offered to people who reported undocumented migrants to the Home Office.   Undocumented domestic workers can be more exploitable, as their fear of being reported to authorities prevents them from seeking new employment and causes them to remain in inadequate working conditions. Those with the rights to work in the UK have more means to protect themselves from exploitation including leaving their employers without fear of deportation, and actively seeing new employment through placement agencies who offer more protection to staff.   Fear of being discovered by the authorities can even affect the health and social well being of undocumented workers, as many claimed they had never used the NHS even when they were unwell, because they were reluctant to show their passports with expired visas in order to register with GPs. Moreover, some explained that they chose to be domestic workers because they would spend most of their time indoors and therefore avoid contact with government authorities. They often even avoid outings with friends for the same reason.   Another struggle undocumented workers face is inability to reunite with their families. They are not only unable to bring their family members over to the UK as their dependants, but are also not able to visit the Philippines on holidays, as it would be almost impossible to return to the UK after leaving. Many undocumented workers have not been back home for years.  “If I go home, that’s when I go back for good because once I go home I cannot come back to work” (43-year-old housekeeper/nanny)   Most of the documented full-time domestic workers in this study had ODW visas or settled status called ‘indefinite leave to remain (ILR)’. ODW visa provide migrant domestic workers great protection by giving them rights to leave unfavourable employment. However, if they wish to apply for visa extension, they must be employed as domestic workers of a single household at the time of the application. Therefore under this category, they are tied with domestic labour and must ensure they are employed at the time of their annual visa extension in order to remain in the UK.   As of December 2011, after working legally in the UK for five years, domestic workers are entitled to settle in the UK by obtaining ILR. Although all of the informants expressed the intention to return to the Philippines permanently in the future, five of them already had ILR, and all of other documented workers wished to obtain this status in the future. For them, obtaining ILR was a strategy to negotiate the difficulties they face upon labour migration. For example, as ILR provides them the certainty of knowing they can remain in the UK as long as they wish, there is no further need to apply for visa extension, saving them a lot of money. ILR is invalidated if a person resides outside the UK for more than two years, however for many Filipina domestic workers it meant that they could go back to the Philippines and live with their families for up to two years before then return to work again, giving them grater flexibility in their transnational lives. Most importantly, under this status, they are not only free to change employers, but also free to change career. One informant with ILR was considering opening a business as domestic service agency in order to help other domestic workers who are suffering from exploitation. Another informant was thinking of further study to achieve social mobility once she finished paying for her children’s education.   Moreover, this study found that inequalities reproduced among Filipina domestic workers of different migrant status could lead to discrimination within the Filipino community, where some undocumented workers experience disrespect and exclusion.   Conclusion Many class-privileged women employ migrant domestic workers to allow them to negotiate the responsibilities of domestic labour, which has been assigned to them through gender inequalities. However, women’s migration as domestic workers does not break down such gender inequalities and ideologies of women’s reproductive role, but only reinforces and entangles them, because domestic work is just passed from the more privileged women to the less privileged ones; from upper- and middle-class women in the receiving country to migrant domestic workers; and from migrant domestic workers to poor women in the sending country. The experiences of Filipina domestic workers in London reflect women’s continuous struggle over unequal gender ideologies linked with reproductive labour in the UK and the Philippines, and the international division of reproductive labour reproduces the complex inequalities among different gender, class, race/ethnicity and citizenships. The difficulties that Filipina domestic workers face upon migration and their strategies to negotiate those difficulties continue to operate within these inequalities.   Although this study reflects on experiences of a small number of Filipina domestic workers in London, the ethnographic research within the church-based community also demonstrated the potential role of religious institutions and local communities, providing support to the vulnerable group of women. In this study, because Sundays were the only rest days for many domestic workers, the church became their haven, where they could be free from everyday hardship at work, socialise with people, and even feel at home. The church-based local community also provided them opportunities to form friendships, not only with Filipinos, but also others in the local area who could provide them with emotional or even practical support, which would lead to greater integration between migrant workers and members of the receiving community. “Thank you very much. It was actually very good to talk about my problems, feels relieved a little. I think it’s good to put things outside of me sometimes. I really needed it. Thank you for sharing my experiences” (43-year-old housekeeper/nanny)      References: Ehrenreich, and A. R. Hochschild, 2003, Global Women: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy, Granta Books: London   Eviota, E. U., 1992, The Political Economy of Gender: Women and the Sexual Division of Labour in the Philippines, Zed Books: London   Parreñas, R. S., 2001, Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration, and Domestic Work, Stanford University Press: Stanford, California --- 2008, The Force of Domesticity: Filipina Migrants and Globalisation, New York University Press: New York and London   Tyner, J. A., 2004, Made in the Philippines: gendered discourses and the making of migrants, RoutledgeCurzon: London and New York --- 2009, The Philippines: Mobilities, Identities, Globalization, Routledge: New York and London


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