A brief of the paper by Gemma Tulud Cruz, Philippines

“DH” for the Hong Kong domestic helper…”Japayuki” for the Japanese entertainer. These are some of the new vocabulary that has been invented to describe the “global” Filipina. Name any service–oriented job and a Filipina migrant worker is most probably engaged in it. Go to even a seemingly God-forsaken country and you’ll likely find a Filipina toiling the day away. From Africa to Oceania…Russia to Australia…Jordan to Saipan…America to Asia… Filipino women are migrating in tens of thousands to be a Filipineza— a Greek dictionary’s word for “maid” or be “my Filipino/a”— Hong Kong’s (and even parts of Europe) term for “my maid.”

Filipina labor migration is not an uncommon phenomenon since the 1950’s when doctors, nurses, and other professional or skilled women workers migrated to work in Europe and North America. Globalization, however, changed the volume, nature, and direction of Filipina labor migration not only by intensifying it and opening up non-western locations but also by gendering it and inscribing service-oriented “work”, particularly domestic work, in the bodies of the Filipina. As such, the Filipina is in the lead in the “maid trade” and has become one of the Philippines’ major “exports” or what former President Fidel Ramos calls as “internationally-shared human resource.” On the one hand, the gendered forms of oppression Filipina DHs go through affirm that this phenomenon obviously denigrates, violates, and objectifies the body. On the other hand, the DHs’ strategies to survive their oppression show that this is creating new conditions and spaces for the contestation and re-definition not only of their gender but also their class and cultural identity.

The paper explores this “contrast experience” in the context of the situation of the Filipina domestic helpers in Hong Kong. It delves into the various ways in which Filipina DHs are subjected to oppressive situations and how they negotiate these to define and/or re-define themselves as embodied Filipino women migrant domestic workers. It examine, for instance, how their body and sexuality becomes the lynchpin of their oppression through gendered migration, gendered transitions and gendered violence. At the same time, it looks into the ways in which their body and sexuality becomes the principal site for identity definition and/or re-definition through talent and beauty contests, lesbianism, extra-marital affairs, transnational mothering, etc., as a response to the gender, cultural, and class contingencies of migrant domestic work in Hong Kong. Before this, however, the author reviews the feminization of Philippine labor migration especially in terms of how globalization, with its concomitant international division of labor and expansion of the service sector, has driven Filipinas to leave the Philippines en masse to work as entertainers and caretakers or trafficked to be sex workers. She then move on to a brief survey of the conditions of Filipina domestic workers in Asia’s NICs (Newly Industrialized Countries) or tiger economies — the new major destinations of Filipina migrant domestic workers. After this, is an in depth discussion of their situation in Hong Kong — their main destination among Asia’s NICs and their second biggest destination worldwide, which incidentally also plays host to other Asian migrant domestic workers e.g. Sri Lankans, Thais, Nepalese, Indians, and Indonesians.

The last section is an exploration of the theological implications of the Filipina DHs’ gendered as well as transnational (re)-negotiation of their oppressive situation to prevailing social constructions of gender in relation to body and sexuality particularly bodiliness, space, roles, identity, and subjectivity.

Gemma Tulud Cruz holds an M.A. in Religious Studies from the Maryhill School of Theology in the Philippines. At present, she is on a scholarship grant for Ph.D. in Intercultural Theology at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands where she is doing a research on the Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong. She has published a number of articles particularly in the National Catholic Reporter in the U.S where she is a contributor to the Global Perspective column.

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