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“Being a domestic helper is like gambling, you should know the trick
to win”- Bebe Pasman

In 2014,
Bebe Pasman kissed her only son goodbye, wiped away his tears while forcefully
removing his entwined arms from her hips. She promised her son that she would
come home soon, but the reality is it will take her seven years to fulfill her promise
to her son.

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The
General Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) defined ‘domestic
work’ in the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) as work performed in
or for a household or households; and the term ‘domestic worker’ as any person
engaged in domestic work within an employment relationship.

According
to ILO there are now 53 million domestic workers worldwide, most of them are migrant
workers raveling from poor countries to richer ones to work in private
households. The Philippines is one of the world’s top four sending countries of
migrant domestic workers. With an average of 86,000 Filipinos, most of them are
women, and nearly all of them were from poor or economically disadvantaged
backgrounds. In addition, 25% of the population in the country were under the
poverty line and many families struggle to keep their children in school, the
lure of a job abroad has pulled more than 10 million Filipinas out of their
homes and scattered them across the world, many in Gulf nations. Official
remittances sent back to the Philippines by overseas workers is worth $26 billion, or nearly 15% of the country’s GDP.

Based on
the administrative data, more than new 96,500 household service workers from
the Philippines went to work overseas during 2010 alone. The domestic workers
from the Philippines had increased, from approximately 63,000 in 1995, and
women comprise the overwhelming majority of Filipino migrant domestic workers.

Having
these data said, most of the domestic workers from the country were women. What
are the reasons why domestic work remains one of the most heavily feminized
sectors in the country? Is it because of the historical, cultural, scientific
and political/social issues in the Philippines?

What our history says about
Philippines Feminizing Domestic Work?

A
glance during the pre-colonial Philippines reveals that both men and women play
important roles in society and enjoy the same rights. Women, just like men, can
take leadership roles such as priestess, healers, and warriors. It was only
when the Spaniards arrived that the status of Filipino women have started to be
inferior to Filipino men.

During
the 16th century, Spanish friars brought with them their own idea of
what a Filipina woman is and where she is supposed to be placed in society. Since
then, women have been responsible to take care of the domestic tasks, go to
church, bear and educate children. Hereafter, women lose their chance to
education and political freedom. They were to be obedient to the father and
elder brothers when young (single), to the husband when married, and to their
sons when widowed (Leyson, 2001). This norm set by the Spaniards had
contributed to the confinement of women to provide men and even the society
personal services like domestic work.

When
Spain lost the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Philippines ceded to the United
States of America. The coming of new colonizers had given the women taste of
equality. U.S.A. imported a new public education system which gives opportunity
to every child regardless of gender. By this time, women were accustomed to
education and opportunities to learn the essentials of business. However, the
kind of education the Filipino women received during the American colonial
period primarily prepared them to respond to the demands of the colonial
bureaucracy and economy (Sobritchea, 1990). Still, Filipino women are limited
to work on the things that would benefit men. Even the Americans opened the new
education system for women, noticing that there is a low attendance of females
in agricultural schools, opted them that women should attend courses in
agriculture, not for them to be farmers really but to be good wives of farmers.

This
inferior treatment among women had become nastier when the Japanese took over
the country. Stories of rape are widely spread. Some were killed after they
were raped, raped by some numbers of Japanese soldiers. Women purposely dirty
themselves so that the Japanese will not notice them and there were also women
who accepted the exploitation of the enemies, just to protect themselves. Women
had also contributed to the battle with the Japanese, being members of Hukbong
Bayan Laban sa Hapon (HUKBALAHAP) who are composed of Filipino workers and
farmers. Women, during this time, were obviously abused.

Is
it part of our Culture?

            Same as the
other culture, gender roles are extrusive in the Philippines. Nowadays, we stereotyped
women as the ones who stay at home and do household tasks, while the men are
the ones who make money to provide his family’s needs. Gender differences in
the Philippine culture can be seen in dating, workforce, and families.

            One of the most preserved cultures of the Philippines is
the “panliligaw” or courting of a man to woman. The traditional panliligaw or ligawan are the Tagalog terms for courtship. Manliligaw is the one who courts a dalaga (a Filipina maiden) and the nililigawan is the one who is being courted. The traditional panliligaw is being done with the manliligaw doing jobs for the woman he
is courting. This includes personal services that are originally done by women
as their task in the household. In reality, women are the ones in charge of the
domestic works while men only do this in way of helping the women they pursue.

            In addition, the common Filipino families are composed of
a father and a mother given a culture influenced roles. We call the fathers of
our homes as the “haligi ng tahanan”
or the pillar of a home. A pillar would mean that he is the supporter of a
home, he is the one who provides and the one who will give a stable living for
the family. Meanwhile, the mothers are called as the “ilaw ng tahanan”. Mothers
are recognized as the “ilaw ng tahanan,” which is translated to the “light of the home.” This
Filipino expression serves to describe mothers as the light who brings warmth
and comfort to her family by caring for them in the best way possible,
sometimes even putting aside her own happiness and well-being just to do so
(Press, 2016).

            Lastly, even in
workforce and labor, gender roles may be witnessed. It has been said that the
traditional roles of Filipino women are to work in gardens, care for the house,
care for the children because they are basically the pattern nof conduct for
the entire family. Women are always good in one category, which is doing
household chores. Women are dominated in this work all over the world because
it is part of their motherly instinct which is innate in women (Sourabh, 2008).

Is
it Politically/Socially influenced?

The innate difference of men and women can also be demonstrated to
some extent by the actual division of labor in society.

In practically all primitive societies’ aggressive jobs are done
by men, such as hunting, fishing, metal working, weapon making, boat building,
etc. The women normally grind corn, gather fruits and seeds, manufacture and
repair clothes, and do the work at home (Andrade, 1967). This entails that
female should always be inside the house and working household chores which
makes male who prefer to work heavy duties, outside the house.

Moreover, according to Taylor (2012), men are defined as being
more confident, accomplished and well-rounded individuals. Because of these
factors and characteristics of men, the dominance of men over women was
normalized. Hierarchy among male and female is visible from then and now. When
it comes to political and social capabilities, before, women do not have the
right to education and the right to vote.

In addition, men are believed to be the superior and highly
capable of contributing to the development of the society, and women are
capable of nurturing the community starting from the family. This norm was
brought even in the modern times. Though women now have the right to education
and to vote, the stigma of being a woman and women as ‘domestic helpers’ retains.

Can
Science explain why?

We
consider women as the most vital key when it comes to domestic work. Though men
and women have the equal rights as human beings, both genders are still different
in terms of physical being.

According
to Wijngaards (n.d) men’s
body are much better adapted to hard physical work. In men, the central and
massive component of body is formed by the chest. Man has broad shoulders and
strong arms. Man has much stronger muscles than woman (as is borne out by
international sports achievements) and projects an image of strength. On the
other hand, women’s central and massive part of body is composed by the womb.
With this, woman is considered as what she is because of her womb. As stated by Montagu (1942) female is the symbol of life, birth,
and fertility. The
physical and psychological contrasts between men and women dispose them for
different social roles.

As mentioned by Welsh (2012), at 42,
more women than men were psychologically distressed, the study found — at 21,
distress levels were equal. They also found that women
did more housework, and women were more
likely to have jobs lower on the socioeconomic scale, and get paid less than
men at the same job position. She also added that domestic work is a highly
gendered activity as females tend to have a greater responsibility that those
of males.

Within the last two decades more and
more Filipina left their families and country to work in neighboring Asia, and
in the oil-rich Middle East, and one of them is Bebe. Bebe’s child had slowly
grown up. Played in the classroom, had fun with his classmates, while Bebe was assigned
to clean the house and take care of an elderly and a baby for other families
thousands kilometers away from her home.

Bebe is one of these Filipino women
domestic workers who went abroad to get a greater profit to sustain the needs
of her family in the Philippines. Deeper than this reason, Bebe is one of those
women who inherited the task of domestic work from the Philippines’ history,
culture, political/social structure.

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