November 25, 2022
Today, we commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women or IDEVAW by condemning the continuing exploitation, abuse and maltreatment of women, especially women migrants, as commodities. We remember the women who were forced to leave their country of origin and their children and families to become migrant workers in order to survive.
Millions of women in the world are forced to leave their families and communities because of severe unemployment, underemployment, low wages, rising prices of basic goods and decreasing national budgets to provide for vital social services like healthcare, child and maternal care, housing and education in their home countries. Meanwhile while they are abroad working as domestic workers, factory workers, care and health workers, and service workers overseas, they are exploited with long working hours with low pay, little to no rest breaks, and inhumane treatment and working conditions. We call for justice for the thousands of migrant women who have experienced abuse, labor exploitation, and human trafficking while working overseas.
We also remember some of the migrant women who were unjustly charged and incarcerated. One of these women is Overseas Filipino Worker Mary Jane Veloso, who has been in jail for more than a decade now. Mary Jane, like most OFWs and Filipino women, is a victim of the structural violence wrought by poverty and joblessness in the country. On the IDEVAW, Migrante International asserts that Mary Jane is an innocent victim of trafficking who was driven by poverty to find employment abroad only to become a pawn of drug traffickers.
Mary Jane’s sickly parents Celia and Cesar Veloso appealed to President Marcos Jr. through Department of Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople, to request Indonesian President Joko Widodo to grant executive clemency to, and immediately release, Mary Jane on humanitarian grounds. Church groups and migrants’ advocates even launched a campaign to “Bring Mary Jane Home” but their hopes and prayers were dashed.
There was also international solidarity support for Mary Jane through a global online petition in Change.org, which gathered 445,187 signatories. Migrante International and various peoples’ organizations held a series of demonstrations in the Philippines and abroad in support of Mary Jane. Another petition is being initiated by a solidarity organization based in Indonesia that has provided material and emotional support to Mary Jane since the start of her detention.
Like Mary Jane, thousands of women who are forced to leave their families in a desperate desire to solve economic deprivation suffer different forms of violence. This is the case of 52 women — some of them 11, 13 and 14 years old — who were recruited and deceived into accepting employment offers to work as household workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, but instead were trafficked to Syria.
Based on their accounts, the women have been asking embassy officials for help to return to the Philippines but were left waiting in the embassy’s shelter for a period of one to two years, while some of them were “returned” to recruitment agencies that were also abusive towards them. Many of them also experienced being detained in jails in Syria and were not visited or assisted by Philippine officials.
These trafficked women have returned to the country, and they reported that they have yet to receive direct welfare support and services such as psychosocial counseling, financial and livelihood assistance, and educational and medical assistance from the Philippine government. Migrante International, along with church workers advocates, has been assisting them to file cases against their recruiters. Some are also faced with pending cases in Syria where they owe penalty fees to Embassy officials who asked them to pay USD 200-500 if they want to fast-track their return to the Philippines and not wait for the budget from the Department of Foreign Affairs to pay their penalties.
We demand an end to human trafficking as a form of economic violence against women and girls especially those who come from impoverished communities and communities affected by war and crisis, climate displacement, who have become the most vulnerable. Governments should prioritize providing victims of human trafficking with direct welfare support and services such as psychosocial counseling, financial and livelihood assistance, educational and medical assistance, and legal assistance.
With 53% of OFW population comprised by women, violence in the form of abuse, exploitation, trafficking and even death shall persist for as long as the Philippine government carries out its Labor Export Program that benefits the government and the country’s elites more than the migrants and their families themselves. Domestic work, in which a significant section of OFWs are employed, is particularly vulnerable to abuse by employers who have so much control over their employees.
Migrante International demands an end to the economic violence carried out by the governments and states against women migrant workers all over the world. It is calling on its global chapters to strengthen their organizations, expose and fight violence among women and all OFWs and carry on their task to defend migrant workers. It stands in solidarity with these courageous women all over the world who fight for a dignified life, decent work and housing, access to healthy food, free and quality education and healthcare.###