Sunday, June 10, 2018

The "De-Feminization" of Philippine Labor Exports

The Philippines is known as a labor exporting country par excellence. In the absence of local opportunities, millions upon millions of Filipinos have gone abroad in search of gainful employment. Last year, it sent an all-time high number of laborers abroad, eclipsing even the 2006 mark when overseas contract workers first topped a million. As long as the local economic situation does not improve significantly, Philippine labor exports look set to continue. Certainly, the sheer number of persons working abroad is astounding.

An interesting trend though is the seeming de-feminization of labor exports. When the Philippines first started sending labor abroad in large scale in the mid-Seventies, most were headed to the Middle East where the oil boom meant considerable demand for foreign workers in construction and related industries. After a while, though, the country started sending women in significant numbers in less-skilled (household service workers) and more-skilled (nurses) occupations as well as those somewhere in between (entertainers). More recently, it seems Filipino women going abroad have decreased in number. This is due mainly to two things. First, Japan was cited for "trafficking in persons" by the US State Department as quite a few entertainers from the Philippines were thought to have been exploited in the sex trade. Naturally wary of being stigmatized as such by the US, Japan raised the entry requirements for female entertainers from the Philippines and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Philippine government itself has raised the requirements for allowing household service workers to go abroad.

That is on female side. On the male side, it is unsurprising that high energy prices have caused another boom in the Middle East. Aside from improving the energy infrastructure, various Middle Eastern nations have begun real-estate mega-projects funded out of energy revenues in hopes that such projects will give the region a lifeline when the next oil slump hits and, ultimately, oil and gas reserves are depleted. Given the shortage of locals to perform construction-related tasks, these countries have once again turned to the Philippines for making up the shortfall of engineers, . Needless to say, men are required for these jobs. From the Philippine Star:

A growing demand for male workers in the Middle East and a new policy on household service or domestic workers (HSWs) has seen the gender of Philippine labor migration shift towards males again in 2008, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said Tuesday.

"When we used to see a 60-40 ratio of female OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) before, we are seeing more and more males now," POEA Deputy Administrator Carmelita Dimzon told reporters after a press conference at the Philippine Institute on Development Studies. Dimzon said the demand for male workers in Saudi Arabia and parts of the Middle East where so-called “mega cities” are being built is one of the factors for this "de-feminization." "It is unlikely that Saudi and the Middle East will hire female welders and pipe fitters," she said. "Maybe in Australia and Canada, but not in the Middle East." [Movie buffs take note: the Middle East is hardly "Flashdance."]

The POEA official also said the 2007 POEA policy on HSWs also helped reverse the feminization trend in labor migration, which started in the early 2000s. Over the past year, when the POEA policy increased the age, salary, and training requirement for leaving HSWs, the number of women leaving for overseas employment decreased by 47 percent.

The tightened Japanese immigration policy on entertainers, the bulk of whom are women, is also a contributory factor, Dimzon said. Before the new Japanese policy took effect a couple of years ago, the Philippines sent some 72,000 entertainers to Japan every year. Last year, she said, the number of entertainers deployed to Japan had gone down to 7,000.

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