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 Global Perspective

May 7, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 6

global perspective
Rita Monteiro, a freelance writer, has taught English in high school and university, and works on women's issues and media education. A wife and mother of three children, she divides her time between Huntsville, Alabama, and Mumbai, India.



To learn more about global migrant workers, visit the Migrant Home Page of the ILO.

Global Mom: Migrant Mom

By Rita Monteiro

MUMBAI, India -- Ma, Amah, Momma, Mom. Precious words for Mother. They conjure up the one who gives us life, who perfects the noble art of personalized care and service. Motivated by selfless love the mother nourishes, renews, transforms.

This is the mystique behind the commodification of Mother's Day, celebrated on May 11 in the United States.

India retains a living religious and cultural tradition where the Mother is Shakti, the transcendent source of boundless life and omnipotence. In a world become global, with business processes and medical outsourcing are global enterprises and global managers and institutions are linked by IT, a feminine Global Shakti initiates and conducts a million processes center stage. Yet She remains almost invisible.

In honor of Mother's Day let's profile women migrant workers. They are cleaners of public facilities, nannies, housekeepers, maids, and industrial and hotel workers in lands far from their homes. They slog in fish, shrimp, and chicken processing plants. Yet little is known about these Global Moms.

Until very recently, it was assumed that migrant workers were mostly men and most women migrated to re-unify families. Until fairly recently, documents of the International Labor Organization (ILO) described a migrant worker's family as being "his wife and minor children." Today, however, we know that in many countries the migration of women for employment exceeds that of men significantly.

The impact of the feminization of the migrant labor market in home and host countries has not yet been studied comprehensively, but some statistics on the diaspora of Global Moms is emerging. The Philippines, for example, has been called the largest exporter of skilled labor by Bernado Viegas dean of the Asia and Pacific University. An estimated 7% of Filipino families receive foreign remittances. The Philippines supplies the world with nurses, teachers, housekeepers, nannies, housemaids and sailors. Except for the latter, these are nearly exclusively women.

Health care is quickly developing into a major employment sector for women migrants. The United Kingdom suffers an estimated shortfall of 20,000 nurses annually; the United States 200,000. About 80% of Filipino nurses work outside the country.

Global healthcare institutions have discovered a new gold mine: English-speaking nurses trained in India. Medical training institutes in India, such as Apollo Hospitals India and Escorts Heart Institute, have geared up to supply the demand. Apollo Hospitals, started its Global Nursing Programme in 2002 to train nurses in intensive care, spoken English, and etiquette. The company receives US$300 to US$5,000 for every placement.

Obviously, this siphons off workers from institutions in their home country. Reportedly, the best hospitals in India lose 20% to 25% of their nurses to hospitals abroad. More than 250,000 Filipino registered nurses are working aboard. The concentration of women migrants in vulnerable occupations such as domestic service, entertainment (including forced participation in the sex sector), and nursing, is clear in many parts of the world. The vulnerability of these workers stems from the high degree of subordination that exists between the worker and employer, heightened by the fact that these sectors tend to be excluded from national labor legislation and international migration instruments. In some cases, the undercover transfer of workers takes on the character of a criminal operation.

The participation of women in international trafficking, often into various forms of forced labor, is another disturbing trend that commands international attention.

Progress is being made in constructing an international infrastructure for the protection of migrant labor. The ILO's newly created International Labor Migration Database aims to record the number and flows of workers (men and women) in member states, their working conditions and daily living situations, and to make that information readily available via the Internet.

Enough countries (21 as of March 19) have ratified "The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families" that it will enter into force on July 1. The convention seeks to end illegal or clandestine recruitment and trafficking of migrant workers and to discourage the employment of migrant workers in an irregular or undocumented situation. It provides a set of binding international standards to address the treatment, welfare and human rights of both documented and undocumented migrants, as well as the obligations and responsibilities on the part of sending and receiving nations.

Nevertheless the image of the typical migrant as young, male and economically motivated persists. This bias leads to the formulation of unrealistic and unresponsive policies. Clearly, gender-based analysis and planning is essential for the formation of immigration policies and legislation.

In a world where one-third of households are headed by women in poverty, with little or no choices, their work puts bread on the table for their families. Their courageous actions are the only hope to break the vicious cycle of hopeless poverty. But let us also remember the well-educated and professional workers -- airline personnel, business managers, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, computer engineers and teachers -- who are selling their labor in global markets.

We should honor all these Global Moms.

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