“In the Philippines, women get deployed abroad to work as domestic workers or nannies. In order to do so, they frequently leave their own children behind, before throwing themselves into the unknown“.
On the 11th of May 2021, the third event of Expressions of Humanity 2020-21 invited the participants to the screening of the film Overseas and a discussion with Dr. Asuncion Fresnoza-Flot to discover the world of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), particularly those working in the domestic sector as nannies or maids in our globalized world.
Each year, around 2 million Filipinos are estimated to leave their country and family to go abroad hoping to get income and help their family, mostly in Asia and the Middle East but also in Europe, often for an initial contract of two years. Among others, the service sector is dominantly occupied by women, and its number has seen a drastic increase since the last three decades.
Praised as modern heroes by President Rodrigo Duterte, OFWs including those working in the service sector considerably support the Filipino economy with their remittances accounting for 9.3% of the GDP in 2019 for example, but at the high expense of sacrifice, loneliness, pain and fear. While some are “lucky” enough to have a “kind” employer, others unfortunately are not. Some are forced to work from early in the morning to late in the night without break. Their passport is sometimes kept in the hands of their employer, depriving them of the chance to escape. Some stay without legal contract thus in precarious status. Some stay for many years without seeing their children regardless of their initial plan of staying only 2 years.
A woman, barefoot, in an apron, overwhelmed with her emotion, crying but continuing to clean a toilet and the floor around. A four-minute fixed take of this woman is the beginning of the film Overseas directed by Yoon Sung-A, French-Korean artist and filmmaker based in Brussels.
Produced by Iota Production, the film is set in a vocation training facility in Philippines where women learn “domestic works” just before leaving for abroad as OFWs. The film depicts the women learning how to place cutlery correctly, serve a meal in the right order, not to leave a drop of water in the bathroom, help disabled people put clothes etc. Particularly, through role-playing exercises, the women also prepare themselves to deal with possible verbal, sexual or physical harassment by the master or mistress of the house. “Never cry in front of your employer, it shows weakness. Filipinos are not weak”, the women are taught.
Some of the trainees have already been abroad, so they share their experiences as domestic migrant workers, including working conditions, salary, struggle of loneliness and missing the childhood of their children, and difficulties in long distance conjugal relationship with their husband.
“It’s so annoying to have that kind of employer. But you have nowhere else to go. You’re like a robot when you are abroad. I’m just one person, and there are five of them. They treat you like a robot. […] This is the OFW’s life.” tells a woman in Tagalog in the film.
Migrant mothers without borders
The event continues with a discussion with Dr. Asuncion Fresnoza-Flot, sociologist and the author of “Mères migrantes sans frontières – La dimension invisible de l’immigration philippine en France” (Migrant mothers without borders – The invisible dimension of Filipino immigration to France) which inspired Sung-A Yoon to work on the documentary Overseas.
In her presentation, she explains that, contrary to most of the research on OFWs that throws light on their labour conditions, her research rather focuses on their family dimension and on the fact that they are “migrants” being separated from their beloved family.
To study how migrant Filipina workers actually fulfil their roles as “mother”, “wife” and “member of larger kin network” in the Philippines while being away from their family and how they deal with emotional burden, she conducted her doctoral research interviewing with migrant Filipina workers in Paris as well as with stay-behind families in Philippines including husbands, children and substitute mothers.
Along with the results of her fieldworks, she also presents some pictures describing “long distance mothering” and “expressions of love and care” such as altar of family, gift, pictures and cards that Dr. Fresnoza-Flot calls “circulation of care in transnational families”.
Watch her entire presentation from the video below.
Picture: Overseas, Sung-A Yoon