Women Migrants Debunk Empowerment Myth, Vow to Continue Struggle for Rights

Jobs available to women are “mere extension of stereotype women roles as homemakers and as sex objects.” These are, in essence, gender-oppressive roles made to appear as formal work placing women in situations open to abuse and exploitation.


A Filipina in dire need lured by promises of gainful employment in Singapore ending up being forced into sexual slavery. A Thai domestic helper in Hong Kong who is paid meager wages. Women from poor countries sold as brides to Taiwanese men. Highly-educated Mongolian women forced to take on jobs not related to their profession. All of them are bound twice—as migrants and as women.

Women migrants who attended the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR) this October shared their predicaments, debunking claims that migration has led to the empowerment of women.

The so-called feminization of migration, the United Nations and the International Labor Organization (ILO) claim, has the potential in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.

But women migrants think otherwise.

Eni Lestari, chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) said that the current trade of migration is not voluntary but forced migration. She said migrant workers are like commodities owned by the sending governments to be exported to other governments, in exchange for remittances and as a way to reduce unemployment.

Lestari said that even before migration, political and economic structures propagate a patriarchal culture. Society views women as slaves who are subordinated by men, she said.

Lestari, an Indonesian who works as a domestic helper in Hong Kong, said that most women migrants surrender their power to their employer or recruitment agency. Women are made docile and are vulnerable to all forms of violations.


Samantha (not her real name), 40, is the breadwinner of a family of 13.

Like many Filipinos looking for a decent job, Samantha and her niece Clarissa (not her real name) applied for a job in Singapore.

Before leaving, she stayed at the residence of the recruiter, known to her only as Amanda, in Caloocan City. She, her niece and the other talents practiced moves for a Malay dance.

During the orientation, Samantha and the others were instructed to say they were just on a holiday when questioned by immigration authorities in Singapore. They were even given “show money” for the authorities. She was also told that they would not encounter any difficulty with immigration officers in the Philippines because everything had been settled.

On July 14, she left for Singapore. What appeared to be a harmless job turned out to be a nightmare. Upon their arrival, Amanda confiscated all of their cellular phones. They were brought to bar, the main door of which is always locked. Worse, they were forced to have sex with customers of the bar.

“We cannot just sit; we are obliged to sell sex. We have no choice,” Samantha said.

They were told that they have to raise 5,200 Singaporean dollars for their placement fee.

On July 15, Samantha had a Japanese customer who paid 100 Singaporean dollars for three hours of “service”.

“I was crying, it was my first time to have sex with someone I don’t love,” said Samantha, crying.

The next day, Samantha said she learned that Amanda’s real name is Cindy Domingo.

They are prohibited from saying anything about their situation. When talking to their relatives over the phone, Amanda or Cindy would listen and would always warn them not to cry.

Samantha said Amanda would hurl invectives at them. “She even listens to our conversations with customers… She does not keep a list of the money we give her,” said Samantha.

When her visa was about to expire, Amanda took her to Malaysia where stayed for three to four hours so she could renew her visa.

In August, a British customer “hired” Samantha for eight days. She was paid 8,000 Singaporean dollars. “All the money went to Amanda,” related Samantha.

She was determined to escape so she pretended to be nice to Amanda. Just before she left, she witnessed how Amanda slapped another woman victim. “She pulled her hair, banged her head on the wall… I wanted to help her, she was so skinny and helpless but I could not do anything,” said Samantha.

On Sept. 7, she flew back to Manila with the hope of getting back at Amanda and of helping out the other victims of sex trafficking.

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