The recent investigative series in The Toronto Star sheds light to the often illegal practices of hiring and exploitative working conditions of foreign ‘nannies’ in Canada. Part 1 details how nannies are lured into and trapped in bogus jobs or forced to work illegally while living and working in unacceptable conditions. According to the Star, “the popular federal Live-In Caregiver Program has become a nanny trap.” One Filipina caregiver recounts how her passport was taken away by a Toronto recruiter and how she ended up with 16 other unemployed Filipina caregivers sleeping on the floor of the recruiter’s basement “in custody, detention, imprisonment and incarceration, without proper food … harassed, frightened, scared.” Part 2 reveals how federal agencies fail to protect foreign caregivers. It seems there are serious gaps and sloppy practices in the two federal departments who are supposed to be overseeing the Live-in Caregiver Program. The Star notes that ” federal offices have made questionable approvals of applications from nanny recruitment agencies.” What the two-part series doesn’t discuss are the reasons why Filipina women are compelled to leave their homes, families and country behind.
An article by Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (the current chair of the UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues) sheds light to some of the possible reasons. Her article “Globalization and its impacts on indigenous women: The Philippine case,” details the consequences of World Bank Structural Adjustment Program policies on indigenous women in her country. Especially the liberalization of agriculture has resulted in aggressive forms of cash crop production which has had severe impacts on indigenous women, the majority of whom continue to be engaged in subsistence food production. The cash crop production directly affects the land tenure and production by indigenous peoples who are unable to compete with imported crops.
The WTO trade agreements drive countries to produce agricultural exports rather than food for local consumption. This requires concentration of land ownership and production capacity to the hands of few large agribusinesses and landowners. This leaves “hundreds of thousands of indigenous peasant women insecure over their rights to their ancestral lands.” It also threatens local food security, increases health risks and further degrades the environment. Cash crops require large amounts of pesticides and fertilizers.
Tauli-Corpuz maintains that “The most significant effect of globalization on indigenous women is the significant shift from subsistence production to the production of cash crops. … Indigenous methods of production and resource management are considered inefficient and backward by the global market economy whose mantra is global competitiveness and comparative advantage. Hundreds of thousands of indigenous women will have to abandon their sustainable agricultural and resource management practices.”
She continues: “The displacement from the rural areas has brought women to the urban centres and most of them end up with the urban poor in the slum areas. A great bulk of these women also have applied for overseas contract work.”
The statistics the article offers are dated but they provide a sobering picture of the abuse and violence overseas contract workers are faced with. “According to the Overseas Workers Welfare Association, within 1996, 105 overseas contract workers died outside of the Philippines, 49 came home mentally ill, and 62 came home with various physical disabilities.”
In short, the displacement and exploitation of indigenous women that starts in the Philippines only continues in countries like Canada, without much government oversight.