DUBAI: Women’s freedom of movement has become more apparent today, as we see them join the global workforce and take jobs overseas, according to a Dubai-based labor diplomat from the Philippines, one of the world’s biggest sources of migrant workers – most of whom are in the Middle East.
“I think we are at a point where our women are more progressive in their decisions to work and provide for their families,” Felicitas Bay said, noting an increasing trend of women becoming principal earners in Filipino households, a role traditionally assumed by men.
Of almost half a million Filipinos who left the country for a job abroad in 2017, 72 percent are women, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, a dedicated government agency for Overseas Filipino Workers.
“Our women know what they want, and they are courageous enough to pursue overseas work despite of its social costs,” Bay said.
But female migration isn’t only rampant in the Southeast Asian country of 100 million people – it is a global phenomenon.
According to research by a UK-based think tank, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), in 2015, the number of female migrants reached 118 million, or 41 percent of the entire population of international migrants, at 224 million.
The trend points to a change in the labor market in several host countries, including Gulf states, which ODI noted as having the highest growth of migrant workers.
Labor migration first saw men taking up jobs in construction and other gender-specific industries abroad, specifically in the oil-rich Gulf states, according to another report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).
But due to a slowdown in infrastructure projects in the early 1980s, the report said employment demands shifted, and women started to join the global workforce, landing jobs in the service industry.
Although the Philippine labor office in Dubai has been recording many Filipino migrants employed in diverse industries in recent years, a huge number work in the service industry.
“Men are perceived as stronger and more capable of manual labor and, as a result, are more likely to work in mining, industry, transport, trade and construction,” ODI said in a research paper, adding that men are “overrepresented in management positions.”
“By contrast, women are perceived as nurturing and are concentrated in ‘feminine’ sectors related to care (e.g. health, teaching, cleaning, cooking, service industries) or entertainment, or in factory positions that prefer workers to be ‘nimble’ or meticulous,” the paper added, citing the United Nations, the International Labor Organization and the International Organization for Migration.
Although this global trend could be a positive indication for women in general, it poses a challenge to home countries, especially those like the Philippines that regard women as natural “homemakers.”
But Bay said families are going to survive, pointing to technology as a vital tool for family members to remain connected, as well as welcoming a “more fluid” definition of gender roles where “everyone can be a breadwinner and a homemaker.”