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Archive for July, 2008

In the spirit of picking your battles, I really tried to ignore the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ threat to deny communion and to campaign against Filipino politicians supporting reproductive health bills. But I’m still ticked off about it, and Karnythia’s post on bodily autonomy and Renee’s musings on patriarchal control over women’s fertility have me thinking.

Growing up in the Philippines, I did not always notice how tenuous the concept of bodily autonomy was. And I’m not even talking about abortion, which is illegal over there. (There’s no divorce law either.)

When you’re a woman in the Philippines, social institutions around you continually collude to erode any autonomy you have over your body.

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Over the past three months, have you “experienced hunger and did not have anything to eat?”

This was a question from the Social Weather Stations, a non-profit social research station in the Philippines. Their findings show that more Filipino families are going hungry more often. More Filipino families are answering the above question with “a few times.” When asked how often they went hungry, a growing number of Filipinos simply responded, “All the time.”

And Filipina women are bearing the brunt of this hunger. According to Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Liza Largoza Maza:

It is the women who are hit hardest by the food crisis. Mothers who make up the majority of those lining up for cheap NFA rice, are most often, the last to eat.

The Arroyo government has linked the Philippine rice and food crisis to a larger “world food crisis” as well as a “global price crisis” caused by soaring fuel charges. Her response is to call for “comprehensive agriculture program” to prioritize food production. She also helpfully suggested that the poor could mix rice with yams or switch to cheaper cereals in order to stave off hunger.

However, the seeds of this crisis were planted much earlier than Arroyo suggests.

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Juana Tejada, the Filipina caregiver who was being deported this August from Canada due to her cancer, has been granted an extension on her temporary work permit. She can stay until December 10, as the authorities continue to assess her case.

Ms. Tejada began working in Canada in 2003, via the Canada’s Live-In Caregiver program. She was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in 2006, during a medical examination for her permanent residency. Canadian authorities then denied her application, stating that she would cause “excessive demand” on the country’s health resources.

The Canadian authorities have since reconsidered, due to outrage from Filipino community groups headed by Migrante Ontario, the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, and by workers’ groups including the Independent Workers Association and the United Steelworkers Union.

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The appalling work conditions at the Cavite Export Processing Zone are, unfortunately, not unique to the Philippines.

These also happen in Mauritius.

In Kenya.

In Morocco. Sri Lanka. Thailand. Honduras. Colombia. Bangladesh.

But even faced with brutal labor repression, labor activists continue to work for unionization and workers’ rights. And activists in North America and Europe can play a vital role in supporting their organization efforts.

If you’re in North America or Europe, here is where you can help.

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Latoya at Racialicious challenges us to remember who we are fighting for.

Here’s my roundabout answer.

Following is a list of informal requirements to obtain a job as a factory worker at the Cavite Export Processing Zone in the Philippines:

  • female
  • 18 to 24 years old
  • high school graduate, some college preferred
  • good English skills
  • diligent and hard-working
  • can work fourteen hour shifts, six days a week
  • can hold in urge to urinate for hours at a time, until designated breaks
  • if married, must practice birth control or undergo tubal ligation
  • single preferred, must be willing to undergo periodic virginity tests.

Women make up from 70 to 90 percent of the labor force in the various export processing zones around the Philippines. In Cavite, long-known as a “no strike zone,” young women workers are preferred for factory jobs because they are perceived as more “docile,” and therefore less likely to go on strike and demand better working conditions.

A pregnant worker represents disruption in the production process. Workers who get pregnant are routinely fired, but the companies still lose their investment in her training and will have to spend resources to train new workers. Hence the stipulations for “virginity tests” and against pregnancy.

Many of the young workers leave their barrios for jobs as factory workers to augment family income. If a young woman is seen as a potential troublemaker (aka activist), her family could receive a “visit” from their local mayor. It is left to the intimidated parents to beg their daughters to stop their organizing activities.

Oh, and following is a partial list of corporations that operate or subcontract companies within the Cavite Export Processing Zone:

  • Nike
  • the Gap
  • IBM
  • Liz Claiborne
  • Calvin Klein
  • Timberland
  • WalMart
  • Target

This is what the economic development politics of globalization does to women in export processing zones. All of us in countries like the United States, ALL of us, benefit from their labor.

My activism is for them.

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It’s no small task to be a bicyclist or pedestrian in Los Angeles. Motorists don’t expect you. Many get angry when they’re inconvenienced and have to brake.

Last July 4th, Christopher Thompson of Brentwood, an emergency room physician, deliberately swerved his car onto the path of two cyclists, then slammed on his brakes. One cyclist crashed head-first through Thomson’s car window; the other was flung to the pavement. Both sustained serious injuries. The doctor now faces felony charges, thanks in large part to the actions of bicycling activists.

Road rage assaults are the reason why I’d much rather run the trails, where you only have to worry about coyotes, pumas, and rattlesnakes.

But there’s a whole group of Los Angeles bicyclists who do not have that choice or privilege. They don’t ride for recreation or exercise. They ride those heavy no-name bikes from Walmart. They can’t afford helmets, reflectors, or other safety gear.

They are day laborers, immigrants, people of color for whom bicycles are an expensive necessity, the only way to get to work.

They’re called the invisible riders.

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Please read professor black woman’s post about the continued exploitation of migrant farmworkers in California, then sign the UFW petition for farm workers’ rights.

For my fellow Pinoys, please remember that in 1965, led by Larry Itliong, Philip Vera-Cruz, and Pete Velasco, 1,500 Filipino farm workers went on strike in Delano, California. The agribusinesses responded by sending goons to beat the strikers, and by turning off the gas, electricity, and water in the labor camps. When the agribusinesses brought in Mexican laborers as replacements, Itliong turned to the Mexican National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), headed by Cesar Chavez.

Itliong’s group, the Filipino Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) and Chavez’s NFWA later merged to form the United Farm Workers of America.

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