Women now lead the Filipino diaspora

So many Filipino children grow up with the image that they will become an OFW when they graduate from colleges, or they may choose courses with which they can easily go abroad.

DUBAI: More than four decades after the first batch of able-bodied Filipino family men left what was then, the Manila International Airport for Saudi Arabia to work in the oil fields, the demographics of Philippine labor’s outbound migration have changed such that women have outpaced men in terms of numbers – and they are much younger, too.

Latest available figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) show that around the third quarter of 2016, female OFWs comprised 53.6% of the total 2.2 million OFWs Around the world and they are generally younger than male OFWs, with more than two-thirds (67.8%) of the female OFWs belonging to the age group 25 to 39 years.

More than half – 56.2% – of the women OFWs were employed in what is categorized as “elementary occupations,” like cleaners, helpers, food preparations assistants, as well as sales and service crews.
The statistics provide a worrisome picture of women vulnerable to and being exposed to abuse, officials and advocacy groups said.

But why and how did this happen?

Gender equality

Explains Dr. Naomi Hosoda, asst. professor at Kyoto University’s Graduate School for Asian and African Studies: “Actually in the past 10 years or so, the proportion of women vs men was about 50-50 on the average. But the Philippines is famous for sending women abroad together with Indonesia and Sri Lanka, because other major sending countries around the world were sending mostly men only.”

Hosoda, who was recently in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for her research about OFWs in the UAE, said one factor that can be attributed for the rise in number of female OFWs is the “relative gender equality in Philippine society.”

“People in the Philippines say fathers are the ‘haligi ng tahanan’ while mothers are the ‘ilaw ng tahanan.’ But if the economic situation requires, it is allowed for women to supplement household income by engaging in economic activities outside the house, even before the international migration became popular,” she said.

“So, when the global labor market calls for female workers, mothers took the chance to work abroad.”

Hosoda said this “easy gender role change” is observed generally in Southeast Asia and is not limited to the Philippines.


Hosoda, who has written extensively about the Filipino diaspora said migration, through the years, has already become part of the Filipinos’ daily lives.

“In the 1970s, outmigration was only for men who dared to take risks because it was still a new phenomenon back then. Now, it is part of everyday lives in the Philippines,” she said.

“So many Filipino children grow up with the image that they will become an OFW when they graduate from colleges, or they may choose courses with which they can easily go abroad,” she added.

In addition, Hosoda said, Filipinos now have many family members or relatives abroad who are willing to invite them to come over and stay with them. “This is part of the Filipino culture which requires moral obligation for successful migrants. So, whenever you want to go abroad regardless of age, it is much easier to leave the Philippines and find jobs abroad now,” she said.

(Editor’s note: The Filipino Times is posting this special feature in celebration of the March 8 International Day of Women)

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