From survivor to advocate, Lucile defends women migrant workers’ rights in the Philippines

June 14, 2019

BACALOD, Philippines - When Lucile* left the Philippines to work as a caregiver in Singapore, she hoped that the new job would help her family financially. But after she arrived, her hopes quickly became a nightmare. 

“While I was in Singapore, my employers never paid me,” said Lucile. “They forbid me from eating without their permission. I often had to wait until the evening for my first meal. Sometimes, my employers would not feed me at all for a week.”

According to the ILO, about 65 per cent of women workers in the ASEAN region are in precarious employment, characterized by inadequate earnings and difficult conditions of work that undermine  fundamental workers’ rights. Women migrant domestic workers are at increased risk of experiencing violence, exploitation and abuse due to the lack of social protection mechanisms, information and services readily available in their destination countries.

Lucile’s working conditions worsened with time. Her employers became physically violent towards her. After months of mistreatment, she decided to run away. 

"Sometimes, my employers would not feed me at all for a week." - Lucile, women migrant worker.

With the help of a friend, Lucile went to the police to seek help. She feared that as a migrant worker, she might be jailed or fined for reporting her employers. “Luckily, there was a surveillance camera in the employer’s house which confirmed that I had been enduring violence,” said Lucile.  

A Singapore-based NGO dedicated to supporting migrant workers learned about Lucile’s situation and helped her leave Singapore to return home to the Philippines. 

Lucile now works for the Victorias Overseas Foreign Workers (OFW) Federation where she supports women migrant workers on their journeys abroad. As an advocate for safe migration in her community, Lucile evaluates the services offered by recruitment agencies and reports them to the government if they fail to protect or assist the women they recruit. She also connects new domestic migrant workers to existing support networks abroad to facilitate access to services if needed.

Victorias OFW Federation works in partnership with Spotlight Initiative’s Safe and Fair programme, a €25 million investment designed to eliminate the violence women migrant workers face in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam).

“Thanks to the Spotlight Initiative, I have learned how crucial it is to understand women migrant workers’ needs before they embark on their migration journey,” said Lucile. “I am now also able to share more information on violence against women and I can inform them of the services they must contact when they seek help. “I don’t want any other woman to go through what I have experienced,” she added.

*Name changed for privacy reasons.

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