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Interview with Carmelita Nuqui - The Philippines

Carmelita Nuqui

One of the founders and Executive Director of the Development Action for Women Network (DAWN) since 1996 is Carmelita Gopez Nuqui. DAWN is a non-profit development organization that supports and promotes the rights and welfare of Japanese-Filipino children, returnees, and Filipino women who work as migrant workers (entertainers) in Japan. In 2011, DAWN broadened the scope of its work to include returning domestic workers from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia among others.

The UN Economic and Social Council granted DAWN Special Consultative Status in April 2015. On March 8, 2018, DAWN was also granted a Special Consultative Relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). On February 12, 2022, DAWN celebrated its 26th Anniversary with the theme: Empowering More Women and Youth In the New Normal. Ms. Nuqui was invited to join the Global Advisory Council of the Vital Voices Global Partnership in 2006 to represent the Philippines during its Strategic Planning Meeting in New York.

Vital Voices CEO Alyse Nelson included Ms. Nuqui in her 2012 book “Vital Voices: The Power of Women Leading Change Around the World.” Ms. Nuqui is the President of the Philippine Migrants Rights Watch (PMRW), a civil society network in which DAWN is an active member. The PMRW promotes the recognition, protection, and fulfillment of Filipino migrants' rights throughout the whole migration process in the Philippines and overseas with the help of its 13 other member organizations.

Feminization of Labor Migration

The Philippines commenced sending Overseas Performing Artists (OPAs) abroad during the 1970’s, of whom approximately 98% went to Japan. While men dominated the broader migrant workforce in the US, Middle East and other Asian countries, deployed OPAs composed of 95% women.

The era of feminization of migration emerged in the late 1980s, when demand for services grew in the international arena with more women workers commenced joining the migrant workforce, marking a rapid increase in the number of women Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW), most of whom were domestic workers and entertainers. This was evident when demand for migrant labor shifted from the US and the Middle East to other Asian countries and Europe.

There was significant growth of Filipino women deployed to Japan as OPAs, peaking its deployment in 2002 with 73,246 women. It has long been evident that women constitute the more vulnerable sector among OFWs.

Women in the Philippines

Globally, some progress on women’s rights has been achieved. In the Philippines, 16.5% of women aged 20–24 years old who were married or in a union before age 18. The adolescent birth rate is 36.4 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 as of 2018, down from 39 per 1,000 in 2017. As of February 2021, 28% of seats in parliament were held by women.

However, work still needs to be done in the Philippines to achieve gender equality. 66.7% of legal frameworks that promote, enforce and monitor gender equality under the SDG indicator, with a focus on violence against women, are in place. In 2018, 5.9% of women aged 15-49 years reported that they had been subject to physical and/or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner in the previous 12 months. Moreover, women of reproductive age (15-49 years) often face barriers with respect to their sexual and reproductive health and rights: in 2017, 56% of women had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods.

As of December 2020, only 48.3% of indicators needed to monitor the SDGs from a gender perspective were available, with gaps in key areas, in particular: unpaid care and domestic work and key labor market indicators, such as the gender pay gap. In addition, many areas – such as gender and poverty, physical and sexual harassment, women’s access to assets (including land), and gender and the environment – lack comparable methodologies for regular monitoring. Closing these gender data gaps is essential for achieving gender-related SDG commitments in the Philippines.


Interview with Carmelita Nuqui (October 18, 2023)

Vienna Schnetzka

Hello, I'm Vienna. As Professor Sola mentioned, we're delighted you could join us today, especially given the time difference. It's quite late for you, so we truly appreciate your presence. We've prompted the class and my group members to pose a few questions about the project. We aim to gain insights into your experiences, especially concerning women in the Philippines. We also have two other related topics to discuss. We'll begin with a broad overview of the situation of women in the Philippines. Dr. Sola will start the conversation with his questions.

Carmelita Nuqui

Thank you for the introduction. I'm delighted to meet all of you, even if it's over Zoom.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola- Corbacho

What is the most common stereotype about women in the Philippines in 2023? Do you think these stereotypes will disappear soon?

Carmelita Nuqui

Indeed, if we look ahead to 2023, significant changes have already occurred compared to our mothers' generation. Some people still hold traditional views that women should stay at home and care for their children while men should be the breadwinners. However, in the Philippines, an increasing number of women are career-oriented. They believe they can

maintain their careers even with family and children. Moreover, an increasing number of parents are sharing domestic responsibilities, enabling both partners to work.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola- Corbacho

Do generational differences exist? Are certain stereotypes more prevalent among the older generation?

Carmelita Nuqui

Yes, there are generational differences. For instance, gender violence was more prevalent in previous times, such as during our mothers' era. However, it's important to note that gender violence isn't limited to physical abuse—it includes mental and psychological abuse as well. In recent times, a significant number of cases are reported online. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a rise in online gender-based violence, with instances of fathers abusing their children as reported on social media. In some cases, foreign men have been reported to arrange online sexual encounters. The pandemic has intensified this issue because many people are confined at home, especially the poor. These families often live in small spaces, with the entire family sharing a single room, which can exacerbate the situation. That's why organizations like DAWN are crucial. Besides addressing trafficking, we also focus on gender-based violence, online sexual abuse, and the exploitation of children.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Can you describe the general legal status of women in the Philippines? Is there a difference between men and women in this regard? How do you foresee the future in this context?

Carmelita Nuqui

In the Philippines, there are still cases where men earn more than women. Some companies may prefer hiring men to avoid dealing with maternity leaves. However, the situation is gradually improving. Families are now sharing home responsibilities, providing women with more opportunities to work or practice their professions.

Willow Le

I have a question about how your organization (DAWN) supports women who have suffered traumatic experiences such as trafficking. Although this deviates from our current discussion, I'm interested in understanding your approach to their mental recovery. Is it appropriate to ask this here?

Carmelita Nuqui

DAWN was established in response to the growing number of cases of women being trafficked to Japan in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, continuing into the twenty-first century. Young Filipino women were sent to work in clubs as entertainers. They were trained to sing and dance, but most of them served as hostesses. In addition to their club duties, they would go on dates with different men, often changing partners every night. Unfortunately, the nature of their work had severe effects on their psychosocial well-being. Some even developed mental illnesses due to the numerous human rights violations they experienced. This was the situation in Japan.

In the Philippines, there was a trend of Japanese men buying women, which drew protest from women's groups and human rights organizations. To circumvent these issues, the Philippine and Japanese governments agreed to send women to Japan instead of having Japanese men come to the Philippines. It's unfortunate that our own government agencies processed the deployment of these women, and the Japanese government issued the visas. This means both governments bear responsibilities for the situation of our women.

Young women began going to Japan in search of better job opportunities and improved living conditions. However, they faced the opposite reality. Their dreams were shattered, and they suffered physically and mentally from numerous human rights abuses. Their stories are particularly disheartening. They often recount experiences of married men asking them out. At first, these “dates” would be simple dinners or park visits. But over time, it became apparent that these men expected sexual favors. While a few women do get married, in many cases, the men falsely promise marriage while having families in Japan. These marriages are not genuine, with men often claiming they are in the process of divorce, which is usually not true. When these women become pregnant, they return home. The men often encourage this, citing the support system the women have in the Philippines. However, this is often just a way for the men to distance themselves from the women.

In response to this, the Development Action for Women Network (DAWN) was established. Symbolizing the start of a new day, DAWN aims to help these women begin their new lives. We adopt a holistic approach to their issues, offering services such as counseling and support activities. Initially, we established connections with groups in Japan to support these women who encounter problems there. These Japanese NGOs would assist them, and when these women were ready to return home, they would refer them to us in the Philippines. We adopt a holistic approach to address the issues faced by the women, their children, and their family members. For instance, if they are victims of trafficking, we offer counseling. In addition, we conduct group work activities. When they are prepared, we offer skills training, or we guide them to acquire new skills at DAWN. We chose sewing and handloom weaving, which are both therapeutic.

We provide these women with skills training, and alternative sources of livelihood or income. Most of these women return to Manila, the Philippines, with children. This is because of the nature of their work in Japan, such as working in clubs and asked by the club owners to go out on dates. As a result, a number of women had Japanese Filipino children from Japanese men who had their own Japanese families.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola- Corbacho

Is gender equality addressed in Philippine schools?

Carmelita Nuqui

This varies among schools. For example, Catholic progressive schools teach gender equality. I believe this instruction usually begins in high school and continues through university.

Shobe Manuel

Do Filipino women frequently feel compelled to migrate to other countries in search of employment?

Carmelita Nuqui

Initially, more men were deployed overseas, but now about 60% of our overseas Filipino workers are women. Most of them are domestic workers in Asia and the Middle East, often facing challenging conditions. Particularly in the Middle East, where they live in their employers' homes, their vulnerability increases.

These workers are typically engaged in a variety of domestic tasks, frequently resulting in extended work hours. Their responsibilities often include house cleaning, sometimes extending to the homes of their employers' relatives, which can lead to overwork.

Moreover, concerns exist regarding their nutritional intake. The culinary culture in the Middle East significantly differs from what they're accustomed to, and many have reported inadequate food supplies while performing strenuous work.

They can also be subject to physical and sexual abuse, with some cases reporting rape or even murder.

In 2005, DAWN together with other groups in the Philippines, Japan and other countries successfully convinced the Japanese government to change their policies in the deployment of OPAs in Japan which led to the dramatic decrease in the number, from an average of 70,000 to 80,000 in 2005 to an average of 1,000 in 2010.

In 2011, DAWN expanded its work to assist domestic workers in Asia and the Middle East. Consequently, DAWN is advocating the Philippine government to create more local job opportunities. This could deter women from seeking jobs abroad, preventing the need to leave their children behind.

Shobe Manuel:

What obstacles do Filipino women face during the migration process?

Carmelita Nuqui

There is a law in the Philippines stating that domestic workers should not pay any fees when processing their applications overseas. However, recruiters often find ways to collect fees from them. For instance, they may require payment for training, which is not classified as a recruitment fee. Typically, these recruiters don't issue receipts. Due to the desperation of these women, they pay these fees without informing anyone about it.

Furthermore, these workers often face abuse during the application stage. The recruitment agencies in the Philippines have corresponding agencies in the destination countries. Both agencies are liable if problems arise with the domestic workers. There are instances where employers violate their contracts, leading the domestic workers to leave. As the recruitment agency in the destination country is also responsible, the domestic worker often ends up in their offices. There have been cases of relatives of foreign recruitment agencies officers/management abusing domestic workers lodging in their offices.

Sometimes, when a husband leaves for work and the woman is also working, the husband may return home early to abuse the domestic worker. They are often threatened with repercussions if they report the abuse. There are also instances where the husband of the female employer abuses the domestic worker. This can lead to situations where the female employer, out of jealousy, mistreats the domestic worker. They might face false accusations from the female employer, such as theft of money or jewelry. These accusations often lead to legal cases against our women in the Middle East. In such cases, most of the time, it's the employer who initiates the case since they are locals. As a result, many of our women end up in jails, facing punishment for these cases lodged against them.

Lance Noon

You've partially answered this before, but I would like to know why Filipino women were being trafficked into Japan. What were these women compelled to do?

Carmelita Nuqui

These women travel to Japan as legal workers, their documents are processed by both governments, as mentioned earlier. They even obtain a visa from the Japanese Embassy. From the early 1970s until the early 2000s, when we lobbied the Japanese government, many young women went to work in Japan. They prepared for their deployment as OPAs by learning to sing and dance, but don’t expect to be working in clubs.

In these clubs, women perform hostessing work. They often face violations such as inappropriate touching from customers, predominantly Japanese men. They are also required to consume large amounts of wine, as each drink they have contributes to the club owner's income since customers pay for the drinks the women consume.

Part of their job is also to go out on dates, which is called 'Dohan.' These afternoon dates involve the women being taken out of the club, and the men who take them out pay a certain amount, ranging from ¥20,000 to ¥50,000, to the club. Only a small portion of this goes to the women. They are then expected to return to the club in time for its opening to ensure that it has customers in the evening.

Due to the hard drinks, the women often become tipsy, which makes them more attractive to men. The women are expected to sing, but it isn't about good singing; it's more for company and to entertain the customers who often touch them inappropriately.

It was during DAWN’s lobbying efforts that the Japanese government finally acknowledged that these women were being trafficked in Japan and agreed to change their policies. For instance, girls as young as 14 or 15 years old have left the Philippines to go to Japan in this situation. The US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report, which examines various countries involved in trafficking cases, consistently includes the Philippines on its watchlist. Japan is also on this list, which likely exerts additional pressure on the Japanese government to alter its policies in this case.

Ultimately, the Japanese government amended its policies: women seeking work in Japan as performing artists must hold a college degree, a requirement most of our women did not meet. This resulted in a significant decrease in the number of women traveling to Japan for work. Years ago, the numbers were significantly higher, with an average of 70,000 to 80,000 young girls deployed annually. However, after the Japanese Government implemented new policies in 2005, this number decreased to around 35,000. In the following years, the number continued to decline, eventually reaching an average of 1,000 by 2010.

In contrast to previous times when most of these women worked as hostesses in small clubs, today, they are predominantly band members performing in hotels in Japan. They continue to receive performing arts visas from the Japanese Embassy and are trained by the Philippine government. This situation suggests possible collusion between the Japanese and Philippine governments.

Sheridan Smith

How did you persuade Japanese officials to change their visa policy, and how does this change support the cause?

Carmelita Nuqui

The Philippine government sends women to Japan for various types of work, during which they sometimes face abuses. It's essential to consider the circumstances of these women, especially the younger ones. For example, during that period, families in the Philippines had limited communication methods such as writing letters or making costly calls, as cell phones were not common. The young women I encountered in Japan often worried about their families, who were oblivious to the nature of their work. These families would request various items, not considering the difficulties the women faced at their jobs, which sometimes included sex work. As long as money was received, the families didn't question the nature of the women's work. If the women did share information about their jobs, they don’t usually mention the harsh realities of their work. Therefore, when policies changed, we experienced relief, believing we could at least prevent young girls from being abused or trafficked.

In Japan, it's common knowledge that many Yakuza operate their own clubs. There are stories of them preying on new, young talents who visit these clubs. Their goal is to be the first to date these young women. While the women's standard contracts by the Philippine government stipulate a monthly wage of $2,000, they often receive significantly less, sometimes as little as $350 a month or ¥50,000, instead of the expected roughly ¥200,000 a month or $2,000. Furthermore, their salaries are frequently delayed. This untimely payment leaves them without money to send home, compelling them to go on dates for customer tips, effectively controlling them. Despite customers paying substantial amounts on these dates, the women receive little to none of it. This situation resembles trafficking. Additionally, these women earn commissions from the sale of highly-priced drinks at the club, but club owners often withhold the correct amount. We occasionally visit these clubs to monitor the women's conditions, but due to the high prices, we we limit our stays to an hour.

Zevin Sanchez

What is the process for rescuing trafficked women in Japan?

Carmelita Nuqui

As I previously mentioned, we at DAWN have established networks with groups in Japan due to the complexity of the problem and the number of cases we handle. Based in Manila, it's challenging for us to immediately assist our fellow Filipinos in Japan. Therefore, we collaborate with various Japanese groups, offering assistance to different nationalities including Filipinos. These groups help women in various ways, such as providing accommodation, social work support, and even assistance in cases needing shelter.

Many of the women we assist are often unaware that they are victims of trafficking. They are predominantly from far-flung provinces and elementary school graduates, some of whom struggle with English and have a limited understanding of the Japanese language. This makes their situation even more difficult.

Upon their return to the Philippines, we provide a holistic approach to their recovery. This includes counseling and group work activities due to the varying levels of distress, with some even experiencing mental illness. We provide therapeutic methods such as theater and craft activities. For instance, sewing and handloom weaving which symbolize the process of picking up the pieces and rebuilding their lives. These activities are metaphors for their journey of healing and starting anew.

Our objective is to help these women transition from being victims to survivors, and eventually advocates for their own issues and concerns. They then help us in advocating for their rights and welfare and that of their children.

Aidan Duffield

I'm curious about the long-term effects of human trafficking on women.

Carmelita Nuqui

The impact of their circumstances varies. For instance, the more violations they experience during their work leads them in a dire situation. This trauma takes time to heal.

In many cases, women find themselves in difficult situations when dating men, as they're often pressured into having sex. They feel coerced into these situations due to the necessity of maintaining their employment and avoiding deportation, fines, or other punitive actions.

Some OPAs in Japan resort to drug use or excessive drinking to cope with their circumstances. The longer they stay in Japan, the more they are violated, and the harsher the impact on their well-being. The typical visa duration is six months, after which they may return to Manila for a month before coming back for another six months. Some women end up staying in Japan for up to ten or even twenty years under these conditions.

We were pleased when Japan's policies changed, and these new policies continued to be implemented. However, the Philippine government appears more focused on the remittances sent home by these women than ensuring they have decent work conditions.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola- Corbacho

Thank you once again for being with us. Your work is truly amazing, helping hundreds and thousands of women who are at risk. We appreciate what you are doing.

Vienna Schnetzka

Thank you so much for your time today. We understand the time difference was a bit inconvenient, but we sincerely appreciate you sharing your insights. This conversation has certainly given us a new perspective on life and made us realize our good fortune. We truly appreciate your time.

Carmelita Nuqui

Thank you very much for inviting me this morning and for the productive meeting. If you have any unanswered questions or find any points particularly intriguing, please feel free to ask. You asked what inspired me to become an activist. Prior to this, I was involved in a trade union while working with Nestle. We confronted human rights violations against workers and organized them until we were dismissed due to our trade union activities. Since then, I decided not to work for multinational companies. Instead, we established DAWN to help women whose rights have been violated. We look forward to the possibility of meeting in person in the future. If you ever visit Manila or the Philippines, please let us know.

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