Facing challenges such as discrimination, violence, labour exploitation, lack of access to decent work, and major social and economic disruptions in the country and globally, Filipino women and migrant workers are finding stronger partners and strategic opportunities through the Safe and Fair (SAF) programme’s initiatives aimed at creating gender-responsive migration policies, governance and safer labor migration conditions from recruitment, to working abroad and until return and reintegration.
The Safe and Fair Programme culminated this year after a five-year implementation sharing success stories and lessons learned to foster a safer and fairer labour migration journey among women migrant workers. (L-R): Rex Varona, National Project Coordinator of Safe and Fair Programme, ILO; Asec. Jerome Alcantara, Assistant Secretary for Land-based Services of Department of Migrant Workers; Sally Barrios, President of OFW Negros Occidental Federation; Ellene Sana, Executive Director of Centre for Migrant Advocacy; and Claire Ruzzel Esturas, Senior Gender and Development Specialist of Philippine Commission on Women.
The SAF programme is a regional initiative under the multi-year European Union-United Nations Spotlight Initiative which has invested EUR 500 million in projects throughout the globe to eliminate violence against women and girls. It is implemented through the joint efforts of the International Labour Organization (ILO), UN Women, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) – dedicated to enhancing the labor migration experience for Filipino women.
“Throughout its 5-year implementation, ‘Safe and Fair’ embodies a commitment to transforming the migration journey into a safer, more dignified, and empowering experience for Filipino women,” said Rex Varona, National Project Coordinator of the Safe and Fair Programme.
Christoph Wagner, Head of Cooperation of the European Union Delegation to the Philippines added, “The EU is proud to have joined forces with the UN in a pioneer effort to combat violence against women and girls globally through the Spotlight Initiative. Women OFWs are particularly vulnerable to a series of risks and the EU-UN Safe and Fair programme was designed to address many of those risks.”
The programme conducted legal and policy reforms, capacity building, and awareness-raising to respond to the critical issues faced by migrant women such as violence and discrimination, inefficient migration governance, and inaccessible services. Varona added that “by placing women’s voice, choice, and agency at the heart of our strategies, activities, and services, we are setting a new standard for labour migration.”
For instance, the programme contributed inputs to at least 16 key policy instruments to enhance the gender-responsiveness of labour migration governance in the Philippines, particularly the crafting of the law as well as the implementing rules of Republic Act (RA) No. 11641 in 2021 that created the Department of Migrant Workers, and RA No. 11299 of 2019 which created the office of the social welfare attaches. It also supported unions and relevant stakeholders in enacting ordinances in various LGUs to create or strengthen migrant worker resource centers (MRCs) and migration programmes or committees at the local level, and reviewing various laws including RA No. 10361 (“Batas Kasambahay”), expanded anti-trafficking law, expansion of mandatory insurance for OFWs, among others.
According to Lenlen Mesina, Country Coordinator of UN Women, the 5-year programme has been supporting and promoting women migrant’s safe and fair migration in the context of transitions facing and recovering from the pandemic, administration leadership, and the disasters on a constant basis. “UN Women is very pleased to see how policies at global to national level have been adapted and localized, but the completion of this project is something we also hope to sustain when it comes to key actions and promoting consistent implementation of policies and provision of important services needed by women anywhere, they are,” she added.
Rex Varona, National Project Coordinator of ILO’s Safe and Fair Programme, highlighted the policies that it has advocated in the past years including the ratification of C190, the first international treaty to recognize the right to a work free from violence and harassment. The Philippines is the first Asian country to ratify C190.
Since 2019, SAF worked in partnership with the Technical Working Group on C190, as well as the key government departments and tripartite partners in advocating for the ratification of ILO Convention 190, the first international treaty to recognize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment. The Senate recently concurred with the ratification of C190 after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s endorsement– making the Philippines the first country in Asia to ratify C190. “This is an important milestone for women and Filipino migrant workers. The C190’s policies will cover any physical, social, emotional, verbal, and even online harassment, and as long as it constitutes any form of violence in the workplace, regardless of your worker status,” Varona shared.
A total of 2,540 women from 4,330 duty bearers improved their delivery of psychosocial, legal, health, or social services, skills development, and reintegration support, among other gender-responsive initiatives, which benefitted 6,403 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and their families, 4,388 of whom were women. Almost a thousand OFWs including those displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic or their family members (almost 800 are women), have been assisted with technical-vocational scholarships enabling them to earn national skills certification from TESDA.
The migrant resource centers in Negros Occidental and Tabaco City also provided safe migration services to 1,443 women migrant workers. In addition, the Quezon City MRC has assisted more than 1,043 cases up to November 2023.
Carina Cordero, a former migrant worker in Dubai who experienced sexual assault, attested to the responsive and quality services the program could provide when she won a case against her assailant. Upon returning to the Philippines, she dedicated her time to supporting women who experienced violence as an active member of the Center for Migrant Advocacy.
Filipino migrant workers and their families shared their stories in a culmination event in Novotel, Quezon City, where SAF also shared the lessons learned from its implementation with partners from the public and private sectors. The event closed with a cultural show entitled: “Tayo ang Tagahabi ng Buhay Natin” (We are the Weavers of our Lives) with performances from SENTRO Youth, Talisay City OFW federations, Kabaitan Bautista, Women of Theater, Cooky Chua, and the PETA Choir.
The UN continues to work with different sectors to ensure that women’s needs, whether they are working overseas or in the country, are addressed based on their rights.