OWWA exec says religious ties can’t protect women

by PATRICIA MARCELO and ISAGANI DE LA PAZ
www.ofwjournalism.net

MANILA — A LINE in the International Declaration of Human Rights wasn’t able to protect her from a rapist, nor could the teachings of the Qu’ran: Adela is as Muslim as the Arab employer who she said repeatedly raped her until she got pregnant.

“Religious affiliation, whether Muslim or Christian, does not guarantee your exemption,” Amy B. Crisostomo of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration said of Adela’s fate at the hands of her Muslim Arab employer in Kuwait.

Such is the sad twist of reality at the 58th year of the commemoration of a document guaranteeing equal protection of rights of peoples, whether they are of the same or different faith or of gender.

Likewise, the case of Adela (not her real name) slings mud on the international commemoration of Migrant Workers’ Day December 18: there are still many others –at least more than half of a million Filipinos leaving the country every year are women– needing state protection.

“No one is exempted from being raped or being maltreated [while working abroad],” added Crisostomo, officer-in-charge of OWWA in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (OWWA-ARMM).

It is from ARMM where Adela came from and gave birth to a weak premature baby who Crisostomo said the employer who raped her tried to get aborted.

Her baby symbolically led her to freedom since the Arab employer was forced to repatriate Adela before his family discovers using the Filipino Muslim from Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao as his own personal sex slave.

Adela bared the details of her horrifying experience to Crisostomo who, being a woman herself and a government employee, documented and gave the story to reporters to emphasize the danger Filipino women migrant workers face.

Data from OWWA-ARMM showed that last year, it received a total 181 welfare cases, nearly all of it (178) involving women, all working as domestic helpers.

The cases that the regional office handled involved maltreatment, unpaid salary, run-away, sexual molestation and abuse, rape, contract violation, death, overload of work, sickness, and no communication with the relative abroad among others.

Of five cases of sexual molestation/abuse/rape reported in OWWA-ARMM office, Adela’s case was so far the most serious since she bore a baby, Crisostomo said.

The baby, she added, is a testament to the cruelty of men, whether Catholic or Muslim.

The official expressed belief that violations and abused against Muslim overseas Filipino workers could be higher since there could be those who did not bother to file any complaint before the OWWA.

Adela

CRISOSTOMO talked to the media also out of Adela’s determination to exact justice.

Crisostomo said the OWWA-ARMM has helped her file a complaint against the employer and referred and endorsed the case to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“There is no development on her case and no clear idea on what action has been taken by concerned agencies to whom we have endorsed her case,” Crisostomo said with a sigh.

In Sultan Kudarat, Adela remains jobless and has no steady source of income to raise her child.

Crisostomo said that Adela’s case broke the myth that Filipino Muslims working in Islamic countries would have advantage compared to non-Muslim migrant workers.

Apparently, violence against women disregard religious and political beliefs, Crisostomo added.

Rosalinda Baldoz, administrator of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, shared Crisostomo’s view but proferred that skills and “proper frame of mind” could have helped Adela and women like her.

“Whether you are a Muslim or Christian, you should possess the right skills and proper frame of mind if you want to work abroad. This could somehow protect you from any abuse,” Baldoz told the Consortium.

To avoid abuses against OFWs, especially against women, Crisostomo said those who wanted to work as domestic helper, especially in the Middle East, they should be tough enough to face the realities of being away from their families and be aware of the risk and its social cost.

Kuwait remains among the top ten countries of destination for OFWs, according to the OWWA.

In its report to the United Nations, the State of Kuwait said it has achieved the third millennium goal of promoting gender equality and empowerment of women.

However, the 21-page report by State Minister for Administrative Development Affairs Massouma al-Mubarak contained no mention of violence against women migrant workers.

The Kuwait Ministry of Planning report was a far cry from the UN Development Programme’s Arab Human Development Report that cited “women living under foreign occupation, as well as migrant workers, both Arab and non-Arab are particularly subject to violence” in Arab states.

“They endure a double portion of suffering,” the UNDP report added.

The report has said it is disturbed that while domestic violence against women remains prevalent in the region, “some Arab societies still deny its existence”.

While the report didn’t particularly cited Kuwait, the UNDP noted that polygamy is unrestricted for men in Kuwait.

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OFW Journalism Consortium