Women migrant workers’ rights

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Women speak out: A Thursday lecture  by Robyn Rodriguez explored transnational feminism and migrant  workers. Photo by © pdx.edu.
Women speak out: A Thursday lecture by Robyn Rodriguez explored transnational feminism and migrant workers. Photo by © pdx.edu.

It was a just coincidence that associate professor Robyn Rodriguez, from the University of California, Davis, came to Portland State to deliver a lecture on feminism on the same day and around the same time that participants in the One Billion Rising movement marched from the Park Blocks into downtown for the empowerment of women.

On Thursday, the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program, with the help of co-sponsors from the Portland Center for Public Humanities, the Department of Sociology, the Anthropology Department and the Child and Family Studies Program hosted Rodriguez for a discussion of her research on transnational feminism through the perspective of Filipina migrant domestic workers.

At the core of her lecture, Rodriguez sought to map and rephrase feminist topographies with the striking example of women migrant workers.

About 45 people gathered to hear Rodriguez’ third lecture at PSU addressing feminism from a particular international lens.

“The Philippines is one of the top labor-sending and remittance-earning countries in the world,” Rodriguez said.

Through the export of low-wage, gendered labor, 5,000 men and women leave the Philippines every day to work in more than 200 locations around the world.

Because of this dispersal, we see new responses, Rodriguez explained. Migrant women workers have organized themselves into coalitions to fight for their rights, she said.

Rodriguez is closely associated with the International Migrants Alliance and witnessed its preformation late in 2006, a time when the U.S. faced major immigrant mobilizations. IMA is made up of 108 grassroots migrant organizations across 25 countries, and its goals are to provide foreign workers with a voice to speak for themselves and a mode for empowerment.

“The events organized by IMA are ways that migrant workers can share experiences and make sense of the way they face injustice,” Rodriguez said. Through these sorts of organizations, she explained how migrant women workers are recharting the world on their own terms, with their own voices.

Rodriguez also works with Migrante International, an organization that helps to link and provide support to Filipino migrant workers. The organization focuses on host countries, where women face harsh conditions and inequalities in the work environment, and simultaneously addresses the Filipino government and its policy of exporting workers.

Her most recent book, Migrants for Export: How the Philippine State Brokers Labor to the World, was published in 2010 and focuses directly on the Philippines’ state engaging in this process of exporting workers. “My purpose is to decenter how we think about immigration and immigrant rights,” Rodriguez said.

“Much of the conversation is confined to the U.S. It’s important for us to take a step back and see sights and forms of activism beyond our vantage point in the U.S., where women migrants are remapping and making connections between one another in the context in which they work and the context from which they came.”

Sally McWilliams, chair of the women’s studies program, explained how this lecture was important for the department’s goal to expand the curriculum and broaden students’ understanding beyond second-wave feminism.

“We have two new courses being offered this spring, and next year [we’ll] be offering a class on gender, race and food justice,” McWilliams said. “We are really trying to expand the conversation of women’s studies at PSU. We want to enhance our students’ understanding of feminist and social justice issues across the globe, and professor Rodriguez speaks directly to that.”

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