Vancouver Filipino women are finding a voice

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Conference to explore issues of eduction, identity, work, family, and more.

Young Canadian women of Filipino ancestry are seeking ways to raise the profile of their ethnic community, which they say has remained largely invisible in mainstream society despite its relatively large numbers.

There may be no quick solutions to this matter but these women hope they’re taking the right preliminary steps by identifying specific issues facing women. On Saturday (June 14), they’ll gather for a one-day conference at the Vancouver Community College on West Pender Street in downtown Vancouver to explore means to empower not only themselves but the entire community.

Lead conference organizer Denise Valdecantos told the Georgia Straight that the event will involve second-generation Canadians like herself and new immigrant women. “There has never been any specific discussion or focus on issues young Filipino women face,” Valdecantos said.

A UBC-trained nurse, Valdecantos is an active member of the Philippine Women Centre of B.C., a Vancouver-based advocacy group that has been holding focus-group discussions with Filipino-Canadian women since the start of the year on a wide range of concerns. These include access to education, cultural identity, working conditions, family relations and domestic violence, and childcare.

A concept paper drawn up for the event stated that the “conference is a mandatory step for young Filipino women to create leaders and models for social transformation and to enhance their visibility and participation in society”. The paper also spoke about the “social alienation caused by the pursuit of economic prosperity”, which Filipino-Canadian activist Hetty Alcuitas noted has made most Canadians of Filipino descent shy away from the civic and political life of the country.

“Filipinos are the third-largest ethnic minority group in British Columbia, but they’re underrepresented in social and political affairs,” Alcuitas, a board member of the Philippine Women Centre of B.C., told the Straight.

Leah Diana, a nurse who is also a member of the women’s centre, pointed out that women comprise more than half of the Filipino-Canadian population, and they can play a significant role in helping the community find its voice in Canadian society.

According to the 2006 Statistics Canada census, about three-quarters of the 88,100 Filipinos in B.C. were born outside Canada. Of these foreign-born Filipinos, 26.2 percent arrived in the five-year period between 2001 and 2006.

Retired UBC professor Aprodicio Laquian welcomes efforts by young Filipino-Canadian women to talk about matters relating to the community.

“I’m quite sympathetic because they are aware of what’s going on, unlike others who are ashamed to be called Filipinos,” Laquian told the Straight in a phone interview. “What we really hope to happen is that later, when they mature, they will become more active participants in the political processes here in Canada.”

Laquian also said that he expects the issue of Canada’s Live-in Caregiver Program to be taken up in the conference. Seeking a Better Life Abroad: A Study of Filipinos in Canada (1957-2007), a book Laquian cowrote with his wife, Eleanor, and published this year, stated that 95 percent of all live-in caregivers in Canada are Filipinos, and 98 percent of these workers are women.

“The LCP causes long-term separation of families and the need to revise the terms of the program is a real issue,” Laquian said.

The program requires workers on temporary visas to stay with their employers and stay employed as caregivers for at least two years before they can apply to become permanent residents. Only permanent residents are allowed to bring over their families from the Philippines. “Considering that quite a number of Filipina caregivers actually worked in other countries before coming to Canada, the period of separation from their families may be as long as 10 or more years,” the Laquians wrote.

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