Taiwan: Women migrant workers fight racism in Taiwan

Filipina women workers in the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, have been locked in battle with the China Times Weekly (CTW), one of the country’s three top circulation newspapers, over a racist and sexist article it ran on 7th March – the day before International Womens’ Day.

Two reports from Taiwan by Laurence Coates (cwi).

In the first he speaks to two women leaders of a Filipino workers’ protest group.

The second is a report of a meeting addressed by Laurence at Taipei University.


Women migrant workers fight racism in Taiwan

Two women leaders of the Filipino workers’ protest group, KaPaSi (Kapulungan ng Samahang Pilipino). Blessie and Jojie have organised vigils demanding an apology from the newspaper. The article – ‘Filipina Servants’ Blackmail Scam: They Target the Famous’ – alleged that domestic workers and care-givers from the Philippines, of which there are nearly 30,000 working in Taipei, have invented claims of sexual harassment and rape in order to extort money from their employers.

“The effect of the article was to say beware of Filipino migrants, you might be the next victim of a frame-up,” explains Jojie, “It was very degrading.”

Nowhere in the CTW article is any concrete evidence cited to back up its allegations. Using inflammatory language, it calls Filipina domestic workers “disappearing fairies” – women who lure men into sexual affairs in order to blackmail them. Apart from the obvious racist and sexist content of the article, it represents a further attack on conditions for these workers, inevitably making some women even more reticent to report sexual harassment incidents in future.

Protest rallies

KaPaSi have organised several rallies outside the CTW offices, attracting national publicity and winning the support of more than 30 local trade unions and women’s organisations, including the print workers’ at the CTW itself. The paper’s editors promised an apology, but carried only a small statement of “regret” and “sympathy” for the womens’ plight.

“We don’t need their sympathy,” says Blessie who has lived and worked in Taiwan for five years. “In fact even an apology is useless as the damage has already been done.”

”The article was libellous,” adds Jojie, “But it’s very hard to fight this sort of thing in the courts, you need funds.” This is why the women chose to organise and protest instead.

Sexual harassment is a huge problem among women migrant workers who work alone in the home, often taking care of elderly male patients.

“Harassment is very difficult to prove, you need to produce real proof or you will not be believed,” Blessie explains. Women migrants work on three-year contracts and cannot transfer to another employer during this time as this is a breech of contract which means a hefty fine. An additional problem is the lack of information. Many migrants just don’t know their legal rights. At the centre of the CTW attack was the case of a former politician accused of raping his domestic worker. While the case is still in the courts and without offering any evidence, the paper alleged the case was a frame-up.

It pays to fight back

Migrant domestic workers get one day off a week – on Sundays, when they go to church and then on to the nearby offices of the Taiwan International Workers’ Association (TIWA), a group that campaigns for the rights of migrant workers. TIWA has assisted with translations of Chinese language material, including the CTW article, and other resources. How did their fight fit in with the Catholic Church’s view of women, I asked.

“The migrant workers have gone ahead, so the church has to follow,” replies Jojie.

“This probably wouldn’t happen in the Philippines,” adds Blessie. “The church wouldn’t support us, they would say they won’t interfere in politics.”

Outside our discussion a group of about 20 women have gathered for their weekly meeting. The next step is to write a reply to the CTW attack. Already, the women’s campaign has led to an important victory. After the newspaper’s miniature statement of regret, a new round of demonstrations has forced the editors to grant a full-page reply to KaPaSi. Apparently, this has only ever happened once before, that a major publication has backed down in this way. On that occasion the complainant was Taiwan’s president, Chen Shiu-bian.

Already, together with TIWA, the women of KaPaSi are discussing linking up with other groups facing discrimination: migrants, gays and lesbians, sex workers, the HIV-infected and Taiwan’s aboriginal people. A one-day conference to discuss common issues of concern is planned. The number of migrant workers has risen dramatically in Taiwan, making a key contribution to the island’s economy, with workers coming from Vietnam and Indonesia, as well as the Philippines. Vietnamese women workers, the most recent arrivals, are if anything even more exposed to abuse and exploitation. Steps by these workers to organise and fight for their rights deserve the support of socialists and trade unionists everywhere.

“We forced Marcos [the late dictator of the Philippines] to step down off his throne,” says Blessie. “We can win if we are united, unity is strength.”

Support the KaPaSi women’s campaign. For more information on this and other migrant workers’ struggles in Taiwan, contact Taiwan International Workers’ Association at: tiwa.home@msa.hinet.net

Big interest for CWI at Taipei University

Laurence Coates, on a visit to the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, addressed a meeting at the National University (NTU) on Friday evening 15 April attended by 19 members and sympathisers of one of the university’s radical clubs.

The meeting on the crisis of social democracy in Europe discussed the anti-war movement, the need for new workers’ parties with a socialist programme, nationalisation and workers’ control of companies threatening to close production or relocate, womens’ and youth struggles. All the youth at the meeting agreed on the need for a working class alternative to the green (anti-China) and blue (anti-independence) capitalist parties which dominate Taiwanese politics. 15 people signed an e-mail list wanting more information/contact with the CWI. Three copies of Socialism Today and two ‘Is China Capitalist?’ were sold.

A meeting at a second university will take place this Friday, 22 April, organised by members of the Workers’ Democratic Association, a Trotskyist organisation.

From chinaworker.org

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April 2005