Rethinking Empowerment: Gender and Development in a Global/Local World

By Jane L. Parpart; Shirin M. Rai et al. | Go to book overview
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Envisaging power in Philippine migration great odds. For non-governmental organizations it becomes a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of migration and the need to address domestic and international policies. However, as I hope I have demonstrated here, migration experiences are more varied and complexly articulated (historically, culturally, socially) than is suggested through the telling and retelling of the Contemplacion tragedy and the Balabagan travesty. The reading of empowerment into these scenarios is politically fraught, not the least because the attribution of empowerment to individual acts of agency invites a liberal view of empowerment that seems untenable given the structural disadvantage of Philippine women.

Taking a longer view, however, the class environments that migration engages both working class and middle class provide sites for new personal and collective empowerment politics. In keeping with Margold's (1999) compelling argument about Philippine working-class political activism, it seems premature to discount the links between acts of self-disciplining resistance (those which refuse collective mobilization) and change-oriented (transformative?) actions expressing empowerment. I leave the last Janus vision to two Hong Kong contributors to Tinig Filipino (cited in Chang and Groves 2000). Where do their voices position development as empowerment discourse? I suggest their personally empowering narrative coincides with Philippine development priorities even as it suggests class shifts in their own lives and their vision for a different Philippines that they contribute to.

Through your good works in those places where you are temporarily working, you will become instruments in the economic improvement or progress of your 'sick nation' through the dollars you send back home. In the future, through your perseverance and hard work, your children and your children's children will be the ones to benefit from your nation's progress.

(Layosa 1994: 6)

With this very inspiring title 'hero', I could walk straight with my head up high in the busy streets of the hot city of Manila. It is indeed very flattering. Whew! I'm a hero. In my little peaceful town of Sanchez, Mia, I'm improving my life and most of all, I'm a dollar earner much more than other people in higher ranks.

(Estabillo 1994: 10)

Official estimates of the number of Filipinos who live below the poverty line vary from slightly over 50 to 70 per cent. In the Visayan communities I am familiar with in Negros Oriental, poverty hovers around 60 per cent. Here, the poorest communities reside in the uplands, along the coast and on sugar hacienda lands they are unable to cultivate. In urban areas, poverty is typically associated with districts where people live in makeshift forms of accommodation. It is also disguised, however, through the living arrangements of migrants who are employed as poorly paid domestic and


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