Leny Tolentino on Women Empowerment of Marriage Migrants in Japan

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Leny Tolentino is a Catholic Filipino lay missionary doing pastoral work for Filipino migrants in the Diocese of Yokohama for the past 18 years. The closure of her former diocesan migrant office in 2002 gave birth to the KALAKASAN Migrant Women Empowerment Centre, an organisation committed to address violence against women. "Kalakasan," a Tagalog word for strength, stands for the inner strength of the woman that, once recognised and reclaimed, can lead to transformative personal empowerment and collective action.

Based on her experiences in KALAKASAN Centre, Leny shared with Isis International-Manila her thoughts on women's empowerment.

Women in Action [WIA]: In your opinion, how has marriage migration contributed to the further marginalisation of women in Asia?

Leny Tolentino [Leny]: Usually, the women involved in marriage migration come from the less developed countries while the men who are interested to marry these women come from the developed countries. In this kind of situation, you can easily see the power structure coming into play. Men, who hold much of the power since they have the money, marry women who hold less power since they come from poor families. This is one basis for their marginalisation.

Men believe they can buy women through marriage. All expectations come from those holding a more powerful position. Men expect women to stay in the house to take care of the children and the entire family. If the women fail to perform this role, violence comes into the picture. It's really difficult to think of solutions to change this situation.

WIA: Being part of KALAKASAN Migrant Women Empowerment Centre, how do you see such a service-oriented organisation playing a role in helping women reverse the situation from victimisation to empowerment?

Leny: Our organisation aims to help migrant women develop self-esteem and feel at home with their own selves, especially those married to Japanese. We have a lot of activities, but I would like to call it actions rather than activities.

In times of crisis, women call the office asking for information. Often they ask, "What should I do because I am in this situation?" After that, we provide direct counseling or consultation. There are women who do not reach this point because they are able to talk and dialogue with their husband. We have very few cases where we encourage the women to assert themselves and to stand for what they believe in. Even in the initial stage, we encourage the women to really stand up and dialogue and be confident in saying what they feel to their partner. It takes a lot of time but there are cases where the husband really listen and change. But when we cannot do anything about the relationship, we offer other alternatives.

Usually, in Japan, the ones tasked to find shelter for victims of domestic violence are the police and the municipal counseling office. We call them to find shelters, the safest place at the time of extreme violence. After that, we provide follow-up care. It's good that initial support is being extended to the woman at the time of crisis, but follow-up care is more important for us. During this stage, women confront themselves and personally identify all their fears and doubts and what can be done about them. There's the tendency, many times, to go back to that abusive situation if self-esteem cannot be maintained. Many women have failed during this stage but we still continue to help them.

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As a continuous journey with the women, follow-up care takes various forms. One is the home visit. We see what really happens within the household and can really assess the gaps in the relationship. For example, a relationship between a mother and a child. …