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ESSAY: Women OFWs many but remit less than men

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA–FOR 12 years, Rita’s family in the Philippines was fed through two shoe-box sized containers at her feet.

The rectangular matte-black boxes, scuffed with use, contain Rita’s tools of the trade: nail clippers, nippers, two-inch tall bottles of silver, gold, and red nail polishes, blush-on brushes and mascara.

For more than a decade, Rita relied on her being a manicurist and pedicurist, enabling her to send money to her family in Bansalan, Davao del Sur.

Rita is one of millions of female laborers and unskilled workers who remain the leading number of OFWs in the annual Survey on Overseas Filipinos (SOF) of the National Statistics Office.

But their meager salaries abroad have not made them the top remitters compared to their counterpart male low-skilled workers.

While not revealing how much she sends monthly, Rita says she earns an average 100 ringgits (a minimum of P1,365.40 at current exchange rates) a day.

Notably, that is still below the RM150 daily cost of living allowance that the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) said the government provided to public sector employees last year.

Malaysia, where Rita is, hosts some 244,967 Filipinos there, according to newly released stock estimates of the government-run Commission on Filipinos Overseas.

Of this number, the CFO estimates nearly half are undocumented; the rest have declared Malaysia their permanent home (26,002) while the remaining are temporary migrants with legal travel and working documents.

The CFO data, sadly, is not gender-disaggregated.

The SOF, however, is. In 2006, it affirmed there were more women OFWs: 764,000 versus 751,000 men working and living outside the Philippines.

That year, they poured into the Philippines an estimated P102 billion in cash and in-kind remittances

Cash remittances refer to those sent from host countries, as well as money that OFWs brought home.

That estimated total cash and in-kind remittances was higher than the PhP85.1 billion total in the 2005 SOF.

For cash remittances, the 2006 SOF saw OFWs remitting nearly P76 billion from April to September that year.

But while there are more women OFWs, male migrant workers sent more during that period: nearly P51 billion as against the P26 billion by women.

Analysts expect remittances from women to drop as there was a decrease in the deployment of Filipino domestic helpers last year.

Tooled

WHILE laborers and unskilled workers were the most number of OFWs from the 2001 to the 2006 editions of the SOF, two occupational groups of male workers have been the leading remitters.

From 2001 to 2005, male “plant and machine operators and assemblers” have been the top remitters –from nearly P8 billion in 2001 to just above P10 billion after five years.

Two years ago, male “trades and related workers” grabbed the top spot by remitting some P13 billion.

The NSO survey aims to know remittance amounts and channels by OFWs by age, sex, country of work, and region of origin in the Philippines.

Female laborers and unskilled workers alone make up the largest OFW group by type of occupation and gender.

Of the estimated 1.515 million OFWs in the 2006 SOF survey, a third of them are laborers and unskilled workers —including some 313,000-plus females. There were some 268,000 female laborers and unskilled workers in the 2003 SOF.

OFWs categorized as “trade and related workers,” are those who “apply their specific knowledge and/or skills in the field of mining, construction, form metal, set machine tools, or make fit, maintain, or repair machinery, equipment or tools produce or process food stuff, textile or wooden, metal and other articles”.

“Plant and machine operators and assemblers” are workers who “operate and monitor industrial machinery and equipment on the spot or by remote control, drive and operate trains, motor vehicles and mobile machinery and equipment, or assemble products from component parts”.

Laborers and unskilled workers are made up of those workers “who perform simple tasks which mainly require the use of hand-held tools and often some physical effort”.

Rita is under this category.

For 12 years, Rita has provided manicure and pedicure services to Filipino, Malaysian and foreign customers at a shoe store inside Kota Raya mall. Her “office space” is a half-square-meter floor filled to the ceiling with boxes of shoes that she also sells.

She shares the space with a Malaysian with a dining table for two customers.

She and women and unskilled OFWs like her have the lowest six-month average cash remittance sent, according to the SOF.

The average monthly remittance by female laborers and unskilled workers was pegged by the SOF at P36,000.

The 2001 to 2006 SOF results showed laborers and unskilled workers, trade and related workers, and plant and machine operators and assemblers always outnumbered professionals in terms of actual worker count and remittance volumes.