"You are not alone! Call our helplines. A social worker will be on the other end to listen and help"

Interview with Pacita “Bing” Fortin, social worker at the Babaeng BiyaHero Psychosocial Support Team, Quezon City, The Philippines

Date: Friday, December 11, 2020

11 CLEAN PHL For women migrant workers help is on the other end of the line

“Social work is a profession. People think that a social worker merely hands out relief goods, but that is a misconception. I define social work as the art and science of helping individuals, families, groups and communities, especially those most vulnerable and marginalized. I focus on bringing about personal, collective, and social change, guided by the principles of recognition of human worth and dignity, human rights, and social justice.

As care professionals, social workers are front liners during the COVID-19 pandemic. We do manage the distribution of relief goods, but we also assist women to exit situations of abuse, and help them access the services they need.

Disconnected from their support systems, women migrant workers are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. With lockdowns around the world, women migrants who are employed as domestic workers abroad have increased exposure to abuse by their employers. Many are forced to work for additional hours, or are terminated without pay. Migrant workers in transit, either from the Philippines or back in the country, are stuck in shelters or quarantine centres without proper facilities, protective equipment, or hygiene kits. Women migrant workers suffer anxiety and depression over accumulating loans and interest payments, loss of livelihoods, or the prospect of having to return to – or stay locked down in – abusive or violent environments.

The recent suicides of the unnamed Filipina migrant domestic worker in Lebanon[2] , and of Algen Cadungog[3], an overseas Filipina worker (OFW) in Kuwait who hanged herself in a hotel in Pasay City while undergoing mandatory quarantine, represents how the pandemic has taken its toll on the mental health and well-being of women migrant workers.

To help counter this, the Spotlight Initiative, through its Safe and Fair's Babaeng BiyaHero campaign, which advocates for a safe and empowered migration experience for women workers, has set up a Psychosocial Support Team to extend assistance to women migrant workers and front liners during the COVID-19 crisis.

Psychosocial support services may take the form of psychological first aid, emotional and practical support, and online counselling. Essential services include social services, police and legal assistance, and provision of economic support. The Case Management Team may also help returning migrants explore their options in reintegration back home.

Since it began operating in July, the BB-PST has handled 16 cases involving Filipina migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Lebanon, and provided emergency aid to three front liners. The cases abroad entailed employment issues, non-payment of wages, sexual harassment, and requests for assistance to families on behalf of overseas Filipina workers staying in a temporary shelter. Our team is currently assisting a 25-year-old domestic worker from Dubai who had contacted Babaeng BiyaHero after her male employer sexually harassed her. Eventually, her employers terminated her employment and bought her a ticket to Manila. Her personal possessions, including her mobile phone, were confiscated by her employers. Upon arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, she contacted the Babaeng BiyaHero helpline using a borrowed phone. The BB-PST helped arrange for transportation to her home province in the northern Philippines after the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

The Babaeng BiyaHero Psychosocial Support Team accepts volunteer psychologists or psychiatrists, as well as donations of shelter, food, or hygiene kits for OFWs. We hope to eventually train service providers assisting women migrant workers to sustain the programme even after the COVID-19 crisis has passed. But the easiest way for anyone to help at this point is to share information about our free, safe, and confidential helplines, and to encourage women migrant workers and front liners to save those numbers on their mobile phones or messaging applications.You are not alone. Call our helplines. A social worker will be on the other end to listen and help.”

The ILO-UN Women programme “Safe and Fair: Realizing women migrant workers’ rights and opportunities in the ASEAN region”, under the global EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls, supports front-line service providers to ensure essential services are available for women migrant workers who subject to violence in both normal and COVID-19 times. More: www.spotlightinitiative.org/safe-and-fair

More contacts of service providers are available in the Service Directory for Women Migrant Workers in the ASEAN region: https://bit.ly/services4wmw  

Written by: Faye Cura

Originally published on:

https://asiapacific.unwomen.org/en/news-and-events/stories/2020/09/for-women-migrant-workers-help-is-on-the-other-end-of-the-line