Empowerment of Migrant Domestic Workers: Muslim Filipinas in the United Arab Emirates
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This chapter examines the empowerment of Muslim Filipina domestic workers (MFDWs) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with reference to the analytical framework of Naila Kabeer. Her definition of empowerment highlights ‘choice’ as its central concept—the processes by which ‘those who have been denied the capacity for choice gain this capacity’. I refer to three of Kabeer’s distinctions relating to the consequences of choices: (1) trivial choices we make on a mundane basis, every day of our lives; (2) significant or more strategic life choices that have profound consequences for both the overall quality and direction of the lives; and (3) choices to negotiate with the broader structure of inequality. Based on interviews and dialogue with the MFDWs, the discussion examines their empowerment in the social context of inclusion in the UAE labour market as a result of exclusion from the local labour market in the Philippines, as well as both inclusion and exclusion in the UAE host society and opportunities that arise from being excluded from both Philippine society and the host society. MFDWs are at the lowest layer of the UAE’s labour market given the hierarchical structure that divides its society by nationality, gender and class. On the other hand, social safety nets exist among low-skilled labourers on this bottom layer, as well as among loosely formed Filipino communities. By accumulating a wealth of experience living and working in the UAE for prolonged periods, these MFDWs acquire survival strategies in how to access these safety nets. However, their increased scope of choice is yet to negotiate the broader structure of inequality.
KeywordsUnited Arab Emirates Domestic workers Women’s empowerment Philippines Migration Muslims
This research was supported by the Japan Society for Promotion of Science (JSPS) Kakenhi Grant number 2026257004B1 (2014–2017). I am grateful to my Filipino friends who kindly shared their experiences of living in the UAE with me.
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