Rina, OFW, HIV +

Views and analysis

The following is a direct testimony from Rina (not her real name), an overseas Filipino worker who contracted the HIV virus while working abroad. She read her testimony during the launching of the United Nations Development Programme Report called HIV Vulnerabilities of Migrant Women: from Asia to the Arab States. The launch of the report coincided with the launch of the Philippine report on Filipino women in the Arab states. The launching of the two reports was held last March 10 at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City. The Asian report was a collaborative effort of UNDP, UNAIDS, IOM, UNIFEM and CARAM Asia. It is based on interviews with 600 migrant workers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka who went to Bahrain, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. One of these women is Rina, and this is her story:

I was a former domestic worker several years ago. I dreamed of working abroad to help my family rise from poverty.

Year 1992. I was able to leave our small town and eventually work as a domestic worker. I was only 17 yrs old. The passport I used to go to Qatar had another surname. My age in the passport was older. The agency sent me to Qatar without asking for a placement fee. They said that this will be paid through salary deduction once I started working.

My employers were very strict. They were selfish and insensitive. They gave us very little to eat and sometimes, we would go without eating after a whole day’s work. I was also made to work for my employer’s extended family. The worst part was that they paid me less than what was stipulated in my contract.

Many other women domestic workers have similar experiences. There are even others who did not receive their salaries at all. Because they needed to send money home to their families. They had no choice but to either engage in part-time work, or sometimes, even sex work. Others would engage in relationships with other migrants or with nationals of that country to ease their loneliness, or to fulfill their need for comfort and affection. Also, their boyfriends could support them financially. Unfortunately, these situations make migrant workers vulnerable to HIV.

There were times when I got sick, but still I had to work. I was not given any medicine. I could not go to the doctor, since I was allowed only one day off for an entire year.

There were several occasions when my male employer made sexual advances to me. I was ordered to give him a massage and all the while he kept touching my private parts. I could do nothing to stop him. All I could do was endure the hardships for the sake of my family.

It was in 1999 when I worked in Dubai. I was hired by a real monster. My male employer raped me repeatedly. When I had mustered enough courage, I told my lady employer about what her husband had been doing to me. To my surprise, she believed me and helped me report her husband to the authorities. Even the police was surprised because it was their first experience to have the wife of an Arab employer on the side of a foreign domestic worker. Afterwards, she helped me return to my country. I was finally able to come home to my country after seven months’ stay in Dubai.

Unfortunately, nothing came out of the case I filed against my employer. The agency promised me that they will pursue the case on my behalf. But after I got back to the Philippines, I found out that they did not do anything about it.

Even after everything that I had endured from my previous employers, I still did not lose hope. I still believed that working abroad was the only way to make our life better. In June of the same year, I applied for overseas work again. I was about to leave for Malaysia as a domestic worker when my medical test results showed that I was positive for HIV.

When I was diagnosed with HIV, it felt like the moon exploded in my face . . . or a bomb exploded. . . I kept asking myself, what will I do? I was so shocked. I couldn’t accept it. I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to be alone. I cried every day. It was so hard to accept because at that time, I didn’t have any idea about HIV and AIDS. I thought it meant that I was dying.

One of the worst impacts of HIV infections is that I can no longer work abroad. Many migrant workers who are diagnosed with HIV are left without any source of steady income. In the Philippines, jobs are very hard to find.

One day I met a volunteer of Positive Action Foundation Philippines in the hospital (PAFPI). They provided me with the proper information about HIV. They told me about their organization and introduced me to their support group. I started working for PAFPI as a volunteer for their family support program. It took me six months to accept my HIV status.

When I got involved with Achieve’s research in 2001, they gave me an opportunity to become an advocate. They facilitated my participation in different forums as a resource speaker. My involvement with them enhanced my knowledge and my skills. I am now able to impart also to others what I have learned.

I am also a member of Babae Plus, a support group of women living with HIV. In this group, we learn our rights as women and this helps me in my relationship with my children and my husband. I also draw strength from the other members of the support group.

However, because my job in PAFPI is tied to project funding, after the project ended, I also do not have an income. We are still waiting and hoping for new projects to get approved so we can continue working. For now, I do volunteer work for PAFPI and I accept invitations to be a resource speaker in trainings and forums.

I am currently taking antiretroviral drugs, which allows me to be healthy. I am now living with my family in Cebu City, where I was, and where we hope to start a new life.

Thank you very much for listening to my story. I am also thankful to UNDP and Achieve for doing this study and coming up with this publication. I hope they continue to advocate for the protection of women migrant workers.

More information on “Unveiling Vulnerabilities: Filipino Women Workers in the Arab States” can be accessed at http://www.undp.org.ph


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