Maine Mendoza named celebrity champ to promote welfare of overseas female workers
Because many of her fans and some of her family members are overseas Filipino workers (OFW), Maine Mendoza has always been acquainted with the challenges they face and the sacrifices they make.
That’s why she felt thankful and honored to be chosen as a celebrity champion of Safe and Fair Philippines’ “Babaeng Biya(hero)” campaign, which aims to raise awareness about the living and working conditions of Filipino female workers abroad, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It seeks to improve their access to essential information and services throughout the migration process; train and equip them with necessary skills and competencies; educate them about their rights that will help safeguard them from abuse and exploitation; and create better opportunities for them once they return to the Philippines and reintegrate into the labor market.
“I have relatives who are OFWs and I believe a huge chunk of my supporters are OFWs, too. In fact, I get to meet them whenever I go out of the country. They’re close to my heart and I really want to be able to help our countrymen,” Maine said in an email interview with the Inquirer.
“Working abroad and being away from your family is never easy. That’s why I believe they deserve to have decent jobs, and to have safe and fair migration experiences,” she added.
Last December, the 25-year-old star took part in a virtual town hall meeting dubbed, “Sama-Sama Tayo Babaeng Biyahero,” where various training programs, workshops and services relevant to the said advocacy were presented.
Safe and Fair Philippines—through the United Nations (UN) Women, International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Manila International Airport Authority—installed the “Babaeng Biya(hero) May I Help You?” information kiosks at Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminals 1 and 2.
Maine appears in the initiative’s instructional video on how to use the kiosk, which features health, justice and policing and social services. In addition, a mobile app that enables users to locate the nearest embassies was also launched.
“I was excited because I know that being a Babaeng Biya(hero) celebrity champion is a big responsibility. But it’s not the only way to help them. I’m happy because this program was initiated by the United Nations, UN Women and the ILO. It’s also in partnership with the United Nations and the European Union’s Spotlight Initiative, which addresses violence against women and girls,” Maine said.
“I’m thankful for the trust and opportunity to be able to give inspiration through my involvement,” she added. “I will do my best to give back and further empower our ‘Babaeng Biyaheroes.’” (For more information and updates, visit facebook.com/BabaengBiyahero or babaengbiyahero.info.)
The Inquirer’s interview with Maine:
As a celebrity, do you feel a sense of responsibility to use your platform and voice for social issues like this one?
It would be a waste if I don’t use my platform to raise awareness about pressing social issues such as violence and abuse against Filipina migrant workers. And this project will be more successful if we all help each other in providing them the right information for their journeys.
We need to remind them that they’re strong and brave; that they don’t have to be scared or have second thoughts about asking for help.
Did you do research or participate in immersion activities for this initiative?
If so, what were your takeaways and realizations? During my discussions with the Safe and Fair Philippines team, I learned that public awareness about the abuses Filipina migrant workers face is still lacking. Many of them don’t know where to ask for assistance. And there are some who are afraid to seek help, because they’re worried for their safety. Or they feel like no one will help them.
I also learned that their situations are even harder now because of COVID-19 and lockdowns. It’s important to give them essential information so they can protect themselves.
What do you think are some of the most pressing issues Filipina migrant workers are facing amid the pandemic?
Abuse, exploitation and gender-based violence. Actually, this has already been happening even before COVID-19.
However, the implementation of lockdowns puts them at a greater risk, because the channels where they can file reports are limited. The restrictions on transport also prevent them from leaving their abusers.
You interned in New York at the Sagamore hotel as a culinary arts student. What was your experience like and how do you think it differs from other Filipina OFWs?
I enjoyed my internship in New York and I’m very grateful for that experience. But that’s definitely different from the experiences that women migrant workers have.
I worked abroad as part of my studies and training; they work to support their families and to reach their dreams. That’s definitely a bigger sacrifice. And I have the utmost respect and appreciation for them and what they do.
Your job allows you to travel around the world and meet our kababayans overseas. Have you had any interactions with them? Did they reach out to you when they learned that you’re part of this project?
I meet OFWs whenever I’m out of the country… during fan meets. And most of the stories they share with me are about how they try to find bits and pieces of happiness, even if they’re so far away from their families.
More OFWs have reached out to me since I was introduced as a Babaeng Biya(hero) celebrity champion. I’m working with Safe and Fair on how to better guide them if ever they experience challenges at work or in their journeys back to the Philippines.
How can we be better allies?
It starts with unity and cooperation … using our influence to raise awareness.
We also have to be more supportive and empathetic toward them. A simple greeting goes a long way, because it tells them that we care for them and that we’re there for them. We should be more understanding of their situation. And let’s not judge their actions and their experiences. INQ
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