By Crystal Dias
Last year, I pitched the concept of having a forum on the role of Filipino women in Britain to the Chairman of the FILIPINO WOMEN’S ASSOCIATION-UK, Dulia Prado, and Secretary Irah Lehmann over a bowl of ramen. It has been 35 years since FWA-UK was formed to dispel the misnomer that Filipino women are just ‘mail order brides’. My thoughts were, “Has anything changed? Or has everything changed?”. The Filipino diaspora in Britain has been steadily growing over the past few decades, leading to an increase in the visibility of Filipino women in British society. Despite this, many issues still confront Filipino women in the UK.
After a few meetings with the advisers and trustees of FWA-UK, I presented my concept to the FWA-UK Executive Board, and it started to become a reality. Dr Cristina Juan agreed to host the event at SOAS, and the board allocated a budget to cover the cost of the event. I was getting very excited indeed.
I had already decided who to invite to join the panel of speakers – Dr Remy Reyes, Founding Chair of FWA-UK, Dr Cristina Juan, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Lalaine Garcia, a domestic violence survivor, and Kanlungan Filipino Consortium, a charity that campaigns for Filipino migrant rights, and a short film called “Chasing Dreams” as a finale, courtesy of Loralie Canale of Rise Research Ltd, co-produced with Voyage Studios and directed by Baby Ruth Villarama and Mark Adkins. It’s about a Filipina nurse married to a foreign national in the UK and dreamed of having her own business.
The forum was titled “Constructing the Filipino Woman in Britain: Towards Agency and Empowerment.” It was a wide-ranging discussion that looked at the various ways the Filipino woman in the UK has been constructed over the years, as well as self-empowerment. We also focused on the issues that Filipino women face in Britain and how to address them.
The goal of the event was to support the Filipino community in the UK by providing information and resources that empower Filipino women to exercise their rights; to create a safe space for Filipino women to come together, build relationships, and gain knowledge and skills to become agents of change in their communities.
It was fitting that the forum took place in March of this year, Women’s Month, and in celebration of International Women’s Day. On 7th March 2023, about 70 Filipino women of different backgrounds attended the event, and I was particularly excited that many second-generation and young Filipinos were there. Needless to say, it was a success.
This forum was personal to me. I am a Filipino, a migrant, and a woman. It is curious to see that so many Filipino women came to this country for a better life like any other people who moved abroad and have been successful in their professions, yet Filipino women are still stereotyped as mail-order brides to this day. Just google it, and you’ll see.
Filipino women have shown remarkable resilience and determination in the face of many challenges, and many have made significant strides in achieving greater agency and autonomy in their personal and professional lives.