Migrant workers lacking work benefits learn how to save in the Philippines


Estrella Mai Dizon-Anonuevo. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Estrella Mai Dizon-Anonuevo was heart-broken the first time a migrant woman domestic worker shared her story. The woman described returning to the Philippines with no savings, and an emotional distance coming between herself and her children and husband who had stayed behind as she had worked abroad for years, taking care of other people’s households.

“It breaks your heart, for a mother to spend the best years of her life out of the country, away from her family and then realizing that after 20 years of sacrifice, you made the wrong decision,” says Dizon-Anonuevo, Executive Director of Atikha Overseas Workers and Communities Initiative, a grantee of UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality. “If we don't help them make productive use of the remittances, [most of them] will come home with regrets.”

Every year, about 172,000 Filipino women leave the country as migrant workers, seeking higher income to provide for their families.  Research has shown that women migrant workers are more likely than men to send money home to families, possibly as an extension of women’s traditional caregiving role in the household.

One of the main challenges that Atikha discovered when researching the experience of migrant domestic workers was the lack of savings. Women migrant workers find themselves sending more and more money to their families, leaving them with barely anything to save for their future. Since these workers rarely have access to social protection schemes such as pension, benefits and health insurance, without some savings and financial planning, after years—even decades—of hard work, they return home to bleak and insecure futures.

To fill this social protection gap, Atikha created PinoyWise, a financial education programme to work with women migrant domestic workers and their families to teach them goal setting, budgeting and saving strategies. By working with both migrant women and their families, Atikha is increasing the likelihood that families will reach their financial goals.

Philippines_Photo:UN Women/Staton Winter
Women migrant domestic workers from the Philippines attend financial training hosted by PinoyWise. Photo: UN Women/Staton Winter

“We thought goal setting would be very easy, 30 minutes and we’d be done. But it is not that easy for the women,” says Dizon-Anonuevo. “For some it’s a wake-up call. They realize they’ve been working with no goal for years, they don’t know what to write [aim for].”

Once they have decided on their goal, whether it is sending children to school, or money to start a business upon their return, Atikha works with all members of the family so that they too recognize their role in budgeting and reaching the goals.

“At first it was difficult to discuss financial matters with my husband…It hurts his ego to discuss money matters,” says Mary Ann Pascual, a 35-year-old migrant domestic worker who has spent eight years working in Singapore.

After working in Singapore for four years, Pascual visited her family in Iloilo Province, Philippines, and was shocked to find her husband hadn’t saved any money from the remittance she had sent. He told her he needed it all to buy food. After that visit, Pascual met a PinoyWISE leader and was invited to attend trainings.

PinoyWise trainingSinagpore_Photo: UN Women/Staton
At a PinoyWise training in Sinagpore, women migrant domestic workers learn family and income management strategies, discuss reintegration and planning and investment in business and entrepreneurship. Photo: UN Women/Staton Winter

“What I learned from the training is how to value the money that I earned and how to teach the family to learn how to save,” says Pascual. “I learned in the training that we should involve our family and share our real situation and communicate our feelings so that they appreciate the hard work and value the money that we send to them.”

Since her training, Pascual and her family have saved enough to invest in a convenience store and a three-wheeler cycle [a common mode of transportation], which will help increase her family’s income even more.  Pascual is planning to return to the Philippines for good in 2019.

Pascual, like many Filipino migrant domestic workers, has long hours and very few days off, which makes it hard to attend training sessions. To reach more women like Pascual, Atikha created PinoyWise iTV, a web TV series. In weekly episodes members of the PinoyWise community and experts discuss the challenges and opportunities of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong and Singapore. The 30-minute livestreams share the most up-to-date information and best practices for saving, investing and entrepreneurship, and also touch on other critical issues for migrant women, such as family bonding. Migrant workers can tune in to the online shows from any location, which saves them time and has increased their attendance rates.

“It is critical to recognize the specific vulnerabilities to which women migrant domestic workers are exposed and the need to provide them with better social protection schemes,” says Nancy Khweiss, Manager of UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality. “What makes Atikha’s initiative so powerful is that not only women are empowered to protect themselves against poverty in the old age, but their family members are also engaged in that process, creating an enabling environment for their successful reintegration.”

Through its various training sessions, PinoyWise has reached nearly 7,000 people to date. Of the migrant domestic workers reached, 345 have already initiated successful saving schemes, and 50 have set up or expanded businesses in rice production, convenience stores, internet cafés and cattle farming.