Beyond agency and rights: capability, migration and livelihood in Filipina experiences of domestic work in Paris and Hong Kong.

Author: Leah Briones

Briones, Leah, 2006 Beyond agency and rights: capability, migration and livelihood in Filipina experiences of domestic work in Paris and Hong Kong., Flinders University, School of International Studies

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More and more women from poor areas of the world are migrating to rich countries for domestic work. Given the increasing published research on their exploitation and ‘slavery,’ much policy action has been oriented towards their protection as victims. Far from protecting the livelihood needs of these migrant workers, however, this victim-based approach has instead resulted in legitimising the protection of rich countries’ borders. An emerging perspective underscoring migrant women’s agency is producing a counter-approach that fights for migrant workers’ rights: not as victims but as workers. Yet despite this important development in research and policy agendas, increasing inequality in the global economy and stringent immigration policies render a rights-based approach ineffective. From poor countries, and with very limited livelihood options, these migrant women choose overseas domestic work often at the expense of their human rights. As migrants, they are outsiders whose rights are superseded by the rights of the sovereign, receiving-state. How is it possible then, to protect the rights of these workers? This thesis employs Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum’s Capability Approach to evaluate the efficacy of these women’s agency in overcoming victimisation. This evaluation gives equal consideration to the victim and rights-based perspectives. It synthesises the Capability Approach with Anthony Giddens’ Structuration Theory in order to reconcile the polarised theories underlying the victim and rights-based perspectives - feminist structural theory and migration agency theory, respectively. In so doing, the study is able to refine the conceptualisation of agency from the highly ambiguous rights-based approach, to a more theoretically sound and feasible capability approach. The main hypothesis is that agency requires capability to successfully mediate victimisation; agency in itself is insufficient. The study draws on the experiences of Filipina overseas domestic workers in Paris and Hong Kong to test this hypothesis, and demonstrates how it is ‘capability’ that can turn the ‘slave’ into ‘the worker’, and protect ‘the worker’ from turning into a ‘slave.’

Keywords: migration,development,Capability Approach,agency,women migrant domestic workers,Philippines,Paris,Hong Kong

Subject: Development Studies thesis, International Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2006
School: School of International Studies
Supervisor: Associate Professor Jane Haggis and Associate Professor Susanne Schech