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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rebuilding the Philippines - start with the maids

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In the Philippines its common to have maids. Some households treat maids better than others. Relationships can range from 'almost close family members' to 'peasants held in contempt. Those that treat maids well tend to have respectful and real relationships with them. Often the households will even support the maid towards further education.
The flip side is that there are Filipino households which treat their maids with contempt. This is apparent in how they treat them and judge them. For those who would treat maids with contempt I would offer the following advice:
1. They are often poor in character, stucture, goals and lacking education through no fault of their own.
2. The way they treat you is a testimony to how you treat them.
3. The household is in the position of power, and thus in the best position to renegotiate the relationship.
4. Maid's are cheap not because their labour is worth so little, but because the marginal value of cash earnings is disproportionately high, and because of the disparity of income as a result of corruption and missed opportunities.

I have empathy for one maid I am aware of. She grew up in a family of 5. They were poor because their parents had too many children. They cannot afford birth control, and having a subjectivist philosophy it was easy for the parents to dismiss the consequences of their actions. They cannot afford abortion, and it would attract criticism/judgement from the family and community, so instead they have excess children living in poverty. They were homeless at one point until the father became a jeepney driver.
This particular maid was only offered a basic education because the parents could only afford to send two children to college. When one of those children fell pregnant, there was a fight resulting in the two oldest children leaving and not finishing their study. The other kids were thus denied a great opportunity, for support from their oldest siblings.
The 3rd daughter (in focus) lived and continued her schooling with her grandma until she fell ill. She had to drop schooling and find a job. Eventually she ended up as a maid with the host family. The maid is actually quite smart, with a positive outlook. The household tended to have many maids, and some had stolen money and possessions, but otherwise not conveyed much responsibility. I would however argue that these maids are often treated as a 'collective' with contempt. I would challenge households to:
1. Recognise that maid's are individuals, they have aspirations, needs and a social context. You cannot barr them from seeing guys (because you are worried they will bring the guys home, or that they will fall pregnant). You can only help them to make better decisions.
2. Recognise that maid's provide a higher level of relationship than their pet dog. I for one don't understand the appeal of pets when you can have a higher level of relationship with a human being (maids). People spend silly amounts of money on dogs when there are maids from broken homes who need nuturing. This is a great opportunity for people, particularly wives whose children have left home
3. Maids cheat, lie and manipulate generally because that behaviour has been modelled by their parents, or because they feel vulnerable or open to attack. Many housewives make the mistake of not considering the reasons for the maid's actions.

For example with the maid in focus. The household had gone to their child's wedding. They returned from the wedding to find that the maid had not come home. They were knocking for 20 minutes, finally awakening the grandmother to open the gate. Certainly they were inconvenienced by the maid leaving the house. But in such instances, what is forgotten is the context. The housewife did not call the maid to tell her that they were coming home, so she could be there to open the gate. Instead the housewife assumed the power to demand that the maid must be home, and give them notice that she was going out. The maid did not do that.
Looking at the context, you can understand her rebellious or inconsiderate act. She was discouraged from seeing guys. Her parents had not called her on her birthday, though other maids in the neighbourhood invited her out to drink. They drank to excess, so the owner of the house encouraged her to stay the night. It was a reasonable 'indiscretion' given the controls the owner had put in place. She did not invite strangers into the home. She locked up the home. More importantly, because the housewife on this occasion did not ridicule her, but asked why she was not home, she hear her explanation, and saw some 'reasonable' consideration in it.

The unfortunate part in this negotiation is that the housewife failed to take responsibility. The maid is entitled to have a personal life, and every opportunity should be maid to offer flexible free time. You cannot impose your standards on the maid. You have to negotiate the standards. A good standard might be established through discussions with other maids. Maybe the households could jointly organise a maid's night off, or a maid's union in the village. If these actions were taken, many people fear the maid's would demand more. Well maybe they are entitled to that power. Afterall in a sense they have the power to disceive, to abuse something more precious to the household - sacred possessions like jewellery, privacy, money, reputation. These things are more likely to stay in tact if the housewife does not abuse the maid because of their 'market power'. Their power is even greater than some housewifes realise. Some are cute enough and innocent enough to court the favour of the wife's husband. In the Philippines I often hear of maid's getting pregnant because they have had an affair with the wife's husband. Its not necessarily a vindictive act. Its just as probable that he was more fair minded than his wife. This occurs because the husband has learned not to criticise the wife because she considers household matters her responsibility, and is perhaps not open to interference.
There is a history of modelled behaviour on both sides of the relationship. The wife needs to be validated for any improvement she makes, but so does the maid. Particularly the maid given the historical legacy of contempt they have been held in. Housewifes are reluctant to redefine the relationship by apologising. Since they are educated, they should actually expect more of themselves. If they want to not just look 'classy' for the outside world in terms of managing their 'appearances', they are forgetting that the greater 'class' is conveyed in private when people are not looking. All sorts of infidelity and indiscretions are going on in houses around the Philippines. This culture has too much class-distinction. There is an entrenched culture of subjugation which creates victims and perpetrators. The implication is that higher levels of organisation are not possible. How can you trust workers who hold you in contempt. You can't.
I argue however that the Philippines ethic is ripe for companies to profit from the redefinition of the household-maid, employer-employee, tax spender-tax payer relationship. Until those relationships are based on respect, then the producitive capacity of this country will be constrained. I applaud Filipino values because I have never encountered a culture so willing to change than others. I find it very easy to work with Filipinos. If you try to save time by cutting corners, you will end up losing. You need to redefine the culture, and that takes time. The Chinese have been here over a hundred years, and they still use the perpetrator-victim model which lacks intellectual vigour and empathy. I have little regard for Chinese management. Just look at the lack of training in SM and Robinson's malls. Wrong culture, wrong values. Power highly centralised.

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