The life of female immigrants might be difficult because of their unfair treatment in the workplace. However, there are immigrant women who help each other find their place by establishing new communities alongside the United Nations.
As of 2018, there are more than 23 million immigrant women in the United States. This population has played a huge role in developing modern society and the economy. According to the American Immigration Council, immigrant women from the Philippines, Vietnam, and other Southeastern Asian and African countries have a higher labor force participation rate than women who were born in the United States.
Even so, these hard-working immigrant women earn less money than any other demographic. As reported by the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey, immigrant women who are in the labor force have an annual median income of $27,600. In contrast, immigrant men earn $38,000 and U.S.-born men earn $45,000 annually.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t stop immigrant women from pursuing their American dreams. And now, instead of accepting the unfairness, they unite and advocate for themselves by establishing new communities, empowering fellow immigrant women in their new homes to do the same.
Among these women are Teófila Díaz Jiménez and Edna Valdez, two members of the UN Women program.
Teófila Díaz Jiménez was born in the Dos Lagunas community in San Cristobal. She left her home at a very young age to make a living. The life of immigrants has never been easy. On the Mexican border, numerous female migrant workers are currently working while being underpaid or, in some instances, unpaid. Because of this, many of these women live in poverty.
“I cried a lot because of what people did to me,” said Jiménez as she was being stripped of travel documents and forced to work without any pay.
Fortunately, Jiménez got acquainted with Voces Mesoamericanas, a UN Women partner that has been advocating for migrant women's rights. Jiménez began to participate in various UN training workshops. The workshops provided a safe space for migrant women to share their experiences, and representatives of local organizations for women's rights would also engage in the discussions. They worked with the migrant women and leveraged the organization’s influence to help improve those women’s living conditions.
Jiménez’s involvement in the female immigrant community grows day by day. Trainers taught Jiménez to understand her rights, stand up for herself, and advocate for other mistreated migrant women. Now, she has her own voice. Jiménez also empowers her community by sharing the voice she gained with other migrant women.
“Now I’m not afraid of taking part, I have more self-esteem,” she said.
However, inequality and mistreatment don’t merely apply to the Western world. Edna Valdez went to Hong Kong as a migrant worker from her hometown in the Philippines. As an immigrant, she worked for longer hours than stated in her job contract. There were no employee benefits. Eventually, Valdez was fired for “unprofessional reasons,” such as being told she was becoming too close with her boss’s children.
Unlike Jiménez who remained an immigrant, Valdez returned to her home in La Union province. Shortly after, she joined Bannuar Ti La Union (Heroes of La Union) and started advocating for migrant women’s rights.
“The main challenge for women migrant workers is that they don’t know what rights they have,” said Valdez.
Even though there are laws and government services, most female migrants do not know how to access support. That’s the reason Valdez, along with other women in the Bannuar Ti La Union, is constantly urging local governments to set up Migrants’ Desks at their municipal offices. Those help desks have helped countless female migrants and their families access information and lawful support. Furthermore, Bannuar has been collaborating with UN Women’s partner, Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), as part of an EU-funded migration program to promote migrant women’s rights around the globe.
Edna Valdez was elected as the President of Bannuar Ti La Union shortly after she joined the organization. As the president, she coordinates training workshops about female migrants’ rights and risks of unlawful recruitment. Valdez also works at the front desk of the Bannuar office to answer walk-in inquiries from foreign women workers and their families. She provides them with referrals to proper government agencies that can offer more information and assistance.
The life of a female immigrant can be difficult in many ways. However, women can and will stand up for themselves and others through community empowerment. Teófila Díaz Jiménez and Edna Valdez are two great examples, and I’m sure more women like them will come forward in the future.