Myths contribute to violence against Filipina women

June 22, 1994

By Anthony Brown

The myth that Asian women are submissive, sexually willing and economically dependent may be contributing to the high rate of domestic violence in Filipina-Australian relationships.

One of the Melbourne lawyers involved in pushing for a national inquiry into the violent deaths of 17 Filipina women since 1980, Dr Jocelynne Scutt, said in an article in the Age (July 4, 1993) that male preconceptions of Filipina women as submissive could contribute to their being beaten and ultimately killed.

"The implication is that if you get a woman from the Philippines she will be perfectly submissive, a servant", Dr Scutt said.

The Centre for Philippine Concerns Australia (CPCA) national coordinator, Melba Marginson, agrees. She said the practice of seeking Filipina wives was based on the myth of Asian women as domesticated, docile and economically vulnerable and dependent.

"Some Australian men seem to go to the Philippines thinking they can get themselves a submissive woman", she said.

"These are men who usually cannot get partners in Australia, who cannot relate with strong women, and so they get out of Australia and get women who they think are meek, humble and domesticated. But eventually, once they bring them here and they find out they are strong and independent, they start using violence."

Marginson believes this myth about Asian women is rooted in sexist and racist attitudes.

"Men, not only in Australia but around the world, still think that they are really superior to women. And on top of this very patriarchal attitude is the racist attitude toward Third World women and, in particular, women coming from very poor countries like the Philippines and Thailand."

She resents media images of Filipina women as mail-order brides or as the "thrillers from Manila", which she believes portray these women as inferior to their Australian partners.

A 1990 Philippines study of Filipina women married to Australian, Japanese and Swiss men dispels this myth. The study found that two-thirds of the women married to Australian men had completed undergraduate or postgraduate studies, whereas most of their husbands had completed vocational or technical training courses. Filipina women married to Australians were the best educated and the Australian husband group were the least educated.

The study concluded that because of age, education and cultural factors, Filipina-Australian marriages were least likely to succeed.


Filipina women who meet Australian men through introduction agencies or correspondence are most vulnerable to domestic violence, according to the CPCA.

According to social workers, increasing numbers of Filipina women are accessing their services due to domestic violence situations.

Most Filipina women in Australia are married to Australian men. Most meet their husbands through informal networks, but many still meet Australian men through correspondence or introduction agencies*

A 1986 University of the Philippines study of how Filipina women met their Australian partners showed that 30% of women used formal mail-order institutions. The majority met their partners through informal networks of relatives and friends and travel (mostly of Australian men to the Philippines).

The study found that introduction agencies, pen-pal systems, bars and brothels served as the major means by which Australian men met Filipinas in the 1970s; by the mid-1980s, enough women had arrived in Australia for the informal networks of family and friends to become the major means of finding a partner.

Melba Marginson said a significant number of women still met their Australian partners through introduction agencies, banned in the Philippines, but not in Australia. She hopes a federal government inquiry into Filipinas killed by their husbands in Australia will look into the operations of these agencies.

In a 1992 study of serial sponsors, researchers found that Australian men, sometimes with their Filipina wives, and Filipina women living in Australia were active in arranging tours and dates in the Philippines, as well as providing escort services using Filipina women in Australia.

It stated that bars, restaurants and clubs, often run by Australians, often filled a similar role of introducing women to Australian men.

Introduction agencies frequently advertise their services in the personals of metropolitan newspapers.

Great risks

Emere Distor, a researcher for the Brisbane branch of the CPCA, believes Filipina women who meet men through correspondence or introduction agencies take enormous risks.

Distor said these women entered into relationships with Australian men because they saw marriage as a way to escape poverty in the Philippines and to help their families by sending money home from abroad. "Filipina women risk marrying men they hardly know and travel to other countries so that they'll earn enough to send money home."

Distor said that because many of these women were poor, they were vulnerable to men who beguile them with promises of an easy life in the West. Visiting men played the part of rich foreigners, often splashing money around to impress the women and their families.

In a 1992 study of serial sponsors, most Filipina spouses reported that when they first met Australian men in the Philippines they were generous, kind and loving.

"There's a misconception in the Philippines that life in the West is like living in heaven, and these women believe that if they marry Western men they will live prosperous lives", Distor said.

This tempts the women to enter into relationships which they might otherwise have not, given that the men are usually 10 to 20 years older, the courtships are usually brief, and the men usually have very conservative views of a woman's role in society. ("Serial Sponsorships", Centre for Multicultural Studies, the University of Wollongong, 1992.)

A 1990 study of Filipina-Australian marriages stated: "In a significant number of cases, males with severe personal problems, or 'social derelicts', to use the common expression of the Philippines authorities, have entered into relationships with Filipinas who did not either have sufficient time or the cultural knowledge to realistically assess their prospective partners until it is too late".

In Australia, many Filipinas discover that their kind and wealthy husbands are not what they seemed, and their dreams of prosperous lives are shattered.

A 1991 report from the South Australian Migrant Women's Emergency Support Service stated that 80% of the women it helped were married to invalid pensioners.

Many end up living in isolated parts of Australia — especially in the outer suburbs of the major cities and in the small rural and mining towns of the outback.

Financial abuse

A common pattern is for the man to do all the shopping, thereby not putting any money into the wife's hands. Some women have reported that they were not even given money to buy sanitary items or clothes for themselves or their children or to pay medical or pharmaceutical bills.

The acting coordinator of Brisbane's Migrant Women Emergency Support Service, Theresa Gatbonton, said financial abuse was common. "I know of one woman who was given $50 a week to pay the family bills and buy groceries. She has three children. How can you survive on that? Part of it is that the men don't trust these women and part is because they are selfish."

The men often have a different view of family responsibilities and refuse to give the women money to send home to their families. "You are expected to send money home. In the Philippines families support each other, and the family has all sorts of expectations about the women moving overseas because of the colonial mentality that anything overseas is much better", Gatbonton said.

She said the women often felt responsible for their poor relatives back home — for many that's why they married foreigners in the first place. The woman's demands for money to send home often led to conflict and violence.

She said that for many women, the shame of not being able to send money home was unbearable, and many became severely depressed. This resulted in a terrible Catch 22 for the women, who because they were not able to send money home, could not bear to face their families again and were prepared to stay in violent relationships because they thought they had nowhere else to go.

Gatbonton said most Filipina women in these relationships were now aware of the services they could access and most men purposefully kept them ignorant and isolated from other Filipinas who might be able to help them.
[Second of three articles.]

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