In a collaborative study with the Philippine Women Centre in Vancouver British Columbia, Canada (PWCBC), together with Kim Villagante, a community based researcher and member of the PWCBC, this project is exploring how the PWCBC has used visual and performative art forms to organize, educate and politicize. The PWCBC has focused much of its research and advocacy work on Canada’s Live-in-Caregiver program (LCP) that brings in domestic migrant workers to Canada (well over 90% of whom are Filipina women) to provide child and elder care in the homes of their employers. The PWCBC research has uncovered the racist, classist and sexist underpinnings of the LCP and how it contributes to the creation of a subclass of hidden exploited migrant workers. Through the research of the PWCBC and other academic allies, it is clear that the LCP is primarily a labour policy, one that has become Canada’s default child and elder care program, and one that undermines these workers human rights, shattering the illusion of Canada as a leader in this area.The research, organizing and advocacy work of the PWCBC has been substantial and highly creative, using visual and performative art–powerful methods that can tell a story and engage with the hearts and minds of audiences and community members, leading to change. We have been focusing on the PWCBC’s three Political Fashion Shows, where fashion and theatre are employed to tell stories of Philippine history and transmigration, subverting the way fashion or dress has been implicated in Filipina women’s subjugation. We have traced the earliest roots of fashion shows being used as a political tool by a Filipino political organization to 1985, where in the Philippines, a political fashion show was organized by GABRIELA which stands for General Assembly Binding Women for Reform, Integrity, Equality, and Action. Most political fashion shows in the Philippines are linked to elections to spread political awareness amongst the masses. Outside the Philippines, Filipina and migrant worker organizations in Los Angeles and New York have also employed the genre, however, the PWCBC was the first North American group to take up the use of this format.
The first fashion show was held in Vancouver in March 2004 and was entitled “Product of the Philippines: Made in Canada”. It focused on Philippine history and grew out of work study groups examining precolonial times and Spanish and American colonization of the Philippines. The second fashion show was held a year later in 2005 and was called “Philippine Independence Re-veiled” and continued with the exploration of Philippine history, this time focusing on independence. The third show was held in 2008. “Scrap: A Political Fashion Show to Stop Violence Against Filipino Women” focused on Filipino women’s experiences of violence encountered as migrant workers, mail order brides and through human trafficking.
This research outlines how the dresses, costumes and theatre of these shows capture aspects of these workers’ lived experiences, moving what was once a private and depoliticized personal struggle into a public, shared, and political project. Participants and audience members of these fashions shows encounter these injustices in a visceral and evocative way, illustrating women’s subjugation, as well as their liberation.
An animated film about the LCP is being made and plans are underway to create a film about the history of the PWCBC, celebrating the important contributions to the women’s movement and the liberation of migrant workers.
Philippine Women’s Centre of BC.
Canada’s Live-in-Caregiver Program (LCP), an animated video by Kim Villagante. The LCP brings in domestic migrant workers to Canada who then provide child and elder care in the homes of their employers.
Butterwick, Shauna (2013). THE POLITICAL FASHION SHOW: PERFORMING THE INVISIBLE INJUSTICES OF TRANSNATIONAL MIGRATION AND ITS POLICY EFFECTS. Paper Presented June 20, 2013 at the 8th Research on Work and Learning (RWL) Conference, University of Stirling, Scotland.