Hostess workers in Japan – illegal sex work or deserving a visa?

Hostess bars and clubs in Tokyo’s Kabuki-cho

by Kyle Waylyszyn

The women who work as hostess workers work just like you and me, but their jobs come with a heavy stigma that surrounds their line of work. When you hear “hostess worker” or hear about them, they are never portrayed in a very positive light. The job description of a hostess, if you don’t know, is to entertain their male customers by doing things like talking, drinking, dancing and other things. Of course, there are some places that offer services greater than what the majority will not do, which is more sexual in nature, but this isn’t the norm.

Sociologist Rhacel Parreñas

The norm is that these women choose to take these jobs of their own free will, although sometimes out of necessity when giving the choice to either stay in their home country and make a far less salary or work as a hostess. Rhacel Parreñas has conducted firsthand research about this topic, and Parreñas says “No one lied to them and explicitly told them that they would only be singing and dancing on stage.” “They were quite adamant,” Parreñas says, “that they weren’t prostitutes.” Rather, she describes the work of hostessing as “commercial flirtation” through which women work to “bolster the masculinity” of their customers. They typically make money for the club owners to whom their labor is contracted by selling men drinks, not sexual acts.”

Even though that these women took these jobs of their own accord, the Japanese government was not pleased with being ranked the highest employers of “sex trade” workers as they were publicized as. In 2004, the Japanese government began changed the visa laws and enforced stricter requirements for the entertainers visa. This caused these women to lose the valuable income need to support their families, but the important numbers the government seen was that the hostess workers dropped down to only approximately 8,607 in 2006 from the 2004 statistic of 82,741 workers.

In light of the action things that go on and the willingness of these women should there be an entertainer’s visa specifically for hostess workers? These women have a right to make a living just like every other human on this planet, so why can’t they work as a hostess legally in a country that seems to have a demand for it? The morality of these jobs maybe the most prominent reason seeing as it doesn’t just involve the person that attends these places, but also the country that allows such unmoral and socially awkward things to happen as a legal business. Think about it would you choose a country to visit that just legalized commercial flirtation, if the stigma that everyone truly though about it was that it is actually houses of ill repute?

Reference

Parreñas, Rhacel. The ‘indentured mobility’ of migrant Filipina hostesses  http://gender.stanford.edu/news/2011/‘indentured-mobility’-migrant-filipina-hostesses

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The Worldwide Abuse of Women

English: American women's earnings by educatio...

English: American women’s earnings by educational attainment, from Women in America (2011) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Olivia Katherine Parker

As an American-born woman, I have a choice. I have a choice to my career, who I marry, whether or not I raise children, and how I spend my future. Women in other countries are not as fortunate. In class, we discussed a few of these cases. For example, Filipino maids face abuse from their employers. Chinese women move to Beijing in order to temporarily escape marriage and to find work in factories that pay low rates. Migrant workers in Japan’s hostess bars have pay withheld from them. Furthermore, mothers from Sri Lanka who need to raise money to feed their children move thousands of miles away to do so. Even in a developed country known as an economic superpower, Japanese husbands oftentimes regard their wives as the domestic half – an idea that was common in American society in the 1950’s. That is not to say that America is the perfect place for women; the Caucasian woman only earns 70 cents to her male Caucasian coworker’s dollar. On top of that, women in America also face prejudice when they decide to live childfree lives or focus on their careers. This boils down to a thought: are women being taken advantage of in a global sense?

It was not long ago that, universally, men were the breadwinners and women were the caretakers. Why is it that in extreme poverty it is the mother who leaves her children behind to earn money for the family? Where are the husbands? Why aren’t they moving thousands of miles away to earn money and why are they allowing their wives to go to such lengths to care for their children?

In class we discussed that human trafficking and sex work are rampant in Japan’s night life. We focused on research by Rhacel Parreñas, who explained that male employers pressured female employees to perform sexual acts in return for money (the definition of prostitution). Parreñas also stated that if an employee was in Japan on an expired visa or any other less-than-legal terms, her pay was almost always withheld at least once.

Recently, we have been seeing a new trend in Japan where fathers are becoming more involved in the early years of their children’s lives. After speaking with several Japanese students I learned that it was common for their fathers to be absent from the home. It wasn’t manly to be seen with their children! After working long hours they would go to the bar and return home late in the night to eat dinner, watch TV, and go to sleep. Now, Japan has laws that allow fathers to take time off work to care for their newborn babies and we are seeing Japanese fathers take on the responsibilities that normally only the wives would have. Still, this is a new trend and it may be looked down upon by old and new generations alike.

Overall, we see a unified theme of women being taken advantage of, whether it is in a domestic setting or the work place. Of course, the severity ranges by location, and the idea that everything is the male’s fault is flawed. Still, the tired belief that women belong in the home needs to change and it is, slowly. Ultimately, we could see a shift in responsibilities between men and women.

Human trafficking’s profit, risk, and victims

Red Light district in Amsterdam: Dark shadows cast by global flesh trade. (Copyright © 1996-2000 Bruno J. Navarro/Fotophile.com)

Anonymous student post

Human trafficking entails recruiting, transporting and harbouring of a person through “coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power, as well as abuse of vulnerability of women” (Clark 2003). It is a low risk, high reward endeavor for those who organize it. Women in impoverished countries have limited options for supporting themselves and their families, leading them to look for work outside of their country of origin, making them vulnerable to a trafficker’s false promises of high-paying jobs as a waitress or entertainer. Traffickers, exploiting the economic need, often confiscate the victims’ travel documents during or after transport or physically imprison them in brothels, houses, or bind them by dept. In some cases the women choose to subject themselves to the traffickers knowing the danger, as they might end doing the same work at home for lower pay.

People are trafficked into the sex industry not to satisfy the demands of the traffickers, but that of the purchasers. Hence, human trafficking is a lucrative market for all persons involved, except for the women, and/or children involved. Even if it can be argued that some women decide by themselves to subject themselves to traffickers, the majority of women are not aware of what kind of labor that is expected by them when arriving at another country. Moreover, traffickers are extremely good in manipulating the truth and take advantage of the poor living conditions the women have in their country of origin. Therefore, it can be stated that it is a chain of people who take advantage of  vulnerable women in mainly impoverished countries to satisfy their demands. Moreover, in some countries it is a extremely profitable market, and therefore government in impoverished countries take rather small action towards the traffickers. One reason is that the sex industry can be linked to tourism. It can be argued that Asian countries have a different view on women than for example, the western culture, and therefore become an popular destination for people who not originates from the Asian culture. It can be difficult for government to stop trafficking and sexual industry when there is a growth in the tourist sector, and especially since it may require a lot of assets to track down and get evidence against traffickers.

Trafficking humans is a cross border movement where several actors are involved. It is not only humans that are smuggled  between borders, it is a complex net where cash flow and illegal documents cross borders around the world. Even if there are several International laws against human trafficking it is as mentioned extremely difficult to track down the trafficker. Moreover, it is also difficult to find women, and / or children that are willing to testify against the smugglers, since they are afraid that their families will be either hurt by the traffickers, or feeling ashamed by their daughter’s occupation. It is also very difficult for the vulnerable women to escape their situation since they are being illegal immigrants in the hosting country, and some countries treat illegal immigrants in a rather harsh way, and the fear of police and immigration officers forces the women to maintain in the hands of traffickers, sex buyers and other persons involved in the profit chain.

Reference

Clark, Michele A. 2003. “Human Trafficking Casts Shadow on Globalization.” YaleGlobal, April 23. http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/human-trafficking-casts-shadow-globalization

Do as the Romans Do, Turn the Other Way My Dear We are in The East

by Sarah Aartila

From the many mangas about the pure girl, if she were judged according to western philosophy on the case of chastity she would be described as a ‘slut’. The Western philosophy praises individualism, straightforwardness and linear logic, unlike Eastern philosophy which believes in a circular logic with both sides given equal due, and collectivism which sees what is best for the group as a whole. It is true that trafficking is an issue, but what can be done when poor countries have an ever increasing population and a shrinking of available jobs?

Throughout the world women have been and still are considered second class citizens whose only worth is to be a commodity. From the dagongmei in China who toil away to make home better in the factory via honest work, to the foreign hostesses of Japan who freely or sometimes unwillingly offer extra services. These women have freely left home and while many do it for individualistic reasons, most still send money home. Not all hostesses are trafficked nor are all of them illegal aliens (Parreñas 2011). The returning migrant worker comes home a hero. They are pressured like peers by the bar into getting requests. Requests come via promised sex. Some are forced yet they are not the majority like Noini who was forced into prostitution, yet Noini returned again for hostess work. According to Noini:

“We return from Japan with lots of presents and (are) well-dressed. We are the dream of any girl who wants to help her family. I could never tell a Filipino what I told you. They would consider me the lowest possible person in the world. I could not face that. Everyone here pretends” (Schmetzer 1991).

These women sacrifice themselves for the greater good of making the lives of their families at home better. To them being a hostess is better than being a nanny in a middle eastern country where they have a greater potential to be beaten. The salary of £30 an hour offers more buying power than a professional job (Quinn 2012). Besides such pay is fuelled by the many companies who pick up the tab for their salarymen. Many claim that the reason for such clubs is due to Japanese males who fear rejection from Japanese women and that Japanese men look down on all other asians. Also many Japanese people do not like the idea of Filipino women taking care of their elderly. Besides these views justify the right of these men to harass women on the job.

In order to improve the lives of these workers laws Parreñas suggests that laws should be created to protect such women from sexual harassment. These women shouldn’t even be considered as migrant workers, but rather as contract workers or indentured servants as many now can’t enter without the rigorous training required of those entering with an entertainment visa. What was originally intended to eliminate trafficking; the strict regulations for an entertainment visa has caused more to become contract workers. Perhaps the West is meddling too far into the East, trying to press Western morality into an Eastern mindset.

In the end these women are faring way better than their at home counterparts and are helping their country. No one may feel proud about such work as they keep it a secret from home, but even with the Western morality that has been pressed onto the Philippines Eastern morality still seems to prevail overall.

References

Schmetzer, U. (1991, November 20). Filipina Girls Awaken To A Nightmare. Chicago Tribune, 1-2. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1991-11-20/news/9104150088_1_recruiter-japan-filipina/2

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2011. Illicit Flirtation: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Quinn, S. (2012, September 10). The grim truth about life as a Japanese hostess. The Telegraph. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/9524899/The-grim-truth-about-life-as-a-Japanese-hostess.html

Progress and Subjugation

Trafficking of women, children and men

Trafficking of women, children and men (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Michael McDonnell

The introduction to the 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report notes, “The common denominator of trafficking scenarios is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit a person for profit. A victim can be subjected to labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, or both”. In Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo, Rhacel Parreñas explains the identification of the majority of Filipino women working as hostesses in Japan as victims of trafficking, and how the clampdown in visa sponsorship that resulted has in fact been detrimental to their freedom overall. According to Parreñas, the women she encountered who came to Japan to work, came of their own free will and many already knew what to expect from having spoken to women who have previously made the journey. They enter Japan with legitimate entertainer visas and employers willing to sponsor them.

She states that rather it is the restrictive conditions of these visas that make women more susceptible to forced labour and exploitation. For example, in order to be granted a permanent spouses visa, the applicant has to remain married to a Japanese citizen for five years creating a situation where the wife is indebted to the husband. If an employer asks a worker to do a job she is not comfortable with for whatever reason she cannot leave the job without becoming an undocumented illegal worker, becoming reliant on an employer to provide both work and protection from being found out. These unbalanced relationships are, according to Parreñas, what increase the likelihood of forced labour and abuse, not the position as a Hostess itself.

This exploitation of vulnerable workers exists all around the globe. In Bangladesh, workers, more than 85% of whom are female, in clothing factories many making goods on behalf of international sportswear companies are still paid below the minimum wage, are forced to work overtime, and are sometimes verbally and physically abused. Attempts to protest or strike are met with police brutality. Their dependence on this money to support their families prevents them from leaving.

HK Victoria Park Philipino Migrant Workers

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The anti-poverty charity War on Want, who are involved in ending the exploitation of Bangladeshi workers in the clothing industry, advise against boycotts of the goods produced in these factories as it could lead to job losses for the people they are trying to protect. War on Want are instead pushing for a change in the practices of these sportswear companies and the guarantee of improved pay and conditions for the workers.

The labeling of migrant workers from the Philippines as victims of trafficking by TIP led to a 90% drop in women being sponsored to work in the hostess industry further reducing their options for advancement. The answer to this problem is not to crack down on the employment of foreign workers in this industry but, much like in the case of the Bangladesh, to improve the conditions for the workers. By giving more control to the women working in the hostess industry to choose their own employers and to change jobs if they want the likelihood of exploitation would be greatly reduced.

References

Parreñas, Rhacel. 2011. Illicit Flirtation: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

War on Want. (2012). Race to the Bottom. Available: http://www.waronwant.org/attachments/Race%20to%20the%20Bottom.pdf

Migration and the Philippines

Anonymous student post

Recently we read an article by Rhacel Parreñas and her experience working as a hostess in Japan. When I hear migration and the Philippines the first few things that come to my mind are nurses, domestic helpers or construction workers in the Middle East. Growing up in the Philippines I used to hear a lot of stories about working “that kind” of job in Japan. Although I think nowadays it’s very rare for Filipinas to leave the country and work as entertainers in Japan. Instead, they study nursing in the Philippines and apply for nursing positions in the US or elsewhere. Some end up working as caregivers. Filipina domestic helpers are quite common in places such as Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, and some European countries.

Although it may seem that the Philippines is a very poor country with little opportunity for people to provide better a life for their family the reality is a bit different. Indeed we are a third world country, but that does not mean that every single Filipino is poor. There are jobs especially for those with college degrees and those who are desperate for work end up in call centres. Whether you are a professional or a call centre agent, wages are enough to provide for your families. A lot of Filipinos often believed that working abroad would gain them more money. True, however they only think that they can gain money because the exchange rate between currencies is high and fail to realise that they work in countries with a much higher cost of living and that their wages are enough to cover for their living expenses. So they end up exactly in the same situation as they where when working in the Philippines.

So then why do we leave our country? For some Filipinos, especially those who did not finish school, they do not see these opportunities, think that there is no chance of earning money in the Philippines and only see migration as the answer for a better life.

Personally I think the reason is a lot more than that. It’s because of bad governance and corruption from the government.There’s very little care from the government that we receive that some us are forced to migrate. Even though there are jobs as I mentioned there are some benefits such as healthcare that are not properly provided by the government. The fact that there is little support from the government is a reason why Filipinas from poor families in particular are forced to work as domestic helpers and endure the harsh working conditions and abuse of their employers. Wealth distribution is not fair – the rich get richer while the poor remain poor. If the distribution of wealth is fair and equal and there is good governance, then maybe there wouldn’t be a need for Filipinos to leave.

Reference

Illicit Flirtation: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo, by Rhacel Salazar Parreñas. 2011. Stanford University Press.