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Global Women Have a Heroine in Hong Kong: The Ticker

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Ticker: Hong Kong Maids, 300,000

By William Pesek

Score one for the "female underside of globalization."

This phrase comes from "Global Woman," a 2003 book by Arlie Russell Hochschild and Barbara Ehrenreich that many Asian leaders wish had never been written. It explored the plight of the millions who each year flee Third World countries for jobs in the homes, nurseries and brothels of the First World.

"This enormous transfer of labor results in a risky displacement, in which the same energy that flows to wealthy countries is subtracted from poor ones, easing a `care deficit' in rich countries, while creating one back home," Hochschild and Ehrenreich wrote.

No country embodies this damaging dynamic better than the Philippines, where people -- overwhelmingly young women -- are the nation's main export. They now have a clear heroine in Evangeline Banao Vallejos, who's lived in Hong Kong since 1986 and just successfully took on the city's government.

A Hong Kong judge Friday deemed unconstitutional restrictions on foreign maids that prevented them from permanent residency status in the Chinese city. The ruling opens the door for Hong Kong’s 300,000 foreign maids to apply for permanent-resident status if they meet the seven-year requirement.

It was a just and logical decision. Hong Kong's basic law spells out the requirements for residency status. Telling Filipinas and other low-wage workers they're different always smacked, at best, of selective ignorance of the law and, at worst, of blatant racism.

Yet it's hardly a closed case. Expect the government to appeal the decision aggressively amid worries of huge population inflows from the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Hong Kong fears it would put enormous pressure on medical, educational and welfare systems. From a fiscal standpoint, perhaps that's true.

Hong Kong can't have it both ways, though. Foreign maids and nannies are a key element of the glue that holds Asia's ninth largest economy together. If Hong Kong's leaders, and their political benefactors in Beijing, want to discriminate against this worker or that one, they need to rewrite their laws.

A better option would be to treat these global women with the credit and respect they deserve.

(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist.)

-0- Sep/30/2011 14:24 GMT

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