THE BLOG

Prince Philip, Filipino Nurses and Girl Power

25/02/2013 11:16 GMT | Updated 24/04/2013 10:12 BST

Prince Philip hasn't let reaching the ripe old age of 91 deter him from skating on thin ice. The Duke of Edinburgh's latest off-the-cuff gaffe - this time over Filipino nurses - although generally well-received, may have caused a few winces amongst the more PC-sensitive out there. However, in suggesting that the Philippines must be "half empty" on account of so many of its inhabitants working overseas, Philip has unwittingly stumbled upon an interesting topic with regards to immigration and women.

The Filipino economy, more than most, relies on money sent from its citizens abroad (called remittances), and in 2012 the country was the world's third largest recipient of payments in this form. What makes the Filipino case interesting is that the contribution its female migrants - such as the NHS nurse that Prince Philip's comments were directed at - make to their home economy, is greater than in any other Asian country.

Certainly, while the immigration debate rarely seems to be off the agenda, the column inches devoted to the positive effects of immigration - particularly the home countries of migrants - is negligible. Indeed I doubt many are aware of the fact that last year migrant workers sent £254billion home to their families to pay for vital amenities, from schooling to emergency medical bills. International remittance payments can mean the difference between a family feeding themselves or going hungry.

From my experience in the field, both as an advisor to the UN development programme and from running my own remittance company, I have studied the Filipino migrant women anomaly with interest. Undoubtedly, female migrants from the Philippines make a huge contribution to their home economy - and one significantly higher than any other country in Asia. For example from our data, just 13 per cent of those remitting money to India from the UK are women, and in Bangladesh this figure is lower still at 11 per cent. From my estimations, the figure for the Philippines could be as high as 70 per cent.

That Filipino women traditionally enjoy a high level of autonomy is clear: wives often manage the family purse strings, and it's estimated that a sixth of Filipino women do not even discuss their decision to emigrate with family members. In addition, the combination of low salaries and limited employment in the Philippines with high levels of education, also contributes to these women pursuing careers in other countries.

So, all in all, we should applaud the Duke of Edinburgh for - unwittingly or otherwise - drawing attention to the important contribution Filipino nurses make both to the NHS and to the rapidly growing economy of their home country. Although not renowned for his international outlook, Philip's blunder highlights the way in which migrant workers - and women in particular - act as a lifeline to those who rely on them at home. Now that's 21st century girl power!