International Day to End Violence against Women
25 November 2014
On this day that marks the 24th year of the International Day to End Violence Against Women, the United for Foreign Domestic Workers’ Rights (UFDWR) network pays homage to all women, especially migrant domestic workers, who experience gender and class violence in their manifold forms all over the world.
Like all migrant women who brave workplace uncertainties and possible abuses abroad just to support their families back home, foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in the Asia Pacific struggle against social exclusion and state policies that continue to subject migrant working women to systematic violence. Whether in countries of origin or destination, these policies on migrant domestic work create conditions for modern-day slavery and perpetuate archaic gender roles, leading to the institutionalized oppression and exploitation of foreign domestic workers everywhere.
Furthermore, these conditions faced by FDWs also lead to other situations that make them highly vulnerable to sexual and reproductive health problems, including, unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and HIV infection. The lack of gender responsive and migrant-sensitive sexual and reproductive health services in countries of destination also push FDWs to resort to unsafe abortions that put their lives at risk. Those who have been diagnosed with HIV are summarily terminated from their jobs and deported back to their countries of origin without the benefit of counseling nor the proper referral to treatment and other related services.
A series of binding and non-binding statutes have been created by the UN and ILO to protect migrant women workers, including those that are specific to FDWs. Among these are the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and the ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers (C189), and the World Health Assembly Resolutions on the Health of Migrants.
Yet despite the existence of these international laws, the situation of foreign domestic workers in the region have gone from bad to worse. In Hong Kong alone, dramatic cases of FDW abuse are rife, such as those of Erwiana, Kartika and Rowena. In Singapore and in Hong Kong, FDWs quite regularly fall from high-rise flats while being made to clean windows. And in almost all Asian receiving countries that employ FDWs, FDWs still work an average of 16 hours a day, are paid much lower than local workers of similar skills, do not have a paid mandatory day off (24 hours) per week, do not have access to health care and redress, and are made to live in unsuitable quarters. These are just some of the conditions that subject migrant domestic workers to the violence of slave-like servitude, and their dogged persistence despite these odds shows the levels of economic desperation that their families are undergoing in their home countries.
As international statutes, principles and UN Conventions are crafted, it is not only the challenge on the governments to ratify, harmonize and domesticate them into national laws but to wield political will in actually creating formal guarantees of protecting migrant women. Furthermore, as discussions around the Post-2015 Development Agenda ring louder, there is a challenge on international intergovernmental bodies to seriously take in the conditions of women domestic workers and the migrant workers in general. The migration as a tool for development framework will not address the problems that befall FDWs but rather aggravate them. There is no genuine development if migrant domestic workers continue to experience violence and modern-day slavery.
In commemorating this memorable day, however, we celebrate the many struggles and victories of FDWs to defend their rights as women and as migrant domestic workers. They remain vigilant in their struggles as they steadfastly raise awareness amongst their peers, organize and mobilize them into actions that will reap benefits not only for themselves but for the whole sector. It is this organized resistance that we have seen in countries like Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore among many countries that shines a strong beacon of light
in the uphill battle to end violence against women.
Domestic work as work remains the rallying call of the UFDWR and the challenge that we pose on the UN, ILO, IOM and member-states across the region to recognize and uphold. We vow to continue our campaign against VAW by working with the grassroots migrant movements regionally and globally until we see the day when women are no longer forced by the violence of poverty and other social injustices to work abroad as modern-day slaves.
End violence against women migrant workers!
Recognize domestic work as work!
No to migration for development!
Stop modern-day slavery!