Good morning everyone. I am Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, coming from Indonesia. I am speaking on behalf of the civil society organisations attending. We spent the last two days working together to identify our priorities for this meeting. I would like to share my story with you today, so that you understand why we are making our recommendations for universal public services that are publicly funded, for decent work and living wages, and for the recognition, reduction and redistribution of care and domestic work.
I come from a village in East Java. When I was 10 years old, my mother left our family to become a domestic worker in Brunei. My parents could not afford school fees for me and my brother. My grandmother depended on my parents for care. My father is a landless farmer. My parents both did not finish school. They wanted to make sure that we could get educated and have better lives. I finished high school but could not afford to go to university. In fact, no one in my village can afford to go to university: the fees are too high, and the nearest university is more than two hours away. Universal access to education remains a challenge in rural areas like where I come from.
At the age of 17, I migrated to Jakarta to become a waitress at a restaurant. I worked six days a week, from 8am to midnight, sometimes as late as 3am. The restaurant owners avoided hiring enough staff and pressed us to do overtime as it was cheaper for them: after 8 hours of work, they paid us half a dollar per hour. It was impossible to afford living costs in Jakarta. I, like my mother, was looking for a sustainable livelihood to support myself and my family.
After two years working at this restaurant, I joined 300 other women and girls in an eight-month training to become a migrant domestic worker. This programme was arranged by a registered recruitment agency who provided domestic workers to Hong Kong. We learned some Cantonese, learned to cook, clean and care for children and the elderly. The agency then had us sign contracts where we committed to repay them around 2000 US dollars for the training and other costs. This was taken in monthly instalments from our bank accounts.
I went to my new employer in Hong Kong in 2014. After 5 weeks I tried to run away from my employer. My employer did not pay me at all. She did not allow me to sleep more than four hours a day and did not allow me to go to the toilet more than twice a day. I was given only one or two pieces of bread a day, one bowl of rice per week. She took steps to stop my menstruation.
I had no money, no way to call for help. When I told the agency what was happening to me, they said I hadn’t yet paid off their fee, and told me to just stay till I finished paying. Because I complained, my employer treated me even worse. She punched me, beat me, tortured me. She kept me locked up in the house. I suffered for 8 months before being sent back to Indonesia. By then, my weight was 25 kilograms, and I had to wear a diaper. I couldn’t walk with broken hands and feet, and I had brain injury. At the airport, people took photos of me and shared it on social media, and then protests began to save me and other migrant domestic workers. My case was taken up with the support of migrant workers organisations and movements, and my employer was arrested. But it is governments’ responsibility to provide access to justice. The trial process was long and difficult. My employer was sentenced to jail for six years. She was released early. The agency that sent me was suspended for three months, they are still running now. My employer was supposed to pay for my medical insurance but never did. It has been 5 years, but I still haven’t received compensation. Till today, I cannot breathe out of one side of my nose.
Domestic workers like me are all over the region, caring for children and the elderly, doing the invisible work that isn’t counted in the GDP. We are not poor, we are made poor. We can stop exploiting the millions of migrant workers. If I had access to education and jobs that meet decent work and living wage standards, my life would be different. I would not have to migrate to Jakarta or on to Hong Kong. If either country had provided universal healthcare to workers like me, I would not be in this situation and could live a life with dignity.
I don’t want what happened to me to happen to another woman. I could not get a decent job in my own village, or in Jakarta, or in Hong Kong. We need an economy that doesn’t drive us to migrate in search of better lives. Women and girls like me want to go to school. We want to be able to go to the doctor. Funding healthcare, education for all is possible by following recommendations from the Beijing Platform for Action, like by reducing military spending.
I was only a few years old when governments made the commitments in 1995 in Beijing. This is my story, and this is the story of many women and girls born in the 25 years that have passed. We need you, our governments, to seriously consider what is holding us back on delivering these promises. Women have been waiting for a long time and paying the price of your failure. My generation has already grown into adulthood since 1995. Let us not wait for another generation.