exploitative work is continually on the rise, living wages and decent work
conditions are being denied and with deadly consequences. The cheap,
exploitable labour of women is underwriting the so-called 'Asian Century' and
is used to attract investors to the region," mentioned Erwiana
Sulistyaningsih, in her opening address at the Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum
on Beijing+20, being held in Bangkok, Kate Lappin, Regional Coordinator, Asia
Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).
She was one of the
women who shared their lived experiences of the struggle against oppressive
structures as a migrant worker, providing a picture of the impact of the
existing gender inequalities on women's lives, at the 1st plenary of the Forum.
"My name is Erwiana
Sulistyaningsih. I am 23 years old, and come from a poor peasant family of
Indonesia and am a former domestic worker from Hong Kong. I did my high school
and then wanted to go to the University, but because my family had no money for
this I started working as a restaurant service worker in Jakarta. The pay was
very low. I still dreamt of going to the University because with a graduation
degree it would be easier for me to find a good job. As I really wanted to
bring a change in my life, and the pay in Jakarta was not enough I decided to
be a migrant worker abroad".
"I chose Hong Kong because
it is said to be a safe country and I had heard no news about migrant workers
being abused there. So I applied through a private recruitment agency and I
stayed in a training centre for 8 months and finally I flew to Hong Kong in
2013. When I arrived in Hong Kong all my papers, such as my passport and
employment contract, were taken by my agency and I began working as a domestic
help. My employer was very rude, beat me up, would only let me sleep only for 4
hours a day and did not give me sufficient food to eat.
I was not allowed to go out
or speak with other people or use the telephone. So I decided to run away from
her. I called up the agency in Hong Kong for help. But they told me to go back
to the employer's house. 8 months of abuse and torture left my body badly
bruised and in pain. So one day she decided to send me back to Indonesia. She
brought me to the airport, helped me check-in, and then left. She threatened to
kill my family if I ever spoke of my plight to any other person. Abandoned at
the airport and unable to walk, I luckily met an Indonesian lady who not only
helped me reach home but also took a photograph of my injuries and posted it on
The social media spread the
news far and wide, putting the spotlight on the plight of a vulnerable and
often invisible population—migrant workers.
"Finally my case was taken
up by the Indonesian Network of Migrant Workers and Asian Migrant Workers'
Coordinating Body to fight for justice for me. Around 5000 people marched on
the streets of Hong Kong demanding justice, and finally the Hong Kong
government took up my case. My case is under investigation and the trial will
be held in December next month (December 2014) in Hong Kong".
"The system enforced by my
own government and Hong Kong government has made me suffer this way. In my
orientation done at the training centre I was not given any information about my
rights and about the justice system in Hong Kong. There is no direct hiring and
we are given only 14 days to stay after visa termination and have to leave to
re-apply if we want to find another job. These unjust government policies
damage our lives as migrant workers. It is not only me who has suffered
exploitation, but there are thousands of migrant workers who get into similar
situations and are forced to stay in silence".
"My case was finally exposed
because of the unity of the migrant workers' movement in Hong Kong. I am happy
that through my case more such cases of exploitation are being exposed and
given more attention. I hope that both—the sending as well as receiving
governments-- will give more attention to the protection of migrant workers. I
hope there is no more exploitation against migrant workers, against women and
no more cases like me".
In 2014, Erwiana was put on
Time Magazine's list of "100 Most Powerful Persons", under the
'Icons' category. She has become a symbol and a voice for other migrant
domestic workers around the world to fight against violence and discrimination.
Speaking to Citizen News
Service (CNS), Erwiana said that the worst is over for her-- "I returned from
Hong Kong on 10th January 2014. I was awarded a scholarship by Sanata Dharma
University in Yogyakarta where I am now studying financial management".
She lamented that, "Because
of poverty, many young girls cannot go to school or do higher studies. As their
education is low, even if they get a job (which is not easy to find in our
country) the salary is very low and they get forced into migration. But now
there is some hope from the new government in Indonesia- we are hopeful they
will continue to act on the cause and provide more jobs."
"As women and girls we need
to raise our voice against exploitation. We need to unite in this fight against
discrimination and exploitation which many girls and women face."
Erwiana's testimony is
symbolic of women's struggles against human rights violations in the Asia
Pacific region—promises of Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) left unfulfilled,
and women's rights left unprotected.
Ref: Shobha Shukla, Citizen