Where is the global outrage at Saudi Arabia’s execution of Tuti Tursilawati?

On Monday, October 29, Saudi Arabia executed, more like assassinated, Tuti Tursilawati, a 32—year-old domestic worker, mother of one, from Indonesia. According to Tuti Tursilawati’s testimony, she went to Saudi Arabia to work in a private home. She was sexually abused for months. Finally, in 2010, after nine months of abuse and in self-defense, Tuti Tursilawati killed her abuser when he tried, once more, to rape her. She ran away, was caught and gang raped, and then turned over to police. In 2011, Tuti Tursilawati was found guilty of murder. For seven years, she sat on death row. On October 19, Tuti Tursilawati was allowed to talk to her mother, via video. At that time, she said she was healthy and not worried about her execution. Less than two weeks later, without any notice to the Indonesian government or Tuti Tursilawati’s family or anyone else, Tuti Tursilawati was executed. Who cares?

The Indonesian government has responded with “deep concerns” and outrage. Indonesian activist ngo’s, particularly Migrant Care, have condemned the execution and called on the Indonesian government to take appropriate actions. And that’s pretty much the universe of concern and care for Tuti Tursilawati. Why is that? Where is the global outrage? Tuti Tursilawati’s story is a common story, for Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and the world. According to Migrant’s Care co-founder Anis Hidayah, 1.5 million Indonesians work in Saudi Arabia. Tuti Tursilawati’s story is typical: sexual abuse, long hours, inadequate and improper housing, physical and psychological torment, and the list goes on. Tuti Tursilawati’s story is also typical of the world at large as well. According to the International Labor Organization’s most recent account, in 2015, there were 11.5 million migrant domestic workers globally. Of 67.1 million domestic workers, globally, 17.2 per cent were migrant domestic workers. It gets worse: “Domestic work is a much higher source of employment for migrants than it is for non-migrant workers. When analyzed as a share of migrant workers, migrant domestic workers (MDWs) represent 7.7 per cent of a global estimate of 150.3 million migrant workers. Disaggregated by sex, this share is even higher, representing 12.7 per cent, or 8.45 million, of the 66.6 million female migrant workers worldwide.” Who cares? Why is the employer’s torture and the State’s murder of Tuti Tursilawati only of concern to Indonesians? Where is the global outrage?

On Wednesday, October 31, Mona Eltahawy wrote, “Who speaks out for a poor woman far away from home in one of the most patriarchal countries in the world who defends herself against a sexually abusive employer, is sentenced to death, spends 7 yrs on death row and is then beheaded? Where is the global outrage for Tuti Tursilawati?”

Where was the outrage when 25-year-old Tuti Tursilawati was unfairly sentenced to death for having protected herself? Where was the outrage as Tuti Tursilawati sat for seven years on death row? Where is the global outrage now? Nowhere to be seen. While there is much to be said of the Kafala system and the brutal conditions of labor in Saudi Arabia, and across the Middle East, for migrant domestic workers, we must also address our own brutal complicity through silence. Tuti Tursilawati’s execution, and the Indonesian outraged response, was reported, however briefly, in the major news outlets, often on the front page. Who cared? No one. Where is the global outrage? As of yet, nowhere to be seen. Why does the world not care about the young women of color who travel long distance and leave families and communities behind, precisely to keep the world, our world, functioning? Who cares about Tuti Tursilawati? Where is the global outrage? Tuti Tursilawati haunts the world. Who cares?

Tuti Tursilawati

 

(Photo Credit 1: Kompas) (Photo Credit 2: Jakarta Post)

Why did Adelina Lisao have to be tortured to death before anyone sought justice?

Indonesian Consulate officials wait to claim Adelina Lisao’s body

On Saturday, February 10, 2018, 26-year-old Adelina Lisao was “rescued” from her employers’ house. She was taken to hospital, where she died on Sunday. Adelina Lisao was one of hundreds of thousands of domestic workers in Malaysia. Most of those workers are Indonesian and Filipino. For weeks, Adelina Lisao was tortured, often in plain sight and earshot of neighbors. The sort of violence visited upon Adelina Lisao is not an unusual occurrence for Indonesia and Filipina domestic workers in Malaysia, as has been documented for decades. Adelina Lisao died on Sunday. On Monday, the Indonesian government demanded “justice for Adelina.” On Tuesday, the press announced, in headlines, “Death of maid treated ‘like a dog’ casts spotlight on migrant abuse in Malaysia”. Just because there’s a glimmer in the dark doesn’t mean that a light is shining. If history is any guide, by Friday, Adelina Lisao’s named will be filed away and forgotten, and the mass abuse will continue.

In 1997, Christine B.N. Chin, a scholar of transnational migrant women’s labor, studied “the distinct ways in which public walls of silence continue to surround the absence of labor rights and benefits for foreign female domestic workers in the receiving country of Malaysia.” Chin noted that, despite the best efforts of Malaysian ngo’s, “efforts to break down public walls of silence surrounding the absence of labor rights and benefits for foreign female domestic workers have met with little success.” Twenty years ago, the situation of Indonesian domestic workers in Malaysia was recognized as an already longstanding issue. Since then, the public walls of silence have only grown thicker and higher. There is no spotlight nor loudspeaker breaking through that wall, not as yet.

In 2004, Human Rights Watch published a report on abuses against women domestic workers in Malaysia, which began: “In May 2004, graphic photographs of the bruised and burned body of Nirmala Bonat, a young Indonesian domestic worker in Malaysia, were splashed across newspapers in Southeast Asia. In a case that drew international attention and outrage as well as a prompt response by both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments, Bonat accused her employer of brutally beating and abusing her.” Who remembers Nirmala Bonat? What is the life span of “international attention”? Where is the outrage today?

According to the ILO, in 2016, Malaysia employed 300,000 to 400,000 domestic workers, almost exclusively from Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines. In 2010, approximately 230,000 Indonesian women worked, legally, as domestic workers in Malaysia. In 2015, Malaysia and Indonesia met to discuss “ways to improve protection of Indonesian domestic migrant workers in Malaysia.” Where was that “protection” while Adelina Lisao was being abused, tortured, demeaned, starved, beaten, and all in plain sight?

Indonesia should have demanded justice for Adelina Lisao long before she arrived in Malaysia. Malaysia should have demanded justice for Adelina Lisao as well. Adelina Lisao, this week’s moment of “international attention and outrage”, cannot be merely another empty sign. She is the brick and mortar of success in the now-decades-old new economy. A specter haunts the world … and her name is Adelina Lisao.

 

(Photo Credit: Sayuti Zainudin / The Malay Mail)

The factory fire in Indonesia was a planned massacre of women workers

A police officer stands in front of the factory

On Thursday, October 26, 2017, in Tangerang, a city near Jakarta, local, national, regional, and global economic development tossed another 49 charred bodies, almost all women and girls, onto the sacrificial pyre. A fireworks factory “experienced” a fire. Two explosions roared, and 49 workers burned to death. The factory employed 103 workers, almost all women and girls. The death toll continues to rise. The 49 dead, and the 54 survivors, most of whom are severely injured, join their sisters from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in the United States, to the Kader Toy Factory in Thailand, to the Zhili Handicraft Factory in China, to the Tazreen Fashions Factory in Bangladesh, and to the Kentex Manufacturing Corporation in the Philippines two years ago and the House Technologies Industries earlier this year, also in the Philippines. Every one of these was a planned massacre of women workers. Last week’s fire in Indonesia was a planned massacre of women workers. Everyone knew it would happen, sooner or later.

Why did so many women die? So many women died because women were the workers. It makes “economic sense”, which means the pay is low and the working conditions abysmal. Now that the smoke and stench rise from the pile of 49 charred workers, almost all women and girls, now the world takes notice of “Indonesia’s conjoined struggles with workplace safety, widespread child labor and keeping children in school.”

Why did so many women die? So many women died because there was no rear exit, and so they were trapped by flames and smoke, and many were burned beyond recognition.

Since the early 1980s, researchers have been writing about women workers in Tangerang. Along with nearby Cikarang, Tangerang has been “at the heart of the Indonesian industrial system since the export boom of the 1970s”, and, from the 1970s until today, the living and working conditions have been described as “hell-like”. Women have organized, through unions and through other associations, for improvements, which come and go. Women workers in Tangerang have organized mass strikes, famously in 1991. Most of the women who work in Tangerang have migrated there, from rural areas in Indonesia, and so, despite decades of struggle, in some ways, the struggle begins anew with every new cohort.

And now? The factory owners are detained and under investigation. Families, friends and neigbhors keen and mourn. The world yet again stares, for a moment, at the pictures of grieving mothers, and reads of the loss and sorrow and loss. None of this is new or unforeseen. Tangerang specifically has been in the eye of public policy, environmental, labor, women’s, children’s, development scholars’ and activists’ studies for four decades. Industrial fire codes have been in everyone’s eyes for over a century. And yet, day in and day out, 103 workers, almost all women and girls, went to work in a fireworks factory that had no proper exit in case of fire or other catastrophe. That factory wasn’t a factory; it was a slaughterhouse. When the flames burst and the women and girl workers’ bodies exploded, when the daughters’ and mothers’ and sisters’ bodies blew up, there was no accident. That was an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people, a massacre, and it was part of the plan. The fire was like a roar. “After that, there were no voices anymore.”

 

(Photo Credit: Jakarta Globe / Yudha Baskoro)

In Indonesia, education is the key for domestic workers’ empowerment

For many domestic workers, work is grueling and exploitative, with long hours and low pay. Some fight back. Others do not, feeling as if the life of a maid or domestic worker will forever mean unfair treatment and meager wages. Some are too afraid that they are replaceable and accept whatever is given to them. Others work because they believe they have no other form of education behind them with which to ask for raises or better treatment. Can domestic workers become empowered enough to fight for better wages and better working conditions, and if so, what are some of the ways they can organize?

Indonesian maids have illustrated one mode of organizing that leads to empowerment and courage to fight for better wages; education. In an attempt to combat the hostile working conditions, Indonesia has introduced a pilot training program which “aims to enhance domestic workers’ skills and win recognition for their work as a profession in a bid to fight exploitation and modern slavery.”

Indonesia remains a large provider of maids for countries such as a Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the Middle East, while four million women are also employed within the countries as domestic workers as well. Though domestic work is one of the primary modes of employment for Indonesian women in the country, there is a larger chance for abuse for domestic workers laboring in Indonesia, because, “unlike their counterparts who work overseas, who must go through extensive training regulated by the government, there are no such provisions for local maids.” Thus, local domestic workers are in danger of exploitation and abuse, suffering from long work hours, withheld wages and a lack of formal contract, because the government does not recognize domestic work as formal work with labor protection form formal labor laws.

For women like Leni Suryani, the training program instilled the confidence to ask for a higher starting salary. As one of the first graduates of the program, “Suryani said she brushed up her skills on cooking different cuisines, housekeeping and childcare during her training, as well as learning English and using computers. At the end of the 200-hour course last year and after a test, she received a certificate given by a national professional certification board that recognized her skills.” With the certificate, she was empowered enough to negotiate a higher salary with an American family.

The International Labour Organization, which oversees the program, trains women in domestic work skills and educates them on workers’ rights so they can fight nearly slave-like conditions. Irfan Afandi, the program’s national advocacy specialist, highlighted the importance to empower women, even if it’s only with a certificate: “They think working from 6am to 8pm is normal and they should do anything they are told-from cooking to car washing and gardening. There is no clear scope of their job…They are confident because now they are professional domestic workers. They learnt the skills, it increases their employability and prospects for better work conditions.”

Training and being given such a certificate instills confidence and pride in work that is done. Like Suryani, it has empowered a once discouraged domestic worker into better wages and a better working situation. Education in workers’ rights and acquiring skill sets to help them improve the prospects empowers all marginalized women to resist falling into the trap of exploitation by means of instilling pride in domestic workers’ earned skill and labor.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Twitter) (Photo Credit 2: Twitter)

In Indonesia, women farmers crush cement mining and production factories

Cement companies are looking to expand both mining and production on Kendeng Mountain, in central Java, Indonesia. Kendeng Mountain is located in a karst, or limestone, mountain range. It is also rich agricultural land. Women farmers in the area have protested, organized, militated, with great success, but the corporations keep coming back. Sometimes, women mobilize with the great movement of marches. Sometimes, women mobilize by concentrating all the energy into staying perfectly, and immovably, still. The Nine Kartinis of Kendeng, nine fierce women farmers, have opted for the latter. They planted their feet in cement, let the cement harden, and refused to move. Sometimes, women on the move are women being absolutely, perfectly, loudly, hilariously, outrageously still.

This battle has been going on since at least last year, but for the Kartinis of Kendeng, who hail from the Samin community of Central Java, it’s another chapter in a centuries’ long struggle. From the earliest struggles to today, Samin women have organized to preserve and promote the integrity of the Earth, the land, and the peoples who work and live with the land. In the latest iteration of that struggle, women have named themselves after Raden Adjeng Kartini, a leading Indonesian feminist freedom fighter who lived from 1870 to 1904. R.A. Kartini was born in Java during the Dutch colonial occupation, and worked for independence, women’s emancipation and girls’ education. The Samin community, also known as Sedulur Sikep, also began during the Dutch colonial era. The founder, Samin Surosentiko, advocated non-violent resistance to colonialism. This resistance took the form of non-violent civil disobedience. People refused to build roads, pay taxes or participate in forced-labor. Refusal as resistance, from R.A. Kartini to the Samin community to today’s Nine Kartinis of Kendeng, and what better way to refuse than to plant one’s feet into blocks of cement and refuse to move?

That’s what nine women did last year. The cement factory has been `in process’ since 2014. Women have led the opposition. Last April, “nine middle-aged women cast their legs in concrete during 36-hour protest against the cement plant outside the presidential palace in Jakarta”. In October, they led 300 farmers in a long march to protest a new government decision to reinstate the legality of the cement factory. They’re still on the move.

At last April’s protest, Sukinah, the spokeswoman for the Kartinis of Kendeng, explained that the protest was as much educational as immediately political, “We want to give a message for the younger generation, to show that nature is not only seen as a source of wealth, but also something that has to be preserved.” More recently, she added, “I will fight to my last drop of blood because our ancestors fought for this land for hundreds of years, and that’s why we now can enjoy the water and the fruits from this land. We won’t allow it to disappear like that.”

In their struggle, the Kartinis of Kendeng link arms with Aleta Baum, who, in the Indonesian part of the island of Timor, organized indigenous women’s weaving circles that crushed the marble mining companies. The Kartinis of Kendeng also link arms with Mavis Staples and all those women engaged in Black Liberation struggles and labor struggles across the United States. In Indonesia, women farmers planted their feet in cement, and off in the impossibly intimate distance, one can hear, “… Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters, we shall not be moved.”

 

(Photo Credit: Jakarta Globe / Komnas Perempuan) (Video Credit: Film First / YouTube)

 

 

Hong Kong and Singapore face a day without Indonesian domestic workers

Earlier this month, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, commonly referred to as Jokowi, started quite a stir, especially in the Middle East and East Asia, when he announced plans to limit and then stop the migration of live-in domestic workers. The President argued that much of the abuse of young Indonesian women stemmed from their working in informal, unregulated sectors, and that that has to stop. Indonesia wants those who work as domestic workers overseas to live in their own quarters, to work regular hours, and to enjoy one day off each week and public holidays. This is big news, on a scale of Los Angeles imagining a day without Mexicans.

Indonesia provides Singapore with most of its domestic workers. Currently 125,000 Indonesian women work as domestic workers in Singapore, the overwhelming majority as live-in. 50,000 Indonesian women work as domestic workers in Malaysia, and 150,000 work in Hong Kong. According to the Indonesian government, of the more than 7 million Indonesians working abroad, 60% are domestic workers. That’s over 4.2 million women, a lot of women and a lot of money.

Not surprisingly, employers in the receiving nations are `lukewarm’. Indonesian women workers’ groups argue that the solution to the problem of abuse of domestic workers overseas is for the State to actually protect them, rather than cut off their freedom of movement. While the President talks of national shame and dignity, women workers’ groups argue for decent work and more protections.

Where everyone is in agreement is that abuse of Indonesian, and other transnational, domestic workers is rampant. The case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, two years ago, sparked more than mass mobilizations. Erwiana Sulistyaningsih had gone to Hong Kong to work so as to be able to attend university. After eight months of torture, she was dumped at the airport and sent back to Indonesia. The sight of her damaged body sparked outrage. Two years later, she says, “I still have problems breathing. I cannot go swimming because I cannot get water into my ears. And I still have the scars. I need to see the doctor from time to time.”

The abuse of domestic workers is as old as domestic work itself, as is the work of organizing among domestic workers. What’s new is the transnational. That has meant, on one hand, that domestic workers, especially live-in domestic workers, are radically, viciously isolated, often with no place to go. In many countries, that lack of place is codified by labor and migration laws. These women are beaten by their bosses and trapped by State policy. Additionally, it takes money to travel, obtain visas and work permits, and to find employment. That means overseas domestic workers necessarily incur large debts. They are trapped in indebtedness. They are beaten by the bosses and trapped by international fiscal and monetary policy.

The domestic workers of this not-so-new neoliberal world order engage in domestic work largely because they want to use the money for the future, and the jobs available at home are too few and too low paying. For the past decades, this scam has been run to the fill the coffers of the sending nation-States, through remittances, and of the receiving nation-States, by subsidizing the entire care industry. People in Hong Kong are wondering who will pay for childcare, eldercare, home health care and so much more if the Indonesians really do vanish and, even more, if the Philippines national government follows suit? From Hong Kong to Singapore and beyond, people really are beginning to imagine a day without Indonesians.

Around the world, women domestic workers are organizing. They’re pushing for Domestic Workers’ Bills of Rights in the United States and in Kuwait. They’re organizing domestic workers’ unions in Jordan and Lebanon. They’re mobilizing everywhere. Most South American countries have ratified the ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers. In South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania domestic workers’ unions are on the move. The time to end the super-exploitation of domestic workers occurred decades, centuries, ago, but now is the time to support their efforts to end the global household plantation system. This is the story of women breaking the chains, locally and globally, of bondage, old and new, and seizing and creating power for themselves, collectively, in the name of women’s dignity. My name is Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, and I am unafraid. Justice for all!

 

(Photo and Video Credit: You Tube)

Will the murders of Seneng Mujiasih and Sumarti Ningsih be a wake-up call?

 


In the early morning hours of November 1, 29-year-old British securities trader Rurik Jutting called police officers to his apartment in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district. Inside, they discovered a gruesome scene: 29-year-old Seneng Mujiasih lying naked on the floor with fatal knife wounds, and a suitcase containing the mutilated remains of 23-year-old Sumarti Ningsih who had been killed several days earlier. Jutting has since been charged with both murders.

Jutting’s privileged background and successful financial career and Wan Chai’s reputation as the home of Hong Kong’s sex industry have contributed to this incident being reported as a tabloid-style story of sex, betrayal and murder, not unlike the 1991 American novel-turned-movie American Psycho. But this narrative does grave injustice to the lives of Mujiasih and Ningsih – two migrant workers from Indonesia, and it ignores the economic, social and legal pressures threatening the lives of women like them worldwide.

Seneng Mujiasih, who also went by Jesse Lorena, came to Hong Kong in 2010 as a domestic worker on a two-year visa. Thirteen months in, her employer terminated her contract and she was given the standard two weeks to leave the city. Mujiasih couldn’t afford to go home due to outstanding debt owed to the recruitment agency she had to use to secure employment, and returning home to find a new placement meant she’d have to take on more debt through the same flawed process. According to a friend, that’s when she turned to sex work.

Sumarti Ningsih came to Hong Kong on a tourist visa that was about to expire. She was the second youngest of four children and sole breadwinner for her family in Indonesia, including her five-year-old son. She left her son in the care of her parents after her marriage ended and her family struggled to buy food and basic necessities. According to her father, Ningsih spent time as a domestic worker and a waitress in Hong Kong and had been living in the city intermittently for the past few years to support her family and pay for her son’s education.

Both women were last seen in Wan Chai, a popular drinking spot for foreigners and businessmen that has numerous “sex bars.” That backdrop led to early reports that Mujiasih and Ningsih were among the 100,000 people who work in Hong Kong’s sex industry. Family and friends deny this, and claims to the contrary have yet to be substantiated, but that’s a mere afterthought in much of the media coverage. In fact, the possibility that the women were sex workers is being used to define them and thereby diminish the significance of their deaths.

Whether Mujiasih and Ningsih were sex workers is irrelevant. First and foremost, they were women – human beings – who were trying to support their families. If they chose or were forced to turn to sex work to do so, that’s no excuse for murder, especially when prostitution is legal in Hong Kong. Sex workers can legally solicit clients at bars, but they have to leave the premises to have sex. Mujiasih’s and Ningsih’s deaths have called attention to how vulnerable and unprotected that leaves the city’s largely migrant and female workforce.

Mujiasih’s and Ningsih’s deaths have also brought to light the relationship between domestic and sex work in Hong Kong. It’s not unusual for the city’s domestic workers to get pulled into the sex industry as a way to supplement their meager wages, or because employers’ actions – usually termination of a contract or abusive practices – leave them without homes or incomes. Hong Kong requires that domestic workers live in the homes in which they work, effectively tying them and their ability to stay in the city to their employers.

Recruitment and placement agencies also play a major role. Indonesia requires that those seeking work abroad go through such agencies, and both Mujiasih and Ningsih did so. According to a 2013 report on Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong, these agencies use “deception and coercion to recruit Indonesian migrants and to compel them to work” in dangerous situations, including “confiscation of identity documents, restrictions on freedom of movement and the manipulation of debt incurred through recruitment fees.”

Clearly, a combination of policies and social and economic pressures in Indonesia and Hong Kong position migrant workers like Mujiasih and Ningsih as prime targets for exploitation, abuse and death. Domestic worker and spokesperson for the Asian Migrant Coordinating Body, Eni Lestari, has criticized both Indonesia and Hong Kong for their “exploitative migration policies.” She chides Indonesia for failing to take responsibility while actively supporting and benefitting from a deceitful and harmful system.

Lestari is referring to the benefits countries that send workers overseas reap from the money workers send home. These workers, such as Mujiasih and Ningsih, work abroad because of economic hardship, lack of jobs or insufficient wages at home. Thus, Indonesia fails its people at home, knowingly requires them to use agencies that exploit them when they seek opportunities elsewhere, and offers them no protection while gone – and then profits from their mistreatment.

Nearly half of domestic workers in Hong Kong are Indonesian, and stories of abuse are familiar to either government. Recently, an Indonesian domestic worker in Hong Kong made headlines for escaping her employers after two years of imprisonment and despicable torture. In January, TIME called Indonesian domestic workers “Hong Kong’s ‘modern-day slaves.’” Two-thirds of Indonesian domestic workers interviewed for a 2013 report said they were physically or psychologically abused while in Hong Kong.

Systemic abuse isn’t news to the public either. At a vigil honoring Mujiasih and Ningsih, attendees held signs demanding changes in Hong Kong’s and Indonesia’s laws. The event drew more than 100 Indonesians and was held in a park that domestic workers frequent on their days off. Its message made clear that people in Hong Kong, especially Indonesians, recognize the forces behind the murders and the community the women represent. Comments from friends, domestic workers and sex workers reinforce that sense of community and shared experience.

The murders of Seneng Mujiasih and Sumarti Ningsih are a chilling reminder of the plight of domestic workers worldwide. While Jutting’s guilt may not officially be determined for some time, there are others to blame. Real justice for Mujiasih and Ningsih requires action on the part of all those involved to make sure no other women are subjected to the same fate.

 

(Photo Credit: Sunday Express / EPA)

My name is Erwiana Sulistyaningsih

Over the weekend, hundreds of feminist and women’s rights organizations and networks gathered in Bangkok, Thailand, for the Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum on Beijing+20. Participants strategized, organized, talked and listened. They listened to former domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih. Here’s what Erwiana said:

“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 her Facebook.

“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”.

When Erwiana left Hong Kong, she weighed around 55 pounds. She was covered with burns and scars. She was so weak and injured she couldn’t walk. How could an injured, incapacitated woman pass through immigration without any officer wondering about her condition? The Immigration Department’s Director explained: “It is difficult to judge whether there were injuries because of her complexion. We cannot blame the officer.”

We cannot blame the officer … because of her complexion. This is the complexion of violence against women workers that empowers employers to torture and inspires the State to pretend to look the other way while academics and pundits go on about the `invisible workforce.’ There is no invisible workforce. Women workers are part of an altogether visible and public regime of violence that airbrushes the scars, bruises and burns, and then declares itself blame free. The women know better, and that’s why they flooded the streets of Hong Kong and will do so again.

 

(Photo Credit: Nora Tam/South China Morning Post)

War against the refugees, madness, madness, war

The news today presents the two faces of a spinning coin. On one side, the direct war against asylum seekers. On the other side, the structural war against asylum seekers. Spin the coin, and the two become one.

On a morning talk show today, Australia’s Prime Minister was asked about the varieties of silence and secrecy that mark the State’s campaign against boat people reaching Australia. Boats have been secretly towed to Indonesia, according to some reports. Reporters are routinely denied access to immigration prisons. The Prime Minister’s response is telling: “The public want the boats stopped and that’s really what they want – that’s really my determination. If stopping the boats means being criticised because I’m not giving information that would be of use to people smugglers, so be it. We are in a fierce contest with these people smugglers. If we were at war we would not be giving out information that is of use to the enemy just because we might have an idle curiosity about it ourselves.”

When it comes to the immigration centers, the Prime Minister continued his line of reasoning: “I am confident that we are running these centres competently and humanely … Let’s remember that everyone in these centres is there because he or she has come illegally to Australia by boat. They have done something that they must have known was wrong. We don’t apologise for the fact that they are not five star or even three star hotels. Nevertheless, we are confident that we are well and truly discharging our humanitarian obligations. People are housed, they’re clothed, they’re fed, they’re given medical attention, they’re kept as safe as we can make it for them, but we want them to go back to the country from which they came. That’s what we want.”

The public wants, we want, war. Under the new campaign, Operation Sovereign Borders, Australia militarized its refugee practices, policies and policing agencies. In permanent of border protection, all’s fair, and no need to discuss justice. It’s about winning the fierce contest. The Prime Minister bristles with military `confidence’.

On the other side of the world, the British government today received a report from its National Audit Office. The report, COMPASS contracts for the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers, suggests, in detail, that the `confidence’ placed in private corporations that house asylum seekers was, at best, misplaced.

COMPASS stands for Commercial and Operating Managers Procuring Asylum Support. As always, this outsourcing was meant to save the government money. In March 2012, the government contracted three companies: G4S, Serco and Clearel. From the beginning, Clearel seemed to meet its contractual obligations, and complaints from residents were far and few between. G4S and Serco, on the other hand, started poorly and continued in that vein. This is not surprising, given that neither Serco nor G4S had any experience in housing asylum seekers. They knew how to detain them, how to put them in cages and throw away the keys, as the Yarl’s Wood experiences have shown. But they had never actually housed asylum seekers in communities. So … how did they get the contracts?

Confidence.

The two largest outsourcing and private security corporations in the world exuded confidence. The State felt confident as well. And now, two years later, they’re failing, and the government wants to recover £7m, and that’s just for starters.

Sometimes the housing was substandard, other times the processes were inhumane. With little to no prior warning and absolutely no consultation, women and children, in particular, found themselves shunted from one side of the country to another. Women asylum seekers also reported that staff would carry out unannounced property visits. Sometimes staff would enter into the house or apartment without even knocking. Some women asylum seekers reported these intrusions “made them feel unsafe.” The majority of women asylum seekers in England, as everywhere, are fleeing sexual violence, more often than not from partners or community members, and are single. None of that mattered to the staff; they had their jobs to do.

When it comes to refugees and asylum seekers, only confidence counts. The State has confidence in itself and in its contracted confreres. In the Australian and the British cases, this confidence is intensified by the racial/ethnic dynamic of White majority governments declaring war on individuals and populations, and in particular women and children, of color.

Where once the situation was “war amongs’ the rebels, madness, madness, war”, today the song sung with confidence is “war against the refugees, madness, madness, war.”

 

(Photo Credit: AAP/Scott Fisher)

Indigenous women’s weaving circles crush marble mining companies

Mama Aleta Baun is a Molo indigenous woman living in the Indonesian part of the island of Timor. Aleta Baun lives in the shadow, and light, of Mutis Mountain, which is the source of all of the rivers on the island. For Timor, Mutis Mountain is the source of life.

In the 1980s, the local government illegally issued permits to marble mining companies to mine on Mutis Mountain. In 1996, the companies started clearing trees and rocks on the mountain. Aleta Baun saw this and went into action.

First, she formed an alliance with three other women. They went door-to-door, village-to-village. The distances between houses and, even more, villages were great. Baun and the three other women persevered. Their message was simple, direct and profound: “We regard the earth as our human body: stone is our bone; water is our blood; land is our flesh; and forest is our hair. If one of them is taken, we are paralyzed.”

For the Molo people, that paralysis would be a form of death. Baun had an additional message for the women: “We also emphasized to women that the forest provides the dyes for our weaving, which is a very important part of our lives. That inspired us to showcase our weaving in the form of a peaceful protest starting in 2006.”

Baun organized a weaving occupation of the mining camps. Over 100 women showed up, formed a circle in the mining quarry, sat down and silently wove traditional textiles. They sat and wove, silently, for over a year: “When we began our protest, women realized that they could do more — take a stand and be heard. Women are also the recognized landowners in the Molo culture, and this reawakened in those women who hadn’t been actively speaking out a desire to protect their land.”

The assault on the forest targeted women. Women are the ones who go into the forest and emerge with food, medicine, dye, sustenance. The marble mining companies had touched the women and struck a rock.

For four years, the women organized weaving occupations, and for four years the Molo men took on all the domestic work in their communities. This was a women-led full community campaign. In 2010, the marble mining companies packed up their tools and left.

From Aleta Baun’s perspective, the heart of the struggle was popular re-education: “The protest is part of the re-education of the people.” Now, Mama Aleta Baun is busy organizing Molo women and men to map the forestlands for themselves, and then to lay proper legal claim to all that is their land, their dignity.

Have you heard about Mama Aleta Baun and the weaving occupation? It’s a story worth repeating.

 

(Photo credit: EngageMedia.org)