Press release from Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
Friday 25 November 2011
Domestic workers deserve respect
25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It marks the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, a global campaign to raise awareness of gender-based violence.
Unfortunately in Malaysia, violence against women is still common. In 2010, there were 3595 cases of rape, 3173 cases of domestic violence and 2054 ‘outrage of modesty’ (sexual harassment) cases reported to Malaysian police.
This means that in 2010, there was an average of 170 cases of violence reported to the police every week. And this is only the number of reported cases – the vast majority of cases of violence and abuse go unreported.
Over recent years there have been an alarming number of reports about cases of abuse and exploitation of domestic workers. The work of domestic workers is usually isolating. This isolation means that the women are trapped in homes and are vulnerable to abuse.
Some examples of abuse include physical abuse, sexual harassment, rape, restricting the domestic worker’s movement by confining her to the house, forcing her to work extremely long hours with no day off, not allowing her access to medical treatment or to communicate with her family and not paying her wages on time or at all.
For this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, WAO has released an online brochure on domestic workers in Malaysia and is asking employers – is your home a fair and safe place? Our brochure is an easy to read, common sense guide to help ensure that domestic workers are respected in their employers’ homes. It will be available at www.wao.org.my.
It is vital for employers to treat domestic workers with respect and equally vital for the government to promote and protect the rights of domestic workers.
WAO calls on the government to:
§ Recognise domestic work as work and as such amend the Employment Act to extend to domestic workers the rights and protections afforded to all other workers. Domestic workers must have at least one day off a week and their rights as workers must be protected.
§ Establish a decent living wage for all workers, including domestic workers.
§ Establish a compulsory orientation course for prospective employers on the responsibilities of being an employer of a domestic worker.
It was recently announced that on 1 December, 50,000 Indonesian women will begin to arrive in Malaysia to work as domestic workers. They will join the existing 300,000 domestic workers who look after our children, take care of the sick, the elderly and clean our homes. Their services allow for members of households to go to work and participate in social activities.
However, it must be acknowledged that our country’s reliance on domestic workers is problematic for several reasons:
§ Employing women domestic workers from poorer countries perpetuates the stereotype of domestic chores being ‘women’s work’.
§ The non-recognition of domestic work as work by the government means that it continues to be undervalued by society.
§ Employing women domestic workers from poorer countries reinforces class and race hierarchies which are unfortunately prevalent in the country.
§ The constant demand for domestic workers also puts a cap on the potential of women from poorer countries, as some may see working as a domestic worker to be their only employment option and forego further education in order to come to Malaysia to work.
Instead of a reliance on domestic workers, Malaysia should invest in high quality child care centres and employers should be encouraged to provide flexible work arrangements for all parents. However, until these changes are made, Malaysian employers of domestic workers must treat them with the respect they deserve.
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence global campaign runs until 10 December – International Human Rights Day. During this time have a look at our website, www.wao.org.my, and go to www.facebook.com/wao.malaysia for daily updates.