Daily Archives: 5 January 2007

Migrant Maids from Indonesia

From Global Cinderellas: Migrant Domestics and Newly Rich Employers in Taiwan, by Pei-Chia Lan (Duke U. Press, 2006), pp. 49-50 (footnote and reference citations omitted; reviewed here):

Religion has also played a significant part in migration links between Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. Muslim Javanese work abroad to make money as well as to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Some work agreements even state that employers must fund their workers to go on the haj at the end of their work contracts. If Saudi Arabia can be seen as a destination for Muslim pilgrims, then newly rich Asian countries might be seen as a capitalist version of Mecca, hosting an increasing number of Indonesian migrants making a secular pilgrimage to modernity.

Taiwan has been a popular destination for Indonesian migrant workers except for the two-year period of government ban (from August 2002 to December 2004). The number of Indonesian migrant workers in Taiwan grew with amazing speed: in 1991 there were only 10,000 Indonesian workers, but the number reached over 90,000 in 2001. Most Indonesian migrants in Taiwan are women from East Java, and the majority of them are placed in private households. Parallel to the increase in Indonesian housemaids was a decline in Filipina migrant workers. A similar transition also occurred in Hong Kong and Singapore. The share of Filipinas among all foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong decreased from 85 percent in 1995 to 72 percent in 2000, while the number of Indonesian migrant domestic workers tripled. In Singapore, Indonesian migrants only amounted to 20 percent of foreign domestic workers in 1995, but one recruitment agency has estimated that about 70 percent of newly hired foreign domestic workers are now from Indonesia.

Indonesia has become a major source for housemaids across Asia. Women have dominated the official outflow of labor migrants in the last two decades. Domestic service accounted for 70 percent of overseas jobs between 1984 and 1989, and 60 percent between 1989 and 1994. Almost 95 percent of migrants engaged in domestic service were women. Surveys of Indonesian female migrants found that they tend to be in their twenties or early thirties and have relatively low levels of education. Migrant women tend to be single or divorced, with the exception that married women are predominant among housemaids in Saudi Arabia….

The fact that Indonesia is the only Islamic country in Asia that allows the recruitment of women as housemaids overseas has nevertheless made some Indonesians uncomfortable, particularly social elites. In 1997 the then Minister of Women’s Affairs urged the government to ban the export of housemaids because women, as the pillars of the nation, should be treated with respect. Twice, in 1980 and 1986, the government placed a ban on sending domestic servants to the Middle East in response to prevalent cases of rape and abuse, including one case in which an Indonesian household worker was sentenced to death for murdering her employer in Saudi Arabia. These bans were lifted only a few years or months after their imposition. Nana Oishi has pointed out that in Asia the emigration policies for female migrants are more value-laden—driven by social values and moral concerns—than policies for male migrants. Indonesia is no exception to this. Women must be at least twenty-two years old to work abroad, and they need to present letters of permission from their father or husband upon application. The state policy of emigration is torn between the moral discourse of “protecting” women and the economic interest of promoting them as better servants than migrant women from competing countries.

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Filed under Indonesia, labor, Taiwan