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Women constitute seventy per cent of the estimated four million migrant workers who come from Indonesia. Their voices must be heard. Only by listening to their voices can we see that these women are after all individuals, with their own aspirations and potential. The Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, has traditionally been a favourite destination for women migrant workers from Indonesia.
But horrid tales of torture and abuse the women experienced there, exposed in the media in the early '90s and retold by ex-migrants, encouraged many aspiring migrants to reconsider their choice of destination. Proximity to Indonesia, a reasonably attractive exchange rate, and the relative freedom it offers, have made Singapore an increasingly popular destination for Indonesian FDWs.
My friends who have worked in the Middle East advised me that it is less work here, as the houses are smaller. You also get more freedom because you can at least go to the market and send the children to school, unlike in Saudi where you are confined to the house all the time,' explained Sukinah, a 20 year-old who is on her first overseas assignment. Indonesian FDWs now comprise slightly more than half of the , foreign women who work as live-in domestic maids in Singapore.
Hailing mostly from Java, they enter Singapore via Jakarta and Batam with the help of a network of labour recruiters and maid agents with links across international boundaries. However, the factors underlying the discrimination they face are complex. They cannot be resolved with laws and protective policies alone. Many migrants have retired successfully to more comfortable homes, own bigger pieces of land, and support their children through university.
Yet their lives are filled with hardship, and insults on their dignity are the norm. As foreigners and as women, they are viewed with suspicion and often patronised.