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Indonesian domestic workers go on hunger strike

Last Monday activists started a hunger strike to protest against the parliament's delay in passing a bill to protect domestic workers. Indonesia has the largest number of domestic workers employed worldwide: 5 million, mostly women and girls from poor areas who often face unfair labour treatment and too often are subject to constant violations of their human rights, including violence and harassment.

Domestic workers in Indonesia have been fighting for nearly twenty years for a legal umbrella to protect them from all forms of violence and abuse. Faced with indifference from decision-makers, several domestic workers’ organizations and civil society groups have called for a hunger strike, forming the Hunger Strike Alliance for the Domestic Workers Act. Among them is The National Advocacy Network for Domestic Workers (Jala PRT) which is affiliated to the International Domestic Workers Federation that received the Arthur Svensson Prize this year. The hunger strike is taking place in front of the national legislature building, and will continue until the bill that should protect the workers is passed into law.

Lita Anggraini who was one of the two representatives receiving the Arthur Svensson Prize on behalf of IDWF in Oslo last June. says that “the hunger strike reflects the situation of many domestic workers in this country who don't have protection from the government. We call on lawmakers to immediately pass the domestic worker protection bill into law. The more delays, the more workers who will experience violence and discrimination.”

Most of the domestic workers are women and girls from poor rural areas who take care of upper-middle-class families in big cities. Due to the lack of a protective law, they are employed informally and often face unfair labor treatment: extremely low wages, long working hours, no time off, no social protection, no access to healthcare, poor living conditions. But that’s not all: Indonesian domestic workers are subjected to constant violations of their human rights, including violence and harassment, forced labor, modern slavery, child labour, and even human trafficking.

The Jala PRT recorded 1,635 cases of multi-violence against domestic workers which resulted in fatalities during 2017-2022. Apart from that, there were 2,021 cases of physical and psychological violence, and 1,609 cases of economic violence. Also, according to the Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union, domestic workers are the biggest victims of human trafficking, amounting 1,519 cases from 2012 to 2020. Today, Jala PRT are handling the cases of 5 abused workers seeking justice, and have mobilized a crowdfunding effort to support their legal, medical, and survival fees. This data is just the tip of the iceberg, since there are still many cases that go unreported.

Siti Khotimah was abused by her employer and 6 people working for him. For three months, Khotimah faced all types of brutal harassment: she was chained at the dog’s room, forced to eat dog feces and drink her own urine, splashed with boiling water, and suffered harassment and abuse. As a result, her body has numerous wounds, her feet and hands have been severely affected (open fracture, burn, blisters). After surviving the abuse, she was hospitalized for four months, but still requires surgery as she is unable to walk properly. This, on top of severe trauma that keeps her up at night.

Siti Khotimah escaped from that torture when her employer ordered the family driver to throw her into the river, but he decided to leave her in her hometown. Siti is one of the 5 abused now seeking justice with the help of Jala PRT.

Lawmakers in Indonesia first proposed a bill to protect domestic workers in 2004 to address issues of discrimination, abuse and humiliation. Since then it has been updated and removed from the legislative priority list at least three times. So far the lawmakers appear to be in no hurry to move the bill forward. In the meantime the violence and discrimination continue.

Indonesian activists in hunger strike. Copyright: IDWF


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