Behind closed doors: How two unique campaigns are helping to stop the exploitation of domestic workers

What goes on behind closed doors? Often we’re content not to know. ‘It’s not my business’ we might say, or ‘it’s a family matter’. But hidden from public view, behind the closed doors of private homes, an estimated 1.9 million domestic workers are being exploited in the Asia Pacific region.

So how do we open those doors and not only draw attention to this issue but also change it? How do we create happy homes where domestic workers and employers enjoy positive relationships based on trust, respect and open communication? We need to understand the problem and promote prevention and protection.

This article looks at how two recent initiatives — ILO’s No One Should Work This Way project and IOM X’s Happy Home campaign — are trying to do just that.

The ILO project No One Should Work This Way covers true stories of exploitation with ongoing consequences for the domestic workers who suffered.

“The job is nonstop. You have no rest. You wake at 6 a.m. and work until 2 or 1 a.m. and then go to sleep,” one domestic worker told the No One Should Work This Way project.

 
 

“I couldn’t use the telephone. I couldn’t leave the house. When the family went out, they locked the gate. The agency took my passport,” recounted another domestic worker.

 
 

She was starved by her employers and ultimately returned home without any pay.

One day off per week, freedom of movement, access to communication devices — these are all rights that domestic workers have, according to ILO’s Convention 189. But as the No One Should Work This Way project makes very clear, these rights are not the current reality. At the policy level, ILO is continuing to encourage countries to ratify and uphold this convention.

IOM X’s Happy Home campaign uses the drama Open Doors to highlight common exploitative practices among employers and to demonstrate how behaviour change can take place and why it’s beneficial for both employers and domestic workers.

In Open Doors, Serene, Lisa’s employer, wakes her in the middle of the night because she is hungry and wants food prepared while Fon’s employer promises her a day off every week but then always makes excuses for why it’s not possible. Lisa’s passport is taken as soon as she arrives at her employer’s home and Ani’s employers put off getting her a phone that would enable her to stay in touch with her family.

At an individual level, the Happy Home campaign is encouraging employers to uphold these rights and that means realizing how these rights are linked to creating happy homes. In Open Doors, Lisa’s employer realizes that her unfair treatment is being observed and imitated by her daughter and creating a barrier of fear and distrust between her and Lisa. This realization prompts her to return Lisa’s passport and work permit and provide one day off each week. Ani’s employers come to understand that Ani is sad and distracted without a way to stay in touch with her son back home and they provide her with a mobile phone.

The two campaigns are designed differently, but intersect with similar scenarios and have the same overall goal of helping to stop the exploitation of domestic workers.

Opening doors is not an easy process but the first step is knowledge. Once people understand that domestic workers are often exploited and what forms that exploitation can take, we can move on to shifting attitudes that excuse or rationalize this exploitation and then ultimately promote and sustain changes in behaviour that is in line with domestic worker rights, such providing domestic workers with one day off each week. Now that’s some important homework for all of us.

The ‘No One Should Work This Way’ project was undertaken by photographer Steve McCurry and journalist Karen Emmons. To learn more, and find out how you can hold a photo exhibition, visit http://nooneshouldworkthisway.org/

A video about the project is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XV7R1ZhUYdA

To learn more about IOM X’s Happy Home campaign and view Open Doors: An IOM X Production, visit http://iomx.org/happyhome

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