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From anonymity to recognition, from servant to woman and worker! — Tenaganita

MARCH 8 — This year’s international women’s day marks 109 years since the day gained recognition.

It has been a 109 years of women’s struggle to gain recognition of their rights especially as workers.

While Malaysian women have seen much progress in their career advancement and self- development, how far has Malaysia progressed in recognising and protecting the other women in their households, who are typically called as servants, maids and helpers, who have been contributing significantly to the growth of our economy?

It is shocking but true that in this age of high technology and our growth as a highly industrialised country sees women working in slavery like conditions.

Malaysia employs close to 300,000 domestic workers in the country. They include documented, undocumented women migrants and locals. These workers classified as domestic servants under the Employment Act and are effectively denied all rights accorded to the rest of the workers in the country.

This form of institutionalised denial of rights by the government has brought about not only pain and suffering to the women who work as servant not as workers in their own right, but intense and extensive forms of human rights violations.

In the past two months, Tenaganita has already received more than 22 cases of physical/sexual abuse, no day off, substitution of contract, non-payment of wages, and deprivation of food with long working hours. These violations clearly reveal that employers of domestic workers practise modern slavery.

This has been a regular feature in our complaints and case management. The media continuously has highlighted tragic deaths arising from abuse. But we have remained numb to the screams of those who die in the hands of the employer.

A fundamental root cause is the absence of any form of legal protection as domestic workers are seen as servants in law and not as workers. Thus rights guaranteed for other workers are not enjoyed by domestic workers.

The government has given the licence to employers and families to abuse, maltreat and even sexually abuse domestic workers while promising Malaysians that such a system will be maintained even if source countries bring about a moratorium to recruitment.

This form of persistent and intentional discrimination of women from the more marginalised groups, speaks volumes of how we respect persons and ensure their dignity. We have ratified Cedaw (Convention in the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) and have not lived up to our commitment and accountability. In fact it discriminates against one of the more vulnerable groups of women in the country, paving the path to slavery like practices.

We urge the Malaysian government to mark International Women’s Day with a commitment to protections that meet international standards through a separate legislation that sufficiently respond to the human needs of a domestic workers, protect her inalienable rights as a human being, woman and worker.

We call upon all Malaysians to recognise the basic rights of domestic workers beginning with a day off for them a week and respecting them as workers. It is only when we accord them these basic rights can we reduce sexual violence and other forms of gender based violence in our homes and in our society.

A country can only recognise itself as developed and progressive when the rights of women are protected. And it begins with assuring the rights of the most exploited and isolated women, so the domestic workers are recognised in law with established mechanisms. Let us begin with these women.

* Press statement issued by Glorene A. Das, executive director of Tenaganita Women’s Force on International Women's Day, March 8 2018.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.