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An era of female empowerment at the expense of foreign domestic women?

Controversies surrounding the position of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong often focus on abuses of the law and general malpractice perpetuated by illegal agencies. However, less attention is directed towards employer accountability in an era of promoting gender equality which comes at the expense of many female foreign domestic workers. There are roughly 398,000 foreign domestic workers living in Hong Kong, 99% of whom are women.[1] A policy that began in the 1970s to provide affordable childcare and domestic assistance to working women continues to expand as one of the largest growing labour markets in Hong Kong today.[2] However, this is a thriving black market in which the rights of those women who constitute the backbone of Hong Kong society are often forgotten, if not dismissed. A survey conducted by CUHK revealed that 43.9% of FDWs did not have their own private room, 70.6% work over 13 hours per day and 34.6% are required to work on their day-off.[3] In an era of gender reform and a policy seeking to support working Mothers and dual-income families, have the rights of women who enable this very change been considered? Bishop details, “in this #MeToo era, I hope we can all agree that female empowerment is great – but only so long as it does not come at the expense of other women.”[4] A striking feature from some of the most prominent abuse cases concerning foreign domestic workers is that their perpetrators are women. Indeed the most infamous case concerning a foreign domestic worker was the Erwiana Sulistaningsih which detailed the abuse she suffered at the hands of her female employer Law Wan Tung.[5] Consider also the case of Jamil Bushra, the employer who failed to even attend the hearing concerning her illegal dismissal of Baby Jane Allas after she revealed she had been diagnosed with stage three cervical cancer.[6] Furthermore, the current challenge to the live-in-rule sought by Yvette Dingle Fernandez whose employer demanded she remained on-site, without her baby, one day after giving birth[7] is indicative of the abuse these women continually face in an era of gender equality and accountability for sexism. We must ask ourselves; does this era of reform come at a cost - a human cost? I think we can find the answer is yes in a society that only promotes equal protection under the law for its own female residents for equal protections, at the cost of some 398,000 other women.


1. Fiona Sun, ‘Hong Kong’s domestic helpers from Indonesia and the Philippines struggle through fear and pain of protest crisis’ (SCMP, 4 October 2019)

<https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3031541/hong-kongs-domestic-helpers-indonesia-and-philippines> Accessed 2 November 2019.

2. Alan Wong, ‘Inkstone index: Hong Kong’s foreign domestic workers’ (Inkstone, Archive)

<https://www.inkstonenews.com/society/inkstone-index-hong-kongs-foreign-domestic-workers/article/3001040> Accessed 2 November 2019.

3. CUHK, ‘Survey Findings on Migrant Domestic Workers in Hong Kong Released by The Research Centre on Migration and Mobility at CUHK’ (CUHK Press Releases, 19 February 2019) <https://www.cpr.cuhk.edu.hk/en/press_detail.php?id=2973&t=survey-findings-on-migrant-domestic-workers-in-hong-kong-released-by-the-research-centre-on-migration-and-mobility-at-cuhk> Accessed 2 November 2019.

4. David Bishop, ‘Hong Kong’s errant domestic helper agencies are everywhere and unafraid of the law’ (SCMP, 24 March 2018)

< https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2138411/hong-kongs-errant-domestic-helper-agencies-are-everywhere> Accessed 2 November 2019.

5. Phila Siu, ‘Beaten Indonesian domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih demands to know why Hong Kong abuser was released from jail early’ (SCMP, 22 November 2018)

<https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-and-crime/article/2174567/beaten-indonesian-domestic-worker-erwiana> Accessed 2 November 2019.

6. Raquel Carvalho, ‘Filipino domestic worker Baby Jane Allas wins HK$30,000 in damages after being fired over cancer diagnosis’ (SCMP, 15 April 2019)

<https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/southeast-asia/article/3006252/filipino-domestic-worker-baby-jane-allas-wins-hk30000> Accessed 2 November 2019.

7. Jasmine Siu, ‘Hong Kong government sued in High Court by domestic helper who says employer insisted she lived at workplace but refused to accommodate her baby’ (SCMP, 30 October 2019)

<https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-and-crime/article/3035623/hong-kong-government-sued-high-court-domestic-helper> Accessed 2 November 2019.

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