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From anonymity to recognition, from servant to a WOMAN and a WORKER!!

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08 Mar 2018


2018 Theme : #PressforProgress

From anonymity to recognition, from servant to a WOMAN and a WORKER!!

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.

Whilst the Malaysian women have seen much progress in their career advancement and self- development, how far has Malaysia progressed in recognizing and protecting the other women in their households, who are typically called as servants, maids and helpers, whom 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 industrialized country sees women working in slavery like conditions.

Malaysia employs close to 300,000 domestic workers in the country which includes 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 institutionalized 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 2 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 practice 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 died 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 license to employers and families to abuse, to 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 marginalized groups, speaks volumes of how we respect persons and ensure their dignity. We have ratified CEDAW ( The 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 , a women and a worker.

We call upon all Malaysians to recognize 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 recognize itself as developed and progressed 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 recognized in law with established mechanisms.  Let us begin with these women.


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