Maids Are People TooOctober 11, 2011 No Comments
Maids are people too, at least according to a new ruling in Hong Kong.
The city has a large expatriate community working in every industry from banking to child care. They are all able to apply for permanent residency status after seven years, which gives them more rights in the country — that is, except for domestic workers. Until now, they were barred from applying, no matter how many years they had worked in the city. A judicial review found that this distinction is discriminatory and recently passed a ruling lifting the ban.
This was welcome news to the 300,000 household staff who live in Hong Kong. Many have spent decades caring for other families and only flying home on short trips to see their own.
“It is a victory for world migrant workers in Hong Kong. This means the Hong Kong judiciary respects that foreign domestic helpers have rights and should be accorded equal treatment before the law,” said Holly Allan, from Helpers for Domestic Helpers, a local support agency.
Yet not everyone is happy about the decision. Outside the courthouse protesters railed against the ruling — worried that if these women bring over their families, Hong Kong would be overwhelmed with new immigrants. In response the government has decided to suspend the decision until an appeal goes before the court, which is expected later this month.
In Canada, the process of applying for permanent residency can take up to 12 years and once they are reunited with their families, many still cannot secure high-paying jobs that offer full benefits and professional development. Their children face difficulties adjusting to the Canadian school system. Permanent residents also have limited political rights with no say in federal elections.
The real issue here is about how we treat women citizens in our countries. On the one hand, we tell our young girls that they can do anything and be anything when in fact, there are barely any social or institutional support for mothers. One option is to hire a domestic worker to care for their children but these women are often horribly exploited. Offering them residency might help in the short-run. In the long-term however, we have to hold our own governments accountable for this mess.
We need to stop giving lip service to women’s rights and enact some real policies that will help support women in the workforce, such as granting universal child care. We need to teach men the importance of sharing the household responsibilities. “Exporting” countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia need to stop replying on other nations to provide jobs and give their women the opportunities they deserve.
We have to start taking the time to look properly at our national problems instead of fumbling around, trying to enact ‘quick fix’ policies to long-term issues. At least for Hong Kong, this is one step in the right direction.
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