How Hong Kong’s domestic workers are becoming visible

Sanne van Oosten

Walk around the center of Hong Kong on any given Sunday and you’ll notice massive amounts of women hanging around. If you don’t know what it is it can be quite puzzling. You see women picnicking, playing cards, talking on their cell-phone, chatting and generally having a good time. These women are mostly Hong Kong’s Filipina domestic workers.

Generally, domestic workers have the problem of being invisible. They work inside the houses of families and when they get out to do some grocery shopping they aren’t recognized as being domestic workers. People have no idea how many domestic workers are out there and at the same time domestic workers can’t get in touch with other domestic workers to share experiences. That makes their marginalized position over more marginalized. They can be denied rights, because they’ll never rebel anyway. They aren’t willing to join a union as that might jeopardize their job security and they don’t know that other domestic workers are experiencing the same problems as they are. All in all, they are invisible.

But not the domestic workers in Hong Kong. You can’t get around them. They are visible and they can stride together. Everywhere you go on a Sunday afternoon you’ll see them. Not only can they socialize and have a good time on every Sunday afternoon, they can also make a fist for common problems they all experience. This might make it possible for them to be taken a little bit more seriously in their field. Up till now, domestic workers are always underpaid and underappreciated. But if now they are visible this can change. Maybe they’ll get a slightly more proportional pay, maybe they’ll gain the right to take a vacation back to their family once a year. But of course, with every form of emancipation, this will take tiny tiny babysteps.

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