About 4.5 million Indonesians work abroad. Around 70 per cent of them are young women between the ages of 18-35, and most are employed in the domestic sector as maids in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and the Middle East. Most reporting on these domestic workers paints a grim picture of abuse, lack of agency, and injustice.
While it is true that Indonesian maids often face terrible conditions, their lives abroad are also more than just their jobs. They have more agency than the public often give them credit for, and many also have creative pursuits like fiction writing. Recently, a new genre of literature has developed, one in which – often in short stories – these women reimagine their experiences as domestic workers in foreign lands. These stories provide an honest description of the complex and multifaceted reasons for working abroad, the maids’ living and working conditions, and their hopes and dreams for a better life.
To discuss the agency and creativity of Indonesian foreign domestic workers, I chat with Dr Jafar Suryomenggolo, Assistant Professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Tokyo, Japan. Dr Suryomenggolo is the editor of an upcoming collection of 23 short stories written by Indonesian female foreign domestic workers, At a Moment’s Notice: Indonesian Maids Write on Their Lives Abroad. The book is published by NIAS Press and will be available from March 2019.
In 2019, the Talking Indonesia podcast is co-hosted by Dr Charlotte Setijadi from Singapore Management University, Dr Dave McRae from the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute, Dr Jemma Purdey from Monash University, and Dr Dirk Tomsa from La Trobe University.
Photo by Prima Gerhard for Kumparan.