Saturday, June 16, 2012

Happy International Domestic Workers' Day!

The situation for migrant domestic workers in Singapore has come some ways since I started opening my eyes to it.

From 2013 onwards, migrant domestic workers in Singapore are legally entitled to a weekly day off, though this is still subject to private negotiation with their employers. Despite the possibility of negotiation, we should not forget that employer and domestic worker are on unequal ground: one pays for the other and can control her physically, and the other has access to a private and vulnerable sphere of the other.

Still, this is better than the situation of migrant domestic workers in other countries, especially Muslim ones (shame!). Although in Singapore itself, we do have power expressing itself at a cognitive level, based on ethnicity and socioeconomic status. The discourse around domestic workers often involves religion (Islam again -- double shame!).

I had been thinking about this issue for so long, because I always grew up with a domestic worker in the house. And I could not have been happier with the way things worked out how I changed my way of thinking. In a nutshell, this is what I wrote about, and these were my main arguments. If you're interested in the full paper, it's available here.

Happy International Domestic Workers' Day to K, SH, Y, D, T, H, and all the women who have ever helped me and my family: R, M, S, S, Y, SQ, S. May we continue to touch people's hearts and minds!


Thursday, June 14, 2012

A new idea of marriage.

I spent the last week in a small town just outside Porto, doing what I do best (haha), giving care to my sister and helping out with the national boccia team for an international competition. This is becoming a yearly thing -- last year I helped them at another competition in Belfast, and in a few months I will help her in London for the Paralympics, inshallah!

I'm grateful that I got involved in these competitions, not only because I get to spend lots of time with my sister, but it's also a huge learning experience for me (both within and outside of my job scope!).

I came across these posters some time ago:

I am Juliette leukemia-patient
I am Nick CF-patient

I am a cancer patient

What I really like about them is the simplicity of their message; people with disabilities are individuals and should not be defined by their conditions. My sister is a great example of this mindset (as I found out recently) because she compares her financial situation with someone who does not have to spend on expensive transport to get to work every day!

Often we will judge a person based on their looks. For those with a certain condition like cerebral palsy, where the more severe types can involve involuntary spasms (for an idea of what I'm talking about, often on television an actor playing a 'mentally retarded' character imitates these movements), we pass judgment on their mental abilities. I'm pretty sure that for my sister, there's possibly nothing more annoying than someone speaking to her like a child.

As my favourite man Foucault said:

It's amazing how people like judging. Judgement is being passed everywhere all the time. Perhaps it is one of the simples things mankind has ever been given to do. And you know very well that the last [person], when radiation has finally reduced [their] last enemy to ashes, will sit down behind some rickety table and begin the trial of the individual responsible... I can't help but dream, about a kind of criticism that would try not to judge. (Foucault, 1988: 326)

I was gladly surprised to find out that two athletes from the same team were married to each other. Both have cerebral palsy, although the man has more mobility (he can walk unaided) than the woman. But the nature of their conditions means that they are always dependent on a third party for their daily needs. A heterosexual disabled man can still reasonably find a female partner, because care-giving has been normalised for women. But for a heterosexual disabled woman to find a man in a patriarchal society with strict gender roles, it's more difficult because the man has to take on the role of the caregiver. This opens up a whole entire conception of marriage.

What does marriage mean to us who take it for granted? The social norm is that the couple forms a nuclear unit (although they may spend their initial married life living at the house of one of their parents for a while), fulfills each other's emotional, physical and spiritual needs, and raises children. Although increasingly for a certain demographic, getting domestic help from a third party isn't that strange a concept.

If we would privilege the emotional and spiritual aspects of marriage for a moment, what is important in marriage and other relationships? To have someone with whom you can be yourself, to have someone to talk to at the end of your day, to be supported in your ambitions and decisions, to love for the inspiration that it gives, to help each other become better people.

Then we can start to have a new idea of marriage, one that privileges the emotional over the material. And we, who don't think twice about being able to control our bodies' movements and our material desires for children, houses and cars, could very well do with understanding and remembering this.

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