Female Domestic Workers Must Be Protected in Indonesia

November 10, 2010

By Carole Marzolf, Indonesia Country Specialist for Amnesty International

This week President Obama paid his first ever visit to Indonesia since he took office in 2008. It took place in a heavy climate as President Yudhoyono is dealing with two simultaneous natural disasters: an earthquake followed by a deadly tsunami and a series of volcano eruptions which have triggered international media attention. Yet, while these catastrophes may provide the media with ‘outstanding’ visuals, a silent human tragedy unfurling the whole archipelago goes unreported.

Every year in Indonesia, an estimated 20,000 women die during pregnancy and childbirth. Amnesty International published last week a report on maternal health in Indonesia. This report shows that discriminatory laws, gender stereotyping and criminalization of abortion constitute violations of women’s rights and of the state’s duty to guarantee the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion and the threat of criminalization.

But the report also pointed out that some groups such as domestic workers are more vulnerable than others to violations of their sexual and reproductive rights. An estimated 2.6 million people work as domestic workers in Indonesia, the vast majority of whom are women and girls. Girls under 18 years old are believed to make up a third of that figure. Yet, the 2003 Manpower Act fails to provide any form of protection to Indonesian domestic workers who have been left out of the piece of legislation.

This act contains a number of provisions specifically protecting women during menstrual period, pregnancy and night work. But the Manpower Act only applies to employees of “entrepreneurs” in “business” or “social and other undertakings with officials in charge’ – definition which private households and domestic workers do not meet.

Because domestic workers’ work takes place in the employer’s home and they are often isolated from their families, they can face abuses and difficulty accessing sexual information and education, family planning, and health care services.  Lenny, a 14-year old domestic worker from Java was abducted, drugged, and smuggled to another province of Indonesia, where she worked 19 hours a day with no compensation whatsoever while being abused both physically and psychologically until she escaped three months later.

Amnesty International has been vocal advocating for female domestic workers rights in Indonesia. In 2007, we published the report Indonesia – Exploitation and Abuse: the Plight of Women Domestic Workers. In 2010, several public statements were issued, urging Parliamentary Commission IX to move forward with a Bill on domestic workers which would meet international laws and standards. Now is the time to prioritize the passing of legislation on domestic workers with explicit provisions pertaining to maternity.  Join us in urging the Indonesian Parliament to care about women and girls domestic workers in Indonesia by passing a domestic workers bill.