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Protecting Indonesia’s Vulnerable Migrant Domestic Workers

Anis Hidayah Receives the Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism

Anis Hidayah was literally going into labor with her second child when she answered her phone, suspecting it would be a migrant worker needing her help. She was right. The woman had recently returned to Indonesia and said she was being extorted before being allowed to return to her hometown. 

“At first I thought I’d ignore the call, but I couldn’t,” Hidayah told the Jakarta Globe. Although the woman wanted to speak only to Hidayah, a leading advocate for Indonesia’s migrant domestic workers, she convinced the domestic worker to call one of her colleagues at the organization Hidayah co-founded, Migrant Care.

Millions of Indonesians work in foreign countries. In 2010, these workers sent their families more than US$7.1 billion in remittances.

More than half of Indonesians who seek jobs abroad are women who work as domestic workers in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Despite their important economic contributions and the valuable services they provide as nannies and housekeepers, they are typically excluded from labor laws abroad and face a wide range of abuse and exploitation.

Hidayah has made it her life’s work to protect these women. She documents and manages their abuse cases, and, together with Human Rights Watch, is calling for Indonesia to revise its migration law and to ratify a UN convention on migrant workers.

“Sometimes I wonder what [the government] is waiting for,” she told the Jakarta Globe. “Do they want another 5,000 migrant workers to die, or want another 5,000 being tortured before doing something?” 

Migrant Care and Human Rights Watch have both documented how Indonesian domestic workers are often deceived during the recruitment process and made to pay large fees, leaving them heavily in debt. Once in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait they often work up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week. Many are not paid, and some are beaten or raped by their employers.

Several factors place migrant domestic workers at high risk of abuse, including their exclusion from labor laws, predatory recruitment practices, poor government oversight of both recruiters and employers, and immigration policies that facilitate abuses.

Hidayah dedicated herself to protecting migrant workers’ rights when, as a graduate student, she learned about a migrant domestic worker who had been raped in Saudi Arabia but who was unable to obtain redress.

Over the years, Hidayah has helped build a broad network of migrants’ rights activists to raise the profile of the abuses suffered by these women, who are often considered modern day heroines in their home countries for the money they earn. She has organized countless protests, brought about extensive media coverage, and pushed reforms with top policymakers in Indonesia’s parliament and the Ministries of Manpower, Migration, and Foreign Affairs.

Human Rights Watch honors Hidayah for her dedication to exposing and ending egregious abuses against Indonesian migrant domestic workers.


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