Domestic Migrant Workers as a Non-Traditional Security Issue, How Feminist Security Studies can Contribute?
(Kader Nasyiatul ‘Aisyiyah PD Kota Yogyakarta)
“Migrants united will never be divided!” chanted the many women joined march by International Migrant Alliance, the first-ever global alliance of Migrant Worker, in commending the labor’s day. 27 years ago the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant and Members of their Family was signed as multilateral treaty by United Nations which governs the protection of migrant workers and families policy. Still, many migrant workers are insecure. Lola’s story on Alex Tizon’s piece “My Family’s Slave” is not a history, the same agony still remains today.
International Labour Organization (ILO) reported there are 11.5 million migrant domestic workers worldwide which represents 17.2 per cent of a total estimate of 67.1 million domestic workers globally. Analyzing as a share of migrant workers, migrant domestic workers (MDW) represent 7.7 per cent of a global estimate of 150.3 million migrant workers. Disaggregated by sex, this share is even higher, representing 12.7 per cent, or 8.45 million of the 66.6 million female migrant workers worldwide. Domestic work is a highly female dominated sector which represents 73 per cent of all migrant domestic workers is women (Gallotti, 2015). The link between domestic work and female international labour migration is well established which created the feminization of labour (ILO).
These women become the most exploited and abused workers in the world. They are potentially subjected to physical and psychological abuse and sexual exploitation (Explore Women's Right). In East Asia, MDWs face exploitation and discrimination largerly left out of countries labour policy and legislation. 71 per cent of MDW in East Asia experienced exploitation during the recruitment process, 49 per cent suffered limited freedom of movement, 32 per cent had identity and travel documents confiscated and 63 per cent faced exploitative practice while working abroad (Islam, 2016). This plight categorized them as a vulnerable worker due to the condition of uncertainty hours of work and income, risk of having their workplace entitlements denied, and lack of capacity to secure (Sargeant, 2014).
As a phenomenon of globalisation, MDW can conclude in to the Non-Traditional Security (NTS) issues. NTS emerged in attempt to search a new security doctrine that could explain the overlapping nature of nation state’s various interests, one that could reconcile the traditional challenges facing states with non-traditional threats (Siulun, 2008, p. 61). To date, at least there are two approach which mostly be used in the migrant labour issues, first is Securitizing approach by the Copenhagen School and second is human security approach.
Securitization emphasized on speech-act approach where there is securitizing actor and referent object. According to the five sectors—military, environmental, economic, societal, political— offered by Securitization theory, migration is belong to the societal sector. Societal insecurity only exists when communities define a potentiality as a threat for them. Buzan and Waever argue that societal security is about collective group and their identity, it is totally different with social security which is about individuals and is largely economic and refers to individual level. Thus, they only use the term societal for communities with an identities. It is somehow problematic when societal term is often juxtapose to society term to designate the wider and unclear state population (Buzan & Waever, 1998 ). Following such definitions, MDW will be more likely to be a migration issue and be seen as a receiving country’s threat rather than humanitarian issue. The case of increasing undocumented migrant labour in Malaysia for instance, the victims are remarked as public enemy by Malaysian enforcements that make them treated in terms of threat to national security (Kudo, 2013). However, securitization remains the state’s privilege while extending security beyond the state as a referent object.
A better analysis offered by the human security framework. It brings the focus from state to human dimension of migration. Consequently, this framework produces a concrete policy like treaty and policy both in the host and home country. The home country will held a capacity building for migrant workers since it argues the problem is based on the quality of the worker. While, the host country will make sure the protection by joining and ratifying the human right convention especially those which concern on protection of migrant workers. The question is, is it systematic enough to deal with the structural and cultural problem of MDW?
Firstly, there is no legal standard for the quality requirement. Secondly, the norm treaties and convention does not really see the constructed problem of MDW. Let say that human security approach give a wider sight in this case, but to unfold what behinds this issue need a gender as category of analysis. Without explaining what becomes the fundamental problem, still, it cannot reach a radical solution.
In this lacuna, the Feminist Security Studies potentially will shed light. Seeing FSS only for a grievance of women in the military war or arms conflict is like wasting the rich analysis of feminism into the vain. I argue that FSS is appropriate to analyze the DMW issue. The framework can be taken from Jennifer K Lobasz’s analysis on human trafficking issue (in Sjoberg, 2010). Since the human trafficking issue and domestic migrant working are both victimize women in a dominant scale, in this way both are able to make women as the category of analysis in which the human security theories do not. Lobasz divulges the lack of traditional security approach to international human trafficking on two levels: ethical and pragmatical. Ethically, traditional security is wrong by making the state as referent object, not people, that pragmatically resulted the policy product focuses on state. Thus, feminists have made two essential contributions to the analysis of international human trafficking—which can be applied to MDW issue too—there are: expanding the focus of analyses to account for the exploitation of trafficked persons and paying attention to how the concept of human trafficking is socially constructed in the first place (Sjoberg, 2010, p. 216). This feminist contribution in human trafficking approach can be a basic in mapping approach to MDW as security issue.
Yet, how FSS can be applicable enough to this issue?
To formulate the FSS more comprehensive in analysing MDW, it needs some contributions from the Marxian lense and even more postcolonial. In this realm, the notion of segregated work by gender may give an important clue to unfold the vulnerability of domestic migrant worker. There is a division of working, domestic and public. This division naturally be seen as a gendered work, where women are mostly engaged to domestic, while man to public. It is matter when the domestic work assumed as immaterial work since it does not produce any material aspects as public does, this work then become undervalued (Federici, 2012). This construction influences the division of labour where household work does not have a prestige and women as the second sex are congruent with this job. While MDW’s oppression is conducted in racial and class hierarchy, a sisterhood solidarity cannot only based on gender identity but has to consider the political and cultural context like what Mohanty adressed. Henceford, FSS need not only a Marxian perspective but also a post-colonial lense since the phenomena of MDW is effect of global capitalist system in the post-colonial era.
After all, FSS still need to develop both ontologically and epistemologically in order to give systematic analysis in the realm of the MDW issue. It is important for FSS since MDW is an international issue involving many aspects such as economy, culture, race and state domain. Seeing it from the lensse of FSS will probably change the policy not merely about how to strengthen the skill of labour from the sender countries, nor making many new norm legalizations such as treaty and convention. The solution should concern to the construction of domestic job itself. With such analysis, there will be a policy of making the domestic worker as same as productive work by providing security, such as a right for having a life insurance, fixed waged and fixed working time.
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Federici, S. (2012). Wages against Housework (1975) in Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle. Brooklyn, NY: PM Press.
Gallotti, M. (2015). Global estimates on migrant workers . Geneva, Switzerland: ILO Labour Migration Branch.
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Kudo, S. (2013). Securitization of undocumented migrants and the politics of insecurity in Malaysia. Procedia Environmental Sciences 17, 947 – 956.
Sargeant, M. (2014). Domestic Workers: Vulnerable Workers in Precarious Work. E-Journal of International and Comparative, Volume 3, No. 1, 1 - 19.
Siulun, M. G. (2008). Security and Migration in Asia:The Dynamics of Securitizaation. USA and Canada: Routledge.
Sjoberg, L. (2010). Gender and International Seurity: Feminist Perspective. USA and Canada: Routledge.
 "My Family's Slave" is a non-fiction short story biography by the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Alex Tizon. It was posthumously published as the cover story of the June 2017 issue of The Atlantic. See on https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/06/lolas-story/524490/
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