[About the Picture: I was privileged to attend the Filipino Independence Day Parade with my friend and classmate Alex a few weeks ago. I felt so welcomed, it is definitely one of the best days I’ve had in Hong Kong so far. We got rained on quite a bit, and while some were ducking for cover, it didn’t ruin the festivities one bit. I admire the domestic workers so much – always so warm and friendly, they seem so open and welcoming towards people despite all they’ve been through. Alex tells me this is a characteristic of Filipino culture.]
I want to expand on the reason I’m in Hong Kong and provide some background about how I arrived at my decision to choose this program.
One of the primary elements of the International Affairs graduate program at the New School is the Field Program. It was a big factor in my decision to choose the program because I wanted to have a foundation in theory with a focus and end goal towards practice. As my first year progressed, I began to think more about law and its potential in relation to human rights, becoming increasingly interested in taking an advocacy role.
Enter Helpers for Domestic Helpers, an organization in Hong Kong that allows me to experiment with this role. They offer legal advice and services to domestic workers who travel primarily from the Philippines to work in Hong Kong. I’m working with them here for two months.
Domestic workers maintain a special niche given they are legal migrants but are also prey to a system crafted to exploit them. They generate a huge amount of income for both their home and host government. They are big business, increasingly becoming commodified as economically ailing Southeast Asian countries compete to export the best “product”, their domestic workers. I hope to go more into depth about the trials that domestic workers in Hong Kong face as part of my writings on the blog.
In the past I’ve approached law with trepidation because it frustrates me to feel like I have to work within a system that is so flawed on a fundamental level. A perfect example of my frustration is the Catch-22 concerning domestic workers and their rights in Hong Kong. The bottom line is, these women need their working conditions improved in a myriad of ways. At the same time, their issues result from a complex, structural (legal, cultural, political, economic all entwined) system that is designed to exploit and subjugate them.
Introducing legal protections only further entrenches a system that treats them like commodities. It does not solve the problems that force them to migrate – the lack of jobs in their countries and the misdirected political will that pours resources into the Capitalist juggernaut of the region – it only serves as a stopgap for a much larger problem. For me, it is important that these women have the opportunity to make a living without being forced to leave their homes and their families.
I find that I’m constantly asking the question about where I want to put my energies – towards trying to get people more immediate help for their desperate situations while possibly promoting and spreading a system I don’t agree with, or trying to work for more lasting, yet very unlikely change. At this point, all I know is I have to stop asking the question and start doing something. (It seems counterproductive, but does it have to be either/or?)