Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Power of togetherness

One thing that amazed me the most during my interaction with migrant women here in Hong Kong is the role and the power of organizing.

We know that the right to organize is the basic right of all workers. Much of the history of modern labor movement revolves around the struggle for the recognition of labor unions.

The right to unionize has also been the important achievement for migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong. Since the establishment of the first union, Asian Domestic Workers Union (ADWU) in 1989, the unionization of migrant workers is legally protected under the Hong Kong law.

Now there are quite a few number of unions representing migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong; ODWU, FDWU, IMWU, UNDW are some of the examples. It took me some time to learn these acronyms and differentiate one from the other – and frankly, I still get some mixed!
These unions have gained the official membership in Hong Kong’s general trade union as well.

There are also numerous non-union type of organizations of domestic workers. Although they are not members of trade unions, some of them are very active in demonstrations, such as the recent protests against the exclusion of domestic workers from the statutory minimum wage law.

My question is, how would you assess the actual effects of being in unions or organizations on women’s empowerment.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Empathy, Advocacy, Solidarity

The best thing about my internship is that I am getting an array of diverse exposure to issues of my interest, and are actually seeing progress on them every single day. 
How, exactly? 
Because my tasks as an intern exhibit a perfect combination of "research" and "advocacy".  

AMC, the host organization is conducting a follow-up research on the situation of foreign domestic workers (FDW) in Hong Kong. Research is consisted of two parts; first, a quantitative research through distributing questionnaires to FDW, and second, a qualitative research through conducting focused group discussions. 
My part of the research is qualitative, and I have begun to hold focused group discussions with various stakeholders- including FDW themselves, consulates of sending countries, trade unions, HK government, civil society and charity organizations. 

Here comes in my real learning process on research. AMC staffs have been particularly helpful and trusting in giving us (I am working with another intern from the NYC) the full responsibility of conducting these discussions. 
Even though I was not able to get involved in the overall research design, I feel like I'm actually reviewing and applying everything I learned in the first-year MPP core classes on statistics and econometrics. By studying how survey questions were made (avoid ordering and all other traps!), how to collect samples (relying on "quasi-scientific" methods as our executive director explains), how to instruct migrants to distribute them (ensuring the most accurate research methodologies), and how to draw conclusions (correlation but no causation!). 

Which naturally leads to the advocacy part. First I have the most valuable time with different migrant women every single day, to listen to their voices and stand with them. 
Moreover, I am excited to see how this research will actually be used in the real world, because the ultimate purpose of our research is to map the current realities faced by FDW, and use them as the resource for campaigns ensuring for more protection and enjoyment of basic labor and legal rights, such as 8HR workday, overtime compensation, restdays, social security and many more. 

That is why I have put three words above as the title of this post. 

Although not always a one-way, empathy is essential for advocacy and through it, we are able to achieve solidarity with people of starkly different backgrounds. 

On my way to the AMC Office in Kowloon. It's a busy industrial district full of working class local people, unlike more well-known fancy neighborhoods in HK. But I think I will miss the energy in the streets, cheap and delicious food!

As I try to meditate on these three words everyday, even for a short moment, I am also happy to see my research agenda being developed in more specific terms. I think I defined the "economic empowerment" quite narrowly, because I was trying to look for specific models of economic survival or success through training, saving schemes, or entrepreneurship. But now I am focusing more on the power of social capital or networks, advocacy work from the grassroots, and government policies. Hope to share more concrete ideas in the next post! 

Friday, July 2, 2010

July 1st rally

My first official day of internship began with just what I wanted, face-to-face interaction with migrant women!

July 1st has a special presence in contemporary Hong Kong's history. The year 1997 marks the handover of Hong Kong to People's Republic of China after a century. For pro-democratic civil society groups, the day is also of a particular importance, because in 2003 they held mass protests against the legislation restricting freedom of speech and expression. Since then, July 1st has been commemorated differently by two groups in Hong Kong.

For migrants, this year's rally served as a crucial platform to raise awareness for pressing issues, mainly the adoption of the Domestic Workers Convention at the ILO next year.

So, together with the AMC staffs, interns and migrant groups, I went out in the streets sizzling with a record-high temperature of 33 C (91 F) in the peak of the day. 

But I had so much fun! I've been to numerous demonstrations, peaceful as well as violent. As a journalist for social news in South Korea, where the tradition of "people power" continues even after the country's democratization, it was almost inevitable. I must confess that I have also been a part of angry and sad protesters at times. 

Yet this one was something! 
First, we marched across the heart of the Hong Kong City, from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to City Government Office in Central. Walking along the emptied streets with the "citizens" of Hong Kong, regardless of legal status or nationalities, I felt liberated, and felt deep desire from the grassroots demanding more democracy. 

Second, I was touched by the extraordinary commitment and passion from migrant women, mostly migrant domestic workers. In their rare day-off, they were out interacting, organizing, and advocating their rights themselves. 

Women representing the Filipina domesic workers' union gather at Victoria Park. 

Indonesian domestic workers getting ready for the rally, with creative face-prints and costumes. 

Indonesian women in hijab chant slogans for the rally. 

The day of campaigning concluded with another unexpected surprise. At one of the domestic workers association's office in Causeway Bay, I was treated with an amazing Indonesian food. The association  runs a small but perfect restaurant (and a shop) for fundraising on Sundays, where domestic workers enjoy their only day-off in a week.

It's been two days since the rally... but chants are still ringing in my ears...
"Domestic workers what do we want? No discrimination for us! Equal payment, equal rights!"