Indonesian President Joko Widodo wants to stop his country’s women traveling abroad to work as domestic helpers, saying the practice brings shame to the nation.
About 182,000 Indonesian women went overseas last year for jobs as domestic workers and caregivers in wealthier countries, largely Malaysia and Singapore, government data showed. There are 4.2 million registered overseas workers, including men.
Remittances sent home by Indonesians abroad totaled US$8.4 billion last year, according to the World Bank, lagging only the Philippines and Vietnam in Southeast Asia.
Stopping women from traveling abroad to work means the government will have to create more jobs at home. Indonesia’s unemployment rate was 5.9 percent last year, compared with 6 percent in the Philippines and 3.1 percent in Malaysia.
One group representing migrant workers said any ban would violate the constitution and that Widodo should focus on protecting workers abroad, not ban them from leaving.
“This is a knee-jerk reaction that is based on a patriarchal and discriminatory attitude towards women,” Migrant Care said in a statement. “Every Indonesian has the right to work.”
Widodo made his comments last weekend on his return from a trip to Malaysia, home to hundreds of thousands of Indonesian domestic helpers. He told attendees at a political rally that having Indonesian maids overseas affected the country’s “dignity” and that it made him “truly ashamed” during bilateral meetings in the country.
He is not the first president to voice his discontent with Indonesian maids overseas: His predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, expressed a similar desire to stop domestic helpers traveling abroad. His government placed a moratorium on maids going to Saudi Arabia in 2011 after a female worker was convicted of murder and beheaded.
Reports of abuse of domestic workers in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and the Middle East have led to calls for greater government protection. Indonesians working as helpers abroad usually have only a primary or secondary education and cannot speak foreign languages, making them especially vulnerable to exploitation.
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