Health Meanings Among Foreign Domestic Workers

Migration is a key trend in the context of globalization with increasing numbers of people leaving their home countries in search of better job opportunities. One key trend in global migration patterns has been the growing proportion of women leaving their home countries for employment (Allotey & Zwi, 2007). The International Organization on Migration (2009) estimates that as much as 49 percent of global migration is undertaken by women.

 

Migrant female workers are often employed in a household setting to perform duties such as housekeeping, and taking care of young children and the elderly. These women are classified as “foreign domestic workers” (FDW) in Singapore, and originate from countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Bangladesh. According to Ehrenreich and Hochschild (2004), FDW are in high demand in wealthier nations where women wish to join or remain in the workforce. In Singapore, the FDW population has increased from 140,000 in 2002 to 208,400 in 2012 (MOM, 2012b; TWC2, 2011a).

 

However, previous research has documented that poorer migrant populations face struggles in negotiating and adjusting to employment in other cultural contexts, specifically here in Singapore. Domestic helpers are especially vulnerable to difficulties in accessing necessary resources such as health care and social support. Consequently, this immigrant population continues to exhibit large health disparities from the resident population of the host country.

 

In collaboration with migrant welfare organisation HOME, this study aims to understand the lived experiences of FDW in Singapore as constrained and enabled by global and local structural conditions. Not only does the study hope to bring the voices of these disenfranchised women to mainstream discursive spaces, it also intends to help them develop community-based, participatory health solutions.

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