Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Domestic workers indispensable in society

How does it feel, to be without domestic staff?

Any working couple relying on a cleaning woman to keep the house in order and a nanny to bring up the children knows the answer. Although the holiday absence of domestic staff may not be the end of the world, one thing is for sure: Without them life can be hard.

Yohana Eti, 32, a career woman who is adverse to doing household chores, had to get up at the crack of dawn every day during Idul Fitri.

"I had to run around the house from early morning, even before my kids got up," said Yohana of her recent experience during the absence of both her cleaning woman and her nanny for the holiday.

She had to take care of her two sons, eight-year-old Kevin and three-year-old Angga, all by herself because her nanny had gone home for eight days and her husband was on duty at the factory where they both work.

"I had to pay extra attention to them, especially in the day time," said Yohana who clearly feels uncomfortable about the closeness of her children and their nanny.

She also had to do all of the cooking and laundry for the entire family.

Yohana, who has been married for seven years, and has had seven housekeepers in the interim, said the most difficult part of domestic work was trying to prepare meals while watching the children simultaneously.

"Last year, my mother was with us for the holiday so she could help us a bit, but this year was my first time entirely without staff and it was really hard," said Yohana who works at a beef canning factory in Tomang, West Jakarta.

Frustrated after only a day of domestic drudgery, Yohana took refuge at Mercury hotel in Ancol, North Jakarta, from Oct. 25 to 26.

"It was a total headache, I'm not used to taking care of the kids. I felt like I was botching up everything, so I called the hotel and luckily they still had some rooms available.

"I was forced to spend a whopping Rp 1.8 million, that is twice the amount I pay my household help in a month," said the woman who pays her cleaning woman Rp 300,000 (about US$33) monthly, and her nanny Rp 600,000.

"I can now understand how hard it must be to be a domestic worker. We really should treat them more like family because they fill in for us when we can't be there and keep the clutter away," said the resident of Cakung, East Jakarta.

Another couple, Ridaya and Rahmi Yunita, who have 18-month-old twins named Rensi and Rahmi, tried a different strategy for Idul Fitri, when their housekeeper and nanny took a vacation. They transported their twins to Rahmi's parents' home in Temanggung, Central Java, for two weeks for a holiday visit, and also in the hopes that Grandma could help with the children.

The couple spent a total of Rp 3.2 millions for the trip, but the strategy did not work. Rahmi's aging parent could not help much and they ended up having to take care of the twins by themselves.

"The life rhythm of the babies is so different and we are not used to it. Just to bathe and dress them is a struggle, and feeding them is even worse," said Ridaya, who works at a domestic non-governmental organization in Kalibata, South Jakarta.

The couple praised their household help, saying: "They are extraordinary people. We never imagined how hard their burden was. They spend more than 15 hours daily taking care of our children; that's far more than the normal working hours for any adult. They deserve better treatment and better wages."

According to Federika Tadu Hungu, a development sector consultant: "Domestic staff are a necessity nowadays. The traditional role of man as breadwinner is now under challenge. Women, as well as men, now have to work in order to make a reasonable living."

Federika, who studied at the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands, and has written two books about gender and development, added that: "As a result, the care-giving, such as laundering, cooking, washing and looking after the children, which has been regarded traditionally as the woman's role has been shifted to a third party, such as a housekeeper or babysitter."

"Therefore, domestic staff should be regarded as professionals and paid properly," she wrote.

The Jakarta Post, Saturday, November 18, 2006

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