#IGiveADayOff: Yayas and moms in Singapore

Who knows their kids better? Is it the mothers or maids?

In a controversial video featuring mothers and maids being quizzed about the children they care for, 74% of the maids had more correct answers than the mothers.

Questions ranged from what the children want to become when they grow up, to their favorite subject at school, who their best friend or crush is. Then the heart tugging video asks the mothers, “Shouldn’t we spend more time with our children?” as a segue to their main message of “Let’s give domestic works their legal days off.”

The recent #IGiveADayOff campaign by ad agency Ogilvy Singapore for non-profit Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) triggered an online debate about the right of foreign domestic workers to a weekly day off and the reality of working mothers who don’t spend enough time with their children.

According to their study, 40% of Singapore’s foreign domestic workers do not have a weekly day off despite a law in 2013 that made it mandatory.

Many felt that though the campaign’s intention came from a good place, the approach of shaming mothers went somewhat amiss. It struck a nerve as it reflected the painful trade-off working mothers face – that between earning a living and spending time with their children.

'MUM OR MAID?' The video that tested mothers and maids on who knows their kids' better stirred controversy in Singapore. Screengrab from YouTube

‘MUM OR MAID?’ The video that tested mothers and maids on who knows their kids’ better stirred controversy in Singapore. Screengrab from YouTube

But unlike the working mothers depicted in the video, the trade-off faced by foreign maids who are also parents also stings.

Out of the 222,500 foreign domestic workers in Singapore, approximately 32% or 70,000 are Filipinos. These are women who don’t get to return home to their families at the end of every day. And despite many being denied the right to a day off by their employers, they persist to work overseas to provide a better future for their own children back home.

Cost of going home

While many maids are working mothers too, they don’t have the luxury of flying home whenever they want to.

The average monthly salary of a Filipino maid is SG$500, while a round-trip Singapore-Manila ticket costs approximately half of that (SG$250-$300).

Then there are many other expenses to consider, from homeward-bound remittances to surviving in a country twice labeled as the most expensive city in the world in recent years.

Unfair working conditions

As a collectivist culture, Filipino values are deeply rooted in the family. Regardless of liberal and Western influence over the years, the family is still the basic building block of our society.

With the physical and mental distance placed between loved ones, that very bond becomes strained for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Though having an emotional support system is important for anyone living abroad, it’s even more crucial for OFWs who work under unfair labor conditions, denied of their rights.

According to a Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) study, 27% of respondents said their employers have entered and searched their rooms or checked their phones, while 73% were restricted from communicating with their friends and family members.

The study also found that the maids tend to work long hours (a daily average of 13 hours), and 4 in 10 did not have a weekly day off. Almost a quarter of 700 women surveyed suffered from mental problems and only 54% received adequate medical attention when they fell sick.

The emotional debit

For many domestic workers, theirs is a familiar tale – that they are working overseas to support their family. OFW mothers are pillars of strength, breadwinners who can only show their love from 2,391 km away, one transfer at a time.They are lauded as unsung heroes by our government, often because their remittances help keep the Philippine economy afloat.

But who’s supporting them in return for the monetary assistance they provide? With every deposit into their Philippine bank account comes an emotional withdrawal for an OFW.

While Labor Day celebrates the achievement of workers around the world, Mother’s Day puts the spotlight on domestic workers who are mothers.

Though maids might know the children of their employers better than the parents do, we should take care not to write off the emotional needs and the rights of OFWs too.

View my original article on Rappler. 

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One thought on “#IGiveADayOff: Yayas and moms in Singapore

  1. well-written article. as much as I admire these women and their strength to sacrifice for their (or their children’s) financial well-being, my lament often turns into a resentment towards their home government for not being able to build and sustain a firm economic identity. obviously, things are easier said than done on that end but to see the pain in these workers’ eyes of not being able to go home should force the right people to reexamine what they understand about “economic prosperity” versus indentured servitude.

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