‘We need to fight back’: Erwiana Sulistyaningsih campaigns for domestic workers’ rights at home and abroad
After suffering horrific abuse at the hands of her former employer, the 26-year-old Indonesian says governments must do more to protect women who go overseas to find work
She was wheelchair-bound and covered in bruises and lacerations when tortured former domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih had to await her recovery in a hospital back home in Indonesia some four years ago.
But through the dark times, it was also where she found her activist’s spirit, following the gruesome assault against her that captured global attention.
She revealed to the Post on Friday how she had taken the fight back home over the past few years, and had been fighting for the rights of other domestic workers, while also helping their families.
“Before when I was sick in hospital, the members always accompanied me, telling me I could get justice,” she recalled, of what happened after the assault on her between 2013 and 2014.
She was referring to members of the Keluarga Besar Buruh Migran Indonesia – or Association of Returned Migrants and Families in English.
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After her discharge from hospital, she joined the group and had been assisting helpers back home, who were sent not just to Hong Kong, but all over the world.
She said she provided help to those who had been deported or had suffered from illness.
Some suffered from depression as a result of their overseas employment, she said, adding that paying heed to the helpers’ family back home was also an important part of her task because a lot of the time they were also affected.
“We also campaign for regulations,” she said, stressing another important aspect of her work.
She said there was a need to do so because sometimes the regulations tended to be skewed towards employment agencies, which charge fees to help find jobs overseas.
“We need to fight back,” the 26 year old said.
“The government should be supporting the migrants because we are workers. We are not slaves,” she added.
She was subjected to seven months of torture at the hands her former employer Law Wan-tung between May 2013 and January 2014.
Law was convicted and jailed for six years in 2015 after the helper’s ordeal made international headlines, putting the grim working conditions of some domestic helpers in Hong Kong under the spotlight.
She won her civil claim against Law on Wednesday, and was awarded HK$890,430, which she said would be used to cover her medical expenses and her projected future earnings, after she was unable to work due to the injuries she sustained.
When the Post interviewed her following Law’s conviction two years ago, the former helper appeared timid, and had to rely on her interpreter throughout. But on Friday, the young woman spoke in English with a firm conviction, with her friend helping with translation only when needed.
Since her abuse, Erwiana has been focusing on her recovery, as well as her bachelor’s degree in economic management at the Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta – a four-hour drive from her home village in Ngawi. She was given a scholarship, for which she said she was thankful.
Asked what she would do after her graduation next year she said: “I don’t know yet. But I’ll still be advocate to help other migrant workers,” she said.