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Sample Chapter from The Word for World is Work: The Life of Women

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Ricar now had to support her niece who was six years old. The child had been abandoned by Ricar’s sister-in-law. As such, she had to come back to work in Singapore in order to support both her daughter and niece. I asked her who was there to take care of her daughter and niece. Ricar told me that her daughter is now 16 years old. As such, her daughter can take care of herself as well as Ricar’s niece—though Ricar checks on them every day. Ricar stated that she has to work in order to support them. However, she also shared that she now has a good employer who gives her a leave of 15 days to go home every year. Her story has a somewhat happy ending —though Ricar’s World is still clearly filled with Obligations.

Conclusions

In this chapter we have offered stories of hope, abuse, change and obligation These stories convey the nature of aspirations—both narrow and broad—that these women bring to their work in Singapore homes. A few of the women have aspired to education, a home and even a business of their own. However, many of the FDWs we have studied had less ambitious (but just as noteworthy) aspirations: they sought employment as domestic servants so that they could send most of the money they have earned back home. Like many of the early Mill Girls to whom we turned in the first section of this book, there is a remarkable commitment on the part of many FDWs to the welfare of their own families. Tragically, this commitment sometimes is not reciprocated. Stories of FDW obligations to family are sometimes coupled with stories of abuse and betrayal on the part of relatives back in their home country.

Psychological and physical costs accrue with the struggles encountered by these women. In seeking to make a living in a World that is filled with Work these women often must somehow find the strength to endure multiple sources of abuse and a pervasive lack of control. As Ursula Le Guin notes, an all-encompassing World is one in which all parts of this world are intricately interwoven. Such is the case with the women working as domestic servants in Singapore—and probably in many other countries for which there is no other Word for World than Work. All aspects of their life are embedded in this mind and heart of domestic labor. These women never really leave the work world, even when they return to their hometown. Furthermore, it is a World of Work that is not always appreciated by those who employ them in their homes nor by the broader community in which they reside. Taking all of this into account, we must once again ask a disturbing question: is this the 21st Century version of slave labor? Perhaps the actual stories told (or written) by the FDWs in Chapter Seven will help us make this determination. We will now listen to these stories.

 

 

 

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