It's time to start thinking seriously about my thesis, better known by two letters that strike fear into every ISS student's heart - the RP (Research Paper). After agonising for days between elderly poverty in Singapore and a vague postmodern idea of the self-conceptions of foreign domestic workers, coming across this news article on Indonesian student-maids was pure luck.
Apparently there are about 100 or so Indonesian maids that are studying for a degree in public administration through weekly classes (and I bet, a lot of homework) at the Indonesian school at Siglap Road. What's so amazing about this is that most Indo maids do not get a compulsory day off, unlike Filipino maids (the Philippine government has made it a law), so I think these women's confidence in negotiating and determination in continuing their studies is rather exceptional, and worthy of some research.
Specifically, I want to research on how they negotiate power relations with their employers and the state to go to school. If I were to meet one of these women, I might likely dismiss her as maybe having an exceptionally compassionate employer. But there are 500 more women who are taking various courses in computer literacy, English, sewing and cooking. Although I think I'll focus my research on the small, manageable group of 100 undergraduates, the total numbers of student maids are surprising and I wish I had more time to research this group too!
But for now I'm looking forward to interviewing these women, and to give a face to our helpers whom we often see in terms of their labour. I think the Singaporean government, through the laws governing maids, construct an image of them as being naive and in need of control. This is shown through the need for employers to pay high levies as guarantees, the rule of immediate deportation if found pregnant, etc.
The media also plays a part - creating an image of them as deviant (sneaking off at night to meet Bangladeshi boyfriends) and at the same time, victims (of sexual assault and abuse at the hands of their employers). In all this, we don't know what the maid has to say for her own self and as her own person.