Mixed Messages

Expat women, particularly expat mothers are often mocked for their employment of home help. Unless you’ve been raised in a world where home help is the norm, the notion of having a ‘stranger’ living in the family home seems both awkward and unnecessary. I was sure when we took off on our expat adventure that we’d be going it alone. When we moved to Jakarta it took me about three weeks to change my mind. There were many reasons: the house was huge, I couldn’t speak the language when people came to knock on the gate, I had a husband who travelled which meant I was often alone with a new baby. Probably the most significant reason for the change of heart was the fact that I was constantly being asked if I would employ someone. There were literally thousands of starving people in Jakarta, the salary of a housekeeper could not only feed an entire local family, it could help build a house, pay school fees, and keep a sick relative alive.

I’ve witnessed life changing moments for women who have taken on roles as domestic workers, but there are also the horror stories. Just this week in Doha an Indonesian housekeeper was beaten so brutally she was hospitalised. In our time in Asia I heard stories involving sexual abuse, unsatisfactory accommodation (staff being made to sleep under the stairs) and the withholding of salaries. I have heard of housekeepers who were made to work seven days a week, fifteen hours a day. As an expat we’ve all seen the silent housekeeper walking three steps behind her employer on a weekend and wondered exactly when she was given a day off. This is why organisations such as TWC2 exist in Singapore.

TWC2 is an organization that is dedicated to assisting low-wage migrant workers when they are in difficulty. If you visit their website you’ll see there’s a number of programs they have running to assist and highlight the issues facing foreign workers in Singapore. Unfortunately you’ll also find this – the most blatant piece of mother shaming I’ve seen in a long time. Produced by Olgivy and Mather this advertisement shows a group of mothers who are asked questions about their child, their answers are then compared to those of their housekeeper.

I have a different idea for the ad, perhaps you could involve the entire family? Perhaps you could have BOTH employers and the child together in the frame and ask them the same questions, except this time make the questions about the housekeeper. What did she have for breakfast? What does she dream about? Who does she like? Is she happy? Perhaps you could talk about employment contracts, treating people with respect, and making sure the person who is looking after your child is not exhausted, homesick and heartbroken.

You missed the mark on this one Ogilvy and Mather, your ad is sexist and dilutes the real issues at play. You’ve put the onus on the mother (do any of these children have a father, what were his statistics?) when you could have been talking about basic human rights. It’s about being a better human, not being a better mother – shame on you for suggesting otherwise.

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