[Days and Nights of Family Carers in the Epidemic] Foreword
migrants solidarity committee autonomous 8a
Let’s talk about family carers on this coming International Women’s Day in the epidemic.
Few masks left. While residents are queuing for surgical masks, some carers are unable to leave the house and their family members of whom require continuous care alone. All of a sudden, the life outside is compressed into the house: Class is suspended but learning must be continued. Children are“locked”at home with no chance to go out and release their energy. Housewives find it difficult to go grocery shopping while looking after the kid. Working mums have to take a leave. Adults working from home have no idea how to continue their work while getting along with the children. Grassroots workers who cannot take a leave might have to take their kids to work. When the conflicts between family members are intensified, you might still breathe if you are lucky enough to just have a bigger enough house which allows your own space, otherwise, you have to endure the conflict in a subdivided house of maybe a hundred square feet. Housework has become heavier: bleach and disinfectant are hurting the hands. Doing the laundry has already cost half a day. The epidemic breaks out, and people are stressed out in the house.
There is an African proverb: ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. It’s also true here today. It takes a society to support these care work, let it be the care for children, the elderly, patients or people of different abilities. However, not many would like to recognize this collective responsibility, nor would the government. Public care services like child care, elderly care and home services are scarce, so individual families have to take up the responsibility themselves. This is a social depreciation of care work.
In these small families, it is nearly always women who bear all the responsibility of care. They are mums and housewives. Why are they supposed to be home? Don’t they have any pursuits of their own but pinching pennies and cooking? Then why their domestic work is not counted as ‘work’? Why unpaid domestic work is justified? These are problems of gender inequality that have been raised for hundreds of years with the costs of countless women’s lives.
Some may say, no, Hong Kong is a society where men and women are equal. See how many iron ladies in job scene nowadays. Oh, we haven’t mentioned another group of women called “jeje”(a Cantonese term referring to migrant domestic workers by Hong Kong families). Some families have the financial ability to “outsource” the domestic and care work to migrant domestic workers (MDWs), who have left their home and come all the way long to work in Hong Kong. Who are they? Why would they bother to come and look after someone else’s kid? Don’t they have jobs in their own countries? That is a story of the transfer of benefits between labour export and import states. Meanwhile, a series of institutional and social discrimination against migrant workers of different races are happening in Hong Kong: Employers require domestic workers (who they usually use some discriminating words to refer like“piney (Filipino)/indo (Indonesian) servant”) to be obedient/”smart working”. MDWs are exploited in terms of their salary, working hours and living conditions under the compulsory live-in rule. And all of these exploitation are built on the depreciation of domestic work, yet it creates an illusion of gender equality .
The big picture is like that, but the life story of each carer is not the same. Not everyone can fit in such narration. Despite the employment relationship, what else can happen between an “Jeje”MDW and a “Madam”female employer? How about male carers? What are they facing? Given that there are sufficient public services, how much self-determination autonomous can the carer and caree have? Carers’ life in the epidemic reflects the complication above, but what have they explored while processing, reacting to or resisting the problems (if not opening up an entry towards more problems)?
We planned to conduct a series of interviews before the Women’s Day, but when we tried to contact potential interviewees, we encountered problems that are very typical for carers: time constraint. They are all struggling at home, how could they be free to talk to us? And we also heard some sad responses: An MDW was unable to meet us since she is not allowed to have a day-off. It is also difficult for her to express herself freely through the phone in the employer’s house. A carer for the victim of work accident had concerns on whether we are from the insurance company trying to minimize compensation for the worker. A friend with different abilities living in a residential care home had a bad network connection with frequent drop-offs during the interview. So, we will take it slow. We hope the care for carers can be extended after 8th March and we’ll share our observations and thoughts together with you.