Domestic Workers’ Rights Video Hits Home in Asia

With 155 Million Views, USAID and IOM X Domestic Work Video Hits Home
Serene demands Lisa’s passport in Open Doors: Singapore video.
Workers and employers alike react to video with 155 million views
“I’m just doing what every other employer is doing. And you are not special.”

October 2017—“Treat people with respect so your children can do the same.”

Good advice from Facebook user Pearlena, and just one of 55,000 comments on the Open Doors: Singapore video drama that follows the story of Lisa, a young Filipina domestic worker, as she begins working for a Singaporean family and taking care of their daughter, June. She’s traveled thousands of miles for this job, but Lisa soon realizes it isn’t what she signed up for.

Within minutes of entering the home where her new job is located, Lisa is pressured into surrendering her work permit and passport to her employer, Serene, and forgoing her day off—all signs of forced labor. Her protests are met with indifference: “I’m just doing what every other employer is doing. And you are not special,” says Serene.

Produced by the International Organization for Migration’s IOM X project with USAID support, Open Doors premiered last year, aimed at preventing the exploitation of domestic workers in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.

In January of this year, the video struck a nerve. One Filipino user shared it on her Facebook page, where it gained momentum as thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers, employers and citizens from across the world began commenting on how much this story resonated with their own experiences. With 155 million views and more than 1.7 million likes, 1.5 million shares, and 55,000 comments, Open Doors: Singapore had clearly hit home with viewers.

"I was treated like this by my past employer,” Christine said. “Three hours of sleep every day, my passport was kept by her … I couldn’t leave and come back to their house without her checking my bag.”

Employers chimed in about how they know abuse is still happening but that they try to treat their domestic workers with respect.

One woman from a Muslim family noted that she employs a Christian domestic worker from Myanmar and is teaching her 2- and 3-year-old kids to respect her: “I tell them to say sorry and hug her every time they throw a tantrum at her,” she wrote. “They need to learn to respect elders despite race and religion.”

In the thousands of comments, one take-away message emerged, resonating with people not just in Singapore and the Philippines, but across the world: “Your children learn from you.”

"The script started off as a straightforward story about a maid’s ordeal,” said video director Daniel Yam. “Then we realized it would be more impactful if the story angle is driven by the employer—where she realizes her deeds have come back to haunt her.”

The climax of the film comes when Lisa, forced to wake up in the middle of the night to prepare food, accidentally spills a bowl of soup on Serene and her table covered in work papers. Seeing that everything is ruined, Serene lashes out and shoves Lisa against the wall. Only then does Serene realize that her daughter has been watching the whole time.

The following day, Serene is called in to June’s school. She learns that June had yelled at and pushed a school employee, eerily reminding her of the scene that unfolded the night before. Recognizing that June has been learning from her own actions, Serene sets out to make things right, giving Lisa back her passport and work permit and showing June that they both need to treat “auntie” Lisa with respect.

Domestic workers are employed in private homes, providing services such as cleaning, laundry, shopping, cooking and caring for children and the elderly. Of the estimated 67 million domestic workers worldwide, 35 percent are located in the Asia-Pacific region. It is estimated that 1.9 million domestic workers from the region are being exploited.

More than 110 million views later, Open Doors: Singapore reminds people to step back and realize how their actions affect those around them, instilling a simple message of basic humanity, and showing how viewers have the power to make these changes in their own lives.


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