A Brief Interruption
In a recent post on the limitations of traditional news I mentioned the importance of looking past events, of understanding happenings as a sort of ill-defined continuum. The point should always be to ask what happened next, and what should happen now. That entails speculation, of course, and ways of anticipating the future, to the extent possible. It’s also a fundamentally activist position, moving past the passive reception of news, actively seeking evidence of change where none seems apparent. So with that in mind I’m putting my short series on mental health and human rights on hold for while to offer an example of what news might look like, after the event.
Frequent readers of this blog will know that I’ve recently been involved in a difficult campaign to have the Hong Kong police thoroughly investigate the disappearance and death of Vicky Flores, a Filipino domestic helper who lived and worked in my community of Discovery Bay. It seems increasingly likely that they’re taking the easy route to an explanation, which the major English language newspaper foreshadowed in an article claiming that Vicky had “occult-links“. In many ways, the group to which I belong – the Justice for Vicky Flores Concern Group – is powerless to change that insinuation, but we have been fortunate in raising the profile of migrant worker rights in a small part of Hong Kong.
A week or so back Joan Gill, a writer for the community magazine Inside DB called me to ask questions for a feature article on Vicky and what has been happening in response to her death. She also spoke to Edwina Antonio, another member of the group and a tireless helper of migrant workers in Hong Kong. Joan wanted to know more about the situation as it stood, and what we wanted to do in the future, what we needed to do in the future. I was very pleased to offer my thoughts, and hopeful that the article would highlight the difficulties faced by women who earn less here in a month than what many people spend on lunch over the same period.
The result was astounding, and a perfect example of what the media, even the community media, can do if it wants to look past events. The following is a modified version of a post on the article I published earlier on A Death in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, Back in Discovery Bay
The current issue of Inside DB, the Discovery Bay community magazine, features a three-page article on reactions to Vicky’s disappearance and death. Written by Joan Gill, who conducted interviews with Bethune House Director Edwina Antonio and blog administrator Mike Poole, the article is a comprehensive guide to what has happened, the conditions under which domestic helpers work in Hong Kong, and what should and will happen in the future.
The message is simple: we all need to work against the isolation and exploitation of domestic helpers to ensure that mysterious circumstances surround no more disappearances and deaths.
Edwina Antonio, whose over-worked organisation provides shelter for domestic helpers forced to flee their places of residence, has been an integral part of the Justice for Vicky concern group since its inception. She, and other members of migrant worker support organisations who are part of the group, have helped us understand the extent to which domestic helpers in Hong Kong are unable to communicate their concerns, both work-related and personal, for fear of retaliation by capricious employers.
In the article, Edwina mentions that
some helpers are not allowed to talk to other people or leave the house for the first three months of employment . . . and after that they may only get one or two days off a month. Although by contract a helper is given 24 hours of rest on their day off, many have a curfew imposed in them.
Whatever led to Vicky Flores’ death, had she been in an environment that did not restrict her movement for most of her waking hours and did not encourage silence in the face of difficulties, everyone – including the police – would have been less likely to grasp at explanations that have little basis in fact.
The examples of the conditions under which helpers live that Edwina gives in the article are common, despite protestations to the contrary from some commentors on A Death in Hong Kong. They are dangerous and have to change.
I’ll be seeking permission from the magazine to upload a full version of the article to A Death in Hong Kong, and will provide a link in the sidebar here. If you look closely at the cover image above you’ll notice that the tag line reads ‘help for domestic helpers: saying no to servitude and slavery’.
That starts by spreading the news.
Normal Service Will Resume Soon
Barring any further interruptions, the second part of my short series on mental health and human rights will appear next. The post will focus on abuse, the family, social responsibility and one individual’s determination to move on. A hint of the workaround I promised in my last post is in the tile: Art Thou a Survivor?