Consuming the transnational family: Indonesian migrant domestic workers to Saudi Arabia

  • Silvey R
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There is heated debate in contemporary Indonesia about the rights and regulation of transnational women migrants, specifically about the 'costs to families' of women working overseas, but little attention has been given to women migrants' own views of family or women's own motivations for migration. In this article, which is based on field work in a migrant-sending community in West Java, I focus on migrant women's narratives of transnational migration and employment as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. I contribute to the literature on gender and transnational migration by exploring migrants' consumption desires and practices as reflective not only of commoditized exchange but also of affect and sentiment. In addition, I show in detail how religion and class inflect low-income women's narrations of morally appropriate mothering practices. In conclusion, I suggest that interpreting these debates from the ground up can contribute towards understanding the larger struggles animating the Indonesian state's contemporary relationships with women and Islam. Since at least the early colonial period Indonesian women have migrated from rural areas to work as domestic servants in urban households, but only since 1970 have they migrated overseas in large numbers to find employment in that sector (Krisnawaty et al. 2003: 3). With the globalization of Indonesian women's migration, migrant women's rights, morals and protection have emerged as focal points of national public debate and institutional activity. Specifically, since the 1990s growing numbers of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Indonesia have begun to focus on women's issues (Robinson and Bessell 2002) and migrants' rights (Abdul Rahman 2004; and Gurowitz 2000 on Malaysia). In addition, in 2002 the Indonesian government began to develop new monitoring, policy and support initiatives geared towards improving the protections available to migrant women abroad. 1 Most recently, the International Labour Organization has spearheaded a major new research and public information campaign focused on domestic workers in Southeast Asia. 2

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  • Rachel Silvey

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