In order to empower foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Singapore with an understanding about the law and their rights, the Students4Migrants (S4M) team organises workshops titled ‘Law & You’. S4M Project Director, Phoebe Tan (Year 2), provides us a progress report on how the S4M team has engaged its target group in the past semester!
Over two weeks, students from the Students4Migrants group conducted two sessions of workshops for Foreign Domestic Workers (FDWs) from the HOME Shelter. The FDWs who live at the shelter are those who have experienced abuse, exploitation or suffered injuries at their workplace. Each session covered two topics which were designed specifically to cater to the issues Foreign Domestic Workers face, and that the topics covered were “Money Matters”, “Ending Work”, “Well-Being” and “Criminal Law”. For example, we taught the FDWs what they can do if their employer has not paid their salaries, or what happens if their employer wants to repatriate them. Or what basic needs they are entitled by law to be provided with, or what they should do if they find themselves victims of crimes, or what happens if they find themselves on the wrong side of the law?
The underlying theme connecting all the topics is the idea of “Empowerment”. From the start, we knew we did not want our workshops to be just like a lecture, simply inundating the FDWs with information. We wanted to let the women be empowered and feel that they are capable of seeking solutions to their problems. At the time, we were careful to always remind the FDWs to try and seek the best solutions that would benefit both themselves and their employers. Thus our approach was to encourage the FDWs to try and negotiate with their employers and come to a compromise where possible.
We wanted to make our workshops as engaging as possible, so we tried to have interactive activities that would get our message across. There was lots of time for discussions, skits, games and even an appearance by a Minion sock puppet. We were helped by the FDWs themselves, who were very responsive. They participated in the activities enthusiastically and were willing to share their experiences and stories – some sombre, others happy and funny.
In fact, we often got new insights and ideas from the FDWs through their sharing. Sometimes, they were able to come up with novel and interesting solutions that have not even occured to us. Through their sharing of real life experiences, we also learned a lot of the other possible unpleasant situations FDWs find themselves in. For example, we heard a story of a FDW who had to clean a 3-storey house and 3 cars, and take care of the children every day. As a result of the many chores assigned to her every day, she could only afford 4 hours of sleep a day. Listening to such stories also reminded us that these issues FDWs face are very real. I think this helps us to remember that there is a purpose to conducting such workshops as they could potentially help some FDWs.
After the second session, there was surprise for the FDWs. They were treated to a manicure done by Ruelia and Xue Kun. This was an idea by Prof Sheila – just to do something nice for the FDWs who came. The FDWs were very excited about it as they chose the colours and designs they wanted for their nails.
All in all, the first set of legal education workshops went well. We will continue to improve on our presentations, and we are looking forward to conducting more of the workshops to more FDWs by working the various embassies in the next semester! J