Making migrant domestic work visible: The rights based approach to migration and the ‘challenges of social reproduction’
In recent years, the production of a gendered and racialised underclass of non-citizen domestic workers has come to play an increasingly important role in meeting the socially reproductive needs of middle class Malaysian households. This article considers the extent to which rights based approaches to migrant worker rights endorsed by both International Organisations and regional and local (Malaysian) nongovernmental organisations are sufficient in tackling the problems and issues faced by female migrants employed as domestic workers. The first part of the article critically engages with the dominant 'rights based approach to migration' endorsed, in particular, by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) suggesting that this approach fails to make a substantive commitment to gender justice, not least, because of the way in which domestic work remains a largely invisible and frequently unrecognised form of employment. The second part of the article draws upon data collected from key activist organizations engaged in struggles on behalf of migrant domestic workers in Malaysia. This discussion is situated within the broader context of debates over the role of economic rights within feminist understandings and critiques of human rights and 'rights based approaches'. Noting the dominance of the issue of violence against women (VAW) within feminist human rights discourse, I argue that whilst the VAW framework is a useful tool for understanding how and why women migrants may be vulnerable to abuse, it is perhaps not enough and there is a need to think more critically about how questions of women's economic status and 'rights' feature in discussions of the gendered and racialised nature of (care) work in the global economy.
Review of International Political Economy