Maids plummeting to their death is their own uneducated fault?
Sanne van Oosten
Once again, Singapore manages to shock me with its complete lack of human decency and civilization. The Bangkok Post featured an article which revealed a shocking statistic: “Eight Indonesian maids have fallen to their deaths from high-rise apartments in Singapore this year.” But not only this, it is seen as their own uneducated fault.
The women falling to their death usually do so in the process of hanging up laundry or trying to wash the outside of the windows of high-rise apartments. This is bad enough in itself, but the way Singaporean officials talk about it is shocking as well. The Singapore Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Halimah Yacob, said the following in the Bangkok Post: “Employers must constantly drum the message into their maids about being careful when cleaning windows. Once they do that, we will be able to save a lot of lives.”
Wait a minute, is he actually saying that these Singapore domestic workers don’t understand that cleaning the outside of the windows of a high-rise building is dangerous? Is he actually saying that the employers should teach their idiot domestic workers that heights are dangerous and that they should stay away from them? Is this some kind of joke?
But it gets even worse. The article explains the frequency of the deaths in the following way: “Most of the Indonesian maids in Singapore come from small villages, which may lead some to miscalculate the risk of working of high-rise exteriors”. So, if I understand correctly, it is their backwardness and small-town background that is making them plummet to their death? Great, it isn’t only the case that they are falling to their death whilst employed in completely unthankful jobs, they are also the ones to blame for it.
This brings me back to a Psychology 101 class I took in college. We learned about an experiment that had been conducted with infants of about six months old. They were placed on a sturdy and large glass plate. Under the middle of the plate there was quite a distance before it reached the ground. The infants were encouraged to crawl from one side of the plate to the other by having their parents waiting for them on the other side. But the infants didn’t cross the glass which had nothing under it. Instinctively, they understood that they have to be careful of heights. Even though they didn’t yet understand that they couldn’t fall through a sturdy glass plate, they did understand that they had to be careful of heights. Conclusion: it is an innate instinct to know to be careful of heights.
This means these Singapore officials and the Bangkok Post or anyone else will NEVER make me believe that the reason why these domestic workers are plummeting to their death is because they don’t understand they should be careful of heights. Nobody can make me believe that it is all due to the backwardness of these women that they are falling to their death.
What I do believe, however, is that these women live in subjugated circumstances. In which they are forced to complete certain household tasks, some of which are dangerous to their own lives. With employers who consider them to be less than human and undeserving of a day off or a proper room to sleep in, all they can do is complete the tasks that are asked from them. Even if these tasks involve going against basic human instincts that every person is born with. Modern day slavery, anyone?
No matter if this person is born in a small Indonesian village or in a spotless clean high-rise apartment building in Singapore, everyone knows they should be careful of heights.
Instead of advising employers to supply proper equipment to clean the outside of windows or instead of outsourcing window cleaning to professional companies, the Singapore Minister of State advises employers to explain to their maids how dangerous heights can be. They aren’t doing anything to facilitate real change, just lip service. I wonder if Singapore is really so civilized they claim to be.
Earlier, I wrote a blog about how new policies for domestic workers were moving the financial risks of becoming a maid in Singapore from the employer to the maid who is taking plenty of risks as it is (read this blog here).