Australia Awards in Indonesia

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10 Feb 2016

Relationships between Women Migrant Workers and their Children in Indonesia: Feminist Perspectives, Community Values and Motherhood

Elisabeth Dewi, September 2010
Victoria University

The focus of this thesis is to examine the forging of new arrangements about motherhood amongst Indonesian female domestic workers (FDWs), the mothers, who leave their children to work overseas (mainly in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia for this study). These mothers are actively involved in the process of building alternative constructions of motherhood: models of motherhood that collide with both the dominant Western, White, middle-class models of motherhood and the most common Indonesian ideological notions of motherhood.

Using a feminist perspective through interviews and observation during the fieldwork  in both villages in West and Central Java, this thesis seeks to give voice to the viewpoints of women who are mothers and who face often difficult decisions about motherhood, - and about employment overseas as domestic workers.

The study reveals that these women have tried to create ways of mothering that respond not only to community values, but also to the reality of their own family and  situation. Various factors push these women to: satisfy their perception of their roles within their families; acknowledge their significant roles as working mothers; and shift their position from housewife to breadwinner.  In doing so,  these FDWs have performed, redefined and reconstructed their transnational mothering.

This study argues that prolonged overseas employment changes  the FDWs’ perceptions of their own mothering and their roles, in both nuclear and extended families. Understanding the economic hardship, a dearth of employment opportunities, and a migration culture, FDWs are forced to confront and negotiate the assumptions and social constructions of ‘good’ mothering,  in order to be able to accommodate both their mothering role and a sense of self esteem. Thus, the meaning of ideal mother has stretched to include the component of paid labour overseas. Highlighting the complex issues of mothering, this thesis makes a significant contribution to research on the international labour migration of women, by focusing on the experience of Indonesian FDWs through: (1) improving  the understanding of ‘good’ mothering in the Indonesian context,  whilst problematising the notion that it is a natural, unchanging and almost inevitable fact of life; (2) providing  analysed narratives of how mothering in Indonesia has a profound impact on many foundational social issues, such as family structure, ideology about women, gender inequality, gender division of labour, and community relationships; and (3) extending  our knowledge of capacity building within different community contexts, by exploring the economic value and meaning of contributions of mothers to the family and community.

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