Hunger in households of plenty: Indonesian domestic workers navigating towards food security in Singapore




Mohammed, Charlene

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In Southeast Asia, many impoverished Indonesian women migrate to Singapore to work as domestic workers in households. Though employers are required to provide domestic workers with food and housing, there have been numerous reports of employers withholding food. This thesis explores the ways in which Indonesian domestic workers navigate towards food security in the context of social relations in their employers’ homes in Singapore. I draw on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in 2016, where I interviewed Indonesian domestic workers and employers. Not only were the majority of domestic workers experiencing food insecurity, food was additionally symbolically used to denigrate them. Drawing on a concept I term markings, which denotes the process of demarcating social roles through symbols and boundaries, I argue that employers control food in order to produce markings that construct and reinforce relations of inequality in households. These relations around food emotionally and physically shape domestic workers in ways that allow them to know their positions in the household. Despite their subordination, domestic workers use strategies to contest and endure their unequal conditions in Singapore in ways that demonstrate their resilience. This research demonstrates the importance of protecting the food security of migrant women, and advocates for the fair treatment of domestic workers.



food security, Indonesian domestic workers, Singapore, migration, hunger, household practices, embodiment, emotions, resilience