Sari, a 32-year-old Indonesian garment factory worker, relies on over-the-counter painkillers just to get through the day. Her problem is not in the workplace, it’s at home, with her abusive husband.
Sari, who lives in Jakarta, said her work was affected whenever she had a scuffle with him.
“I cry and cannot sleep after a rough fight. I get awful headaches and arrive at work tired,” she said. “I need to take a higher dose of medicine just to be able to finish my work.”
Sari’s story appears in a report published by women’s rights group Perempuan Mahardika, which conducted a study on 26 women workers who faced abuse at home. Other women in the study have been driven to even greater extremes than reliance on medication, including attempted suicide.
All have experienced domestic abuse – physical, psychological and emotional – for years, and some still endure it to this day.
“When we talk about the safety of women workers, we tend to focus on their workplace, be it in factories or offices,” research coordinator Vivi Widyawati said on Thursday. “We rarely think about their homes, as it is considered a private domain.”
The study found that physical abuse affected women’s work performance, including arriving late, suffering from fatigue and becoming less productive.
Moreover, those who suffered psychological abuse found it hard to concentrate, causing them to make mistakes or leading to workplace accidents, while those who were emotionally abused could have emotional breakdowns at work and not want to return home.
Many of these women come from poor families and started working as young as 15 years before being married.
They have to work overtime to earn enough to support their families and sometimes to pay off loans. Thirteen of the women worked two jobs, with some even resorting to prostitution, the study said.
One woman, identified as Desi, works in a factory from 7am to 4pm before tending to a shop until 11pm.
“I get home around midnight. By then, I just want to rest. I get up at 4am to do the laundry and clean the house,” she said as quoted in the report.
The study found that women who must work long hours away from home are vulnerable to getting into rows with their husbands, which can escalate to violence.
This is on top of the many other difficulties many the women face, including financial troubles, parenting, household responsibilities and their husband’s infidelity, gambling or alcohol addiction.
The abuse they suffer can come in many forms, from being beaten and forced to work, to humiliation, being cheated on, ignored and threatened.
Sometimes, their husbands even come to the workplace to insult, shame and threaten them in front of their co-workers.
“There are also cases of stalking by husbands and even ex-husbands,” researcher Karolina L Dalimunthe said.
Many of the women have been traumatised by the recurring abuse.
“If someone were to speak loudly or scream at me, my heart would suddenly race,” Tata, one of the women surveyed, said, as quoted in the report.
Some of the women wished their husbands would divorce them, but others were not prepared to leave their abusive spouses as they had children together.
“I choose to stay because I’m worried about my kids. I don’t want them to not have a father, so I have to accept my hot-headed and abusive husband,” Dina said, as quoted in the report.
Some said they still loved their husband, while some others were told by their parents to avoid divorce at all costs because of society’s stigmatisation of divorced women.
The study was conducted to mark 15 years since the enactment of the 2004 Elimination of Domestic Violence Law, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years’ imprisonment for domestic abusers.
Vivi said the Labour Law, which is currently under revision through the government’s omnibus bill on job creation, should also address domestic violence to better protect women workers.
“Women workers who are abused should get paid leave. At the moment, they still have to work after being abused at home, because employers consider this a private affair,” Vivi said.
The National Commission on Violence Against Women said domestic abuse accounted for 71 per cent, or around 9,637 cases, of all violence against women last year, while the Legal Aid Foundation of the Indonesian Women’s Association for Justice said that of the 249 cases of domestic violence it handled in 2019, only 15 were reported to the police.
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK