March 4, 2015

Graduating at Melbourne

Postera Crescam Laude. "I shall grow in the esteem of future generations..." (Horace). 

December 19th, 2014. 

Another dream came true in my life. Another grateful of how good God to me and my life. 

I am now officially graduated from the University of Melbourne. No more sleepless nights. Days with anxiety and stressed with so many readings, research, and paper works. Days of procrastination that made me become a clean-addict. Oh yes! When I feel stressed with my student life and assignments, when I feel useless and dumb, when I feel "that's it! I can't do this anymore...", I stopped and let myself busy cleaning the house and stuff that I just cleaned it a few hours ago. No matter it was on the afternoon or midnight time, I'll just do the cleaning allover the house. Well, that's worked on me! Better than shopping! :)) No more sleepless nights, especially during cold winter time, which sometimes I need to drink a glass of Brandy or wine to help me to get sleep and rest. 

Despite all those difficult days and nights, being a student again, living in Melbourne, are one of the most life changing experiences in my path of life. In this city, in this country, in this situation, I become a new person. For sure, I learned a lot from the academic matters to personal and self development. In this city, I've learnt how to cook for the first time. I've learnt playing and become a Gamelan' musician for the first time which led me to play in several musical concerts in Melbourne. In this city,  I learned more about myself and teach the new me to be stronger than before. In this city, I've learnt to deal with my ego: to be humble, patient, and accept things that beyond my control. Let go things that not belong to me. Forgive the past. Forget things behind me. Learn to keep moving on. I've learnt that it is okay to work as a restaurant's waitress and cleaner in people's house. Well. There was time, especially during the first weeks and months, I keep crying inside when the night comes. I feel so ashamed with myself for doing the job considered as low class category in my culture and country. But hey! In here, that's not a bad job at all. Being a jobless, it is! It turns out that by doing these jobs, it teaches me to value and appreciate life more. 

Melbourne. University of Melbourne. Being one of the Australian Award Scholarship awardee. You've changed my life and the way I think about this world. Always, I thank You, for given me this opportunity, dear God. Now that I have completed and closing the door of this phase of life, my hope and wish are to give it back to my surroundings, community and my country. May God continue to bless and be with me, as always, on the next journey of my life. 

Autumn, March 4th, 2015. 

March 3, 2015

Random Act of Kindness

Yesterday morning when I was walking toward the Little Collins Street, I saw a man came from the opposite direction of me. Looking to his "empty" and "blank" face, for no reason I just automatically gave him a smile. He stopped, looking directly into my eyes, and softly but genuinely thanking me. "It means a lot", says him. Then he walked away again. I was surprised.  

I don't know what that man struggles in life, but I then realised even just giving a small sounds silly thing, like a smile to a stranger, it might be the only sunshine he sees all day. What happened yesterday morning reminds me again to what I experienced few months back when I was working as a waitress at one most busiest restaurant at the Swanson Street. (Yes, I too worked as waitress!). I've had worked for a long four hour without have a chance to sit and resting even for a while, continuously standing and doing waitressing stuff as the restaurant was super hectic that day. I came to a table to pick up empty and used plates where an older woman sitting. I was so tired and like a robot, I just pick those used plates, bowl, and glass, and cleaned up the table. Just before I left the table, she held my hand, saying "thank you, dear. God bless you". I was stunned and touched. Just a simple short words. It cheers my day. It melted my heart. It makes me feel stronger again. 

When we do and practice just a random act of kindness, to people we love and knows like a surprise call to a long lost friend or family leave far away, just to ask how are they, paying a cup of coffee for someone next behind you when you are about buying your coffee at the cafe, offer your seat while you are on public transport, or just a simple smile to a stranger. We never know it works! Never underestimate those things you do. It could changed someone's life and spirit. In my case, it equally makes me feel good inside. As well as it might changed the recipient, it may also changed us and the way we see life. So let us continue to learn and practice random act of kindness. At least, a small contribution we can made for this world. Why not? 

Autumn, March 3rd, 2015. 

March 2, 2015

In Memoriam of Stella Young

These are my first and last photos with the belated Stella Young, one of most inspiring disability activist here in Australia, a member of Victorian Disability Advisory Council, a journalist, the editor of ABC's Ramp Up Website (an online space for news and discussion about disability in Australia), a  very well known comedian in Australia,  a regular panelist on ABC television programs, and more. 

I remember how excited and proud I was for specially selected and invited to attend a breakfast discussion with Stella Young, exactly three months ago by tomorrow, December 3rd, 2014. I approached her before the session started and she was very friendly and warmth. When I told her that I follow her at her Instagram, she immediately respond by saying, "Let's take selfie and posted at ours" :)) She even made funny face pose for the photos taken from her iPhone :)) I told her that I admire her works and it's my wish while living and studying in Australia to one day I'll have an opportunity to meet with her and Julia Gillard, my two favourite Australian women. She then told me, "You've met Julia too now through me, because she's my friend and I just met her! I'll tell her about you, Lia". :)) We then spent few minutes before she start her session by talking about the challenge in taking social campaign towards disability, about my study and interest, and she shared some funny stories and jokes about her wheelchair. By the end of the event before she left, she came to me and my  other friends from Nepal and Mongolia, and asking us to keep continue our work on advocating disability issues. She specially encouraged me to learn more and keep myself curious and research on my most interest area on disability issue: disability and sexuality. It was a nice breakfast discussion facilitated by the DFAT for the selected Australian Awards awardees comes from many different developing countries. For us, meeting her in person, learn from her experience as person with disability and her amazing works towards disability in Australia is very inspiring, things that we can bring home when we all return to our home countries and motivated us to work more on this issue. I remember I left the venue with a happy and proud feeling inside. Not only because I can finally meet her, but I also bring all those encouragement and knowledge sharing that she shared with us. 

Life works in mysterious way and death is also equally mysterious. A very cheerful, energetic, funny, full of jokes and laugh Stella Young I met for the first time, was unexpectedly died three days after, on December 6th, 2014, at the age of 32 years old. I was cried when I heard the news on the morning news of Channel 24. She was too young to die. So much thing that I know she still want to do and we all still need her to do and to keep inspiring us (despite she used to say "I am not your inspiration"). We need her to speak more about the issue to even broader audiences and society outside Australia. But as her friend and a Ram Up colleague, Karen Valenzuela, says, "there will always be Stella Young in this world, as long as we continue her legacy of calling out injustice and demanding better'.   

I'll keep this memory forever, Stella. I hope I can do and contribute better to this issue, as what you had done to your community and country. Rest in Peace, Stella. You're a beautiful young woman with beautiful heart. In heaven you are now. 

Autumn 2015, March 2nd. 

January 16, 2015

A Decade in the Knot

January 11th, 2005 - January 11th, 2015

A decade in the knot. Today is our 10th years wedding anniversary. We have had many mountains and temptations in our way, and truly, there have been some painful hours and days. But today, we are still standing, stronger than before. We lean on each other's strength. We forgive each other's weaknesses. All in the name of LOVE and RESPECT, and by the blessings of our Father God. 

November 29, 2014

Seeing the Author of "Disability Rights & Wrongs"

Feeling great to finally I can meet and attend to the lecture given by Professor Tom Shakespeare, the author of Disability Rights and Wrongs Revisited. The lecture was on Model of Disability and it held in my campus, the University of Melbourne. All away from UK, he's coming down here to Melbourne! Professor Shakespeare is one of an inspiring academic whose done many research in disability studies, medical sociology, and in social and ethical aspects of genetics. People with impairment are disabled by society and by their bodies. We need then to ensure that access to health and rehabilitation, not just education and employment. 

(Spring, 2014) 

November 16, 2014

Excited for the International Disability Day

When I feel useless and exhausted, God reminds me that I am precious. Grateful I am to received this invitation that specially addressed to me with a message written on the email that the Australian Government thru the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) acknowledges and appreciates my contribution on Disability Inclusive Development given to CBM International and to their projects in Uganda and Kenya. 

Every 3rd of December celebrates as the International Disability Day. DFAT invites me to attend to this year Breakfast Gathering that will be present Ms. Stella Young, a top notch disability advocate, journalist and comedian. I have been admiring Stella Young for her works on disability, and once I make a wish that while living in Australia, I keen to meet with her and Julia Gillard. Both are two inspiring women for me! So now soon, I will meet one of them! So WOW!!! How can I thank HIM! And especially for HE never get tired to remind me again and again...never get tired with life, no matter how difficult it might be. 

(Late Spring, 2014)

November 14, 2014

An Indonesian Blind Student's Memorable Australian Bus Ride

Jaka Ahmad yang juga dikenal dengan nama "Jack" adalah mahasiswa tunanetra asal Indonesia yang sedang kuliah S-2 program Social Work di Universitas Flinders, Adelaide, Australia Selatan. Salah satu hobi Jack adalah senang bepergian. Berikut pengalamannya dengan seorang sopir bus di Adelaide.

Seperti di kota-kota lain yang pernah saya singgahi atau tinggal, di Adelaide, saya juga suka bepergian sendiri, apalagi dengan menggunakan transportasi umum seperti bus atau kereta.

Sangat terbiasa dengan hiruk pikuk lalu lintas Jakarta yang semrawut membuat saya sangat cepat beradaptasi dengan lingkungan di Adelaide yang lebih teratur. Bayangkan saja, yang biasanya saya harus berlari, menghadang bus untuk menanyakan jurusannya, atau lompat dari bus ketika ingin turun dari bus yang tidak sepenuhnya berhenti, kini saya tinggal berdiri manis di pemberhentian bus dengan merentangkan tongkat putih saya dan bus pun akan berhenti dengan sukarela agar saya bisa menanyakan jurusan bus tersebut.

Suatu sore, ketika saya hendak pulang ke tempat tinggal saya, saya menaiki bus 720 ke arah kota dari Flinders Medical Center. Sebelum duduk, saya berkata kepada sopirnya bahwa saya mau turun di bus stop 22. Biasanya, saya duduk di kursi paling depan, yang merupakan kursi prioritas bagi penyandang disabilitas, ibu hamil, atau lansia.

Namun, kali ini saya duduk agak jauh dari sopir. Bus berjalan dan saya mulai asyik mendengarkan musik. Ketika sedang menikmati perjalanan sore tersebut, bus berhenti dan tiba-tiba sopir bus tersebut menyentuh pundak saya dengan pelan.

"Kamu seharusnya turun di stop 22 kan? Maaf, saya lupa… dan sekarang kita sudah di bus stop 18," kata sopir tersebut.

Dari intonasi suaranya, saya bisa menilai kalau dia memang merasa bersalah. Namun, saya sudah telanjur kesal, jadi tanpa bicara, saya langsung berdiri dan berusaha untuk turun dari bus. Namun, sopir tersebut berkata kepada saya.

"Kalau kamu turun di sini, kamu akan kesulitan menyeberang sendirian karena tidak ada jalur penyeberangan. Namun, biarlah saya bantu kamu menyeberang," ujar sopir tersebut sambil mengikuti saya.

Turun dari bus, sang sopir kembali melanjutkan, "Atau kamu ikut saja sampai bus stop 16 karena di sana ada jalur penyeberangan dan kamu bisa menyeberang dengan aman, lalu kamu bisa naik bus arah sebaliknya sampai di bus stop 22."

Masih kesal dan tanpa berbicara kepadanya, saya kembali naik ke dalam bis, menyetujui usulannya.

Sampai bus top 16, sopir tersebut menemani saya turun dari bus dan menuntun saya menuju jalur penyeberangan. Dia menekan tombol lampu penyeberangan dan menunggu bersama saya.

"Kamu sebaiknya kembali ke bus,” akhirnya saya berbicara kepadanya. "Kasihan penumpang lain mereka bisa terlambat nanti."

"Saya akan seberangkan kamu terlebih dahulu, baru nanti saya lanjutkan perjalanan saya," dia pun menjawab.

Mendengar jawaban tersebut, saya mulai melunak dan mengubah sikap saya, lebih berusaha menyembunyikan kekesalan saya karena kejadian tadi.

"Saya akan baik-baik saja. Saya bisa menyeberang sendiri. Jalur ini sangat aman untuk saya seberangi. Kamu tidak usah khawatir," ujar saya mencoba untuk meyakinkan sopir tersebut. "Penumpang yang lain akan terlambat dan nanti kamu bisa dikomplain."

"Tidak apa saya dikomplain, yang penting kamu selamat," jawab dia pendek.

Saya sempat terperangah mendengar jawaban tersebut. Namun, saya segera kembali meyakinkan sopir tersebut untuk segera kembali ke busnya. Namun, dia tetap tidak beranjak dari posisinya. Lampu berubah hijau dan kami pun menyeberang. Setelah itu, sopir tersebut mengantar saya ke bus stop yang ada di dekat penyeberangan tersebut. Dia mengatakan bahwa ini adalah bus stop 16, dan semua bus yang melintas akan melewatibus stop 22. Saya pun berterima kasih kepadanya sebelum akhirnya dia menyeberang kembali.

Kurang lebih 10 menit saya berdiri di bus stop tersebut dan akhirnya sebuah bus pun merapat. Baru saja saya mau bertanya, tiba-tiba sopir bus tersebut berkata,

"Naiklah, saya akan antar kamu ke bus stop 22."

Setengah heran, saya pun naik ke bus tersebut, dan kali ini saya duduk dekat sopirnya.

"Bagaimana kamu tahu kalau saya mau ke stop 22?" saya bertanya kepada sopir tersebut.

"Sopir 720 yang tadi kamu naiki, dia berkomunikasi dengan saya melalui radio panggil," jawab sopir tersebut santai. "Dia mengatakan tujuan kamu terlewati dan berpesan kepada saya untuk mengantar kamu ke stop 22."

Saat itu, saya tersenyum dan muncul perasaan salut yang tinggi terhadap sopir 720 terseubt.

Saya ingat hal ini sering terjadi saat saya bepergian di kota-kota di Indonesia, di mana sopir atau kenek lupa menurunkan saya di tempat yang saya inginkan. Namun, bila ini terjadi di Indonesia, perlakuan yang sering terjadi adalah mereka menurunkan saya di suatu area yang saya tidak kenal, lalu menyuruh saya untuk menyeberang dan naik arah sebaliknya, tanpa membantu saya menyeberang.

Sering pula penumpang lainnya mengomentari, "Lagian sih, pergi sendirian. Gak ditemenin aja?" atau "Ngapain sih pergi-pergi? Gakbisa orang rumah saja yang disuruh?" Kalau sudah demikian, biasanya saya hanya tersenyum kecut dan akhirnya terbiasa dengan komentar-komentar seperti itu. Namun, terkadang ada juga sopir atau kenek yang berbaik hati menyeberangkan saya terlebih dahulu, sebelum melanjutkan perjalanannya.

Oleh sebab itu, kejadian di 720 tersebut cukup membuat saya terkagum-kagum dengan perilaku orang Barat yang konon katanya cuek dengan orang lain.

(Source: ABC Australia) 

June 23, 2014

To The Other Land, I'll Catch My Dream

The Story of Eva, An Indonesian Migrant Worker

“One of the most courageous things you can do is identify yourself, know who you are, what you believe in and where you want to go.” (Sheila Murray Bethel)


            Today Indonesia is known as the second largest sending country of migrant workers to overseas (Bonasahat, 2013). Every year about 700 thousands of Indonesians travel abroad in at least a minimum of two-year working contract. More than half are women age from 18-50 years, and about 80 percent of them work as domestic workers. The Middle East countries are the primary destination; follow by countries in East and Southeast Asia such as Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Despite many remaining unknown and lacking recognition to the contribution of those emigrants to the nation, they are the “foreign-exchange heroes” in Indonesia (Farbenblum, Taylor-Nicholson, & Paoletti, 2013). Their remittances contribute to the national economy is about USD 7 billions per year.  

Poverty, lacking job opportunities or low-income jobs, and wanting to improve individual and family’s welfare are the documented major reasons of the migrant workers in taking the overseas work, leaving their home and families (Farbenblum et al., 2013). Barry R. Chiswick (2008) defines immigrant’s motivation as economic and non-economic factors. This paper uses the concept from both which combined the two factors as the motivation and background of Eva, a-36 years old female Indonesian in choosing her life-path as a migrant worker, first in Saudi Arabia for two years, then Hong Kong for two years, and Singapore for almost four years. Eight years working in three different countries makes Eva’s story different from her peers, which mostly covered in the national media with sad and tragic stories of violence and abuse. Before leaving Indonesia for the first time, Eva’s family and friends seeing her as a young broken-hearted and submissive wife. Along the journey she has transformed into an independent woman, knew what she wanted in life, assertive and articulative, and currently known as a single mother, female activist and holds a position at one political party in Indonesia where she continues voicing the rights of women and particularly female migrant workers.

This paper aims to understand why Eva moved, what motivated her? Is Eva a type of favorable self-selected immigrant as describes by Chiswick, or is she forced to do so?  Did she make the decision or is it forced by her external surroundings? What are the challenges and impact along her trajectory as migrant worker? Lastly, this paper tries to examine what could be learnt from her stories, especially in shaping a better understanding about migration and development in Indonesia.

Eva The Migrant Worker

“I just want to be happy, have certainty about the future. I dream a house of my own.”

 Eva was born as the eldest of five. Her father could no longer support the family since a motorcycle accident made him paralyzed. Eva was just about seventeen then and on her second year of high school at her hometown, a small village in southern part of Sumatera Island. Not long after the accident, the family’s livelihood deteriorated. When savings and assets depleted, they had to borrow money for caring Eva’s father and to support their daily lives. Eva then quit the school to help her mother who became a housemaid in several houses, providing support in house cleaning, cooking, and baby-sitting. A year into this routine, Eva’s family accepted a middle-aged man proposal to marry her, and made her the second wife, for a promise to support her family.

            Few years later, being a second wife with a two-years old son, still living in her parent’s house and only seeing her husband few times in a month made her unhappy. As she confirmed over the phone in an interview for this paper, she admitted that she felt depressed, lonely and betrayed. When she was pregnant, her husband promised her to leave his first-wife and build a house where they could start living as a family. It never came true. Even a year after the baby was born, despite still sending enough money to support her and her family, her husband rarely visited her and their only son. As she was no longer work following the request of the husband, she felt that she became excluded from her social surrounding. She stated that she felt much happier when she worked as a housemaid, from house-to-house, compared to her new lives as a housewife, without a real husband and a real house.

            During those downturn periods, she met an old friend whom returned to their village for a holiday visit. Her friend told her about the experiences being a migrant worker in Arabia, and showed Eva a newly built house from the money she earned. This is the moment where Eva started seeing her neighborhood, a lot more new “bricks” and “colorful” houses built, and she learnt to know that it all built from the money sent by the neighbors working overseas. She felt that she finally found a way-out from her dependence to her husband, economically and psychologically, and a way back to her social life. As she said, she wanted more in life, than just waiting for her husband to come. She wanted to be happy and have certainty about her future and her son. On her mind at that time, it meant having her own house and economically dependent. In addition, just like her friends and other neighbors, she wanted to look successful, and this symbolized by owning a house.

            Jill Stearns (2002) argues that globalization is not all bad for women, instead it can offers new opportunities such as employment and opportunity to be an agent of development and can actively contribute in shaping globalization and development. In Eva’s case the effect of globalization that has flourished in her hometown encourages emigration and transnational transaction in money and people, especially to women. The combination of pull factors in international migration, such as global demand on the need of domestic workers in other countries and a promising income, and the push factor such as economic and non-economic conditions have attracted people to migrate (Haas, 2010; Institute, 2013). For Eva, her motives were not just simply about economy (to have security and certainty about the future), but also the need to express her independence and freedom (from her husband and her family whom made her feel like “the source of income”), and to improve her social status within her community (liberalizing her image as a dependent second-wife and to prove that she can be as successful as her friends). As in accordance with the Law of Migration by Ravenstein (1885), females are more migratory than males, and this is also still the migration phenomenon in Indonesia. Likewise in Eva’s village, many employment and recruitment agencies expand their networks to seek women like Eva, make thing promising and easier for them to travel abroad as domestic migrant worker. For Eva, moving away from her village and working overseas were the only option to improve her life chances. She made a decision to make changes towards her life, even though she had no support from her husband and family. The UNDP Report (2009) highlights this as a key value of human freedom, that we are being able to decide where to live and what we want to do in life. This paper argues that Eva’s migration is also as part of a household livelihood strategy, as it motivated by a deliberate decision to improve livelihood and investment for the future. Both Bebbington (1999) and De Haan (2000) seen this concept as a new economics of labor migration that also mean to minimize future shocks and stresses over insecurity within household, which particularly applied for rural-urban internal and international migration in developing countries.

Along the Journey: Risks, Benefits and Its Impact

            No journey is without risks, benefits and impacts. In Eva’s case, this meant she had to leave her comfort zone and people that she knew and cared, including her marriage and husband as one of her family “source of income”. Prior to her departure, her husband divorced her as a consequence of leaving him to overseas and argued it against his belief and religion, that woman should stay at home. In this context, Eva (as with other female migrants in her village) reversed the traditional assumption towards migration, which assumed men migrated while women stayed behind and viewed women as secondary migrants (Donato, Gabaccia, Holdaway, Martin Manalansan, & Pessar, 2006). Not only she lost her marriage and not being able to see her son for a few years, Eva must also accepted that she would be left in debt for a period of time. First was to the work agency for paying her logistical requirements, including travel documents and work permit. Second was to some relatives and neighbors for giving loan to her family before she could send them money. Still according to Eva, almost all the money she earned from her first employment was used to pay off her debt. Only a small amount she could save, but still was not enough to buy a land and build a house. She stated that only after the third term of her employment, she could finally have enough money to buy a land. Whereas to build a house she used the money earned from her fourth employment. In related to immigrant’s remittance, this is in line as what argues by Lipton (1980), that migrants tend to use their first remittances to pay off debts, financing their children and daily consumption, but not for productive investment.  

            Despite the financial difficulties at the beginning of the employment and uncertainty feeling that she could cope with all the changes and new things at the new place, along the journey it gave opportunities for Eva to develop her individual capacity and network. She learned new skills and knowledge, including communication and entrepreneurial attitudes. While she learned some violence and abuse suffered by her peers, she shaped her thinking and social-empathy about workers and human rights. She also gained benefits from the networks she established, especially with the recruitment agency, where later gave her a more simplified process when she re-applied the employment. She established and maintained a relationship with her past employers, which physiologically made her feel part of a big international family. She admitted that there was conflict and misunderstanding during her first employment with her employer, but those were not serious and no physical violence involved. Most of her employers taught her lots of new things and placed her in safe and friendly-family workplaces. Vice verse, as according to Eva, they learned about Indonesian cultures from her, such as Indonesian cuisines and traditional Sumatran songs and dances she taught to the children of her past employers and group of youth Singaporeans.  After all, despite there may be situation where hiring female domestic worker means the invasion of the private space of the employer (Gill, 1994), however both parties could benefited from the process (Devasahayam, 2010). As states at the UN Report (2008), migration enables people in both sending and receiving countries to improve their living standards, support their families and contribute significantly to the productivity of their economy. In addition to cases like Eva, it also enables transfers of cultures and diversity across international migration. 

Particularly during Eva’s employment in Hong Kong, she built contact with some civil society organizations that work on migrant workers issues. This network have contributed in building her understanding about the importance to protect migrant workers, and taught her to be an effective resource and spoke person on her later life as advocate for worker’s rights. When she returned to Indonesia, the issues of migrant workers have just started as political debates and discourses in the country. She came and talked as the contributor from the field, giving insights and shares her experiences to her community, politicians and policy-makers. As a result from the long debates towards migrants workers, in late 2012, Indonesia signed the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW), and currently in the progress on revising the aforementioned 2004 law on migrant workers to enhance the protection of Indonesian domestic workers in overseas. This reflected the development theory’s view in seeing return migrants as “agent of development” bring home not only money, but also innovation in ideas, skills and knowledge (Haas, 2010).

Conclusion & Lesson Learned

            Over half a million workers officially leave Indonesia every year to work as migrant workers, with the vast majority of them are women work in the domestic sector.  Economic factors such as lack of employment opportunities, low wages and land shortage in the rural areas have been identified as some of the reasons why people in Indonesia move to work abroad. Whereas the non-economic factor such as to maintain social class and status, independence and the right to have happiness in life have also triggered people, especially women in the rural to move and migrate. Adding to this, the pull factor in destination countries that provide job opportunities for migrants. Some emigrants move because of economic factor, while others, like Eva, because the combination of the two factors. Some forced to migrate because of situation or trapped into human trafficking, whereas the others made their own decision to move. In Eva case, she made the decision by herself, as she wanted to make changes in her life and build better future.   

Despite many of them experience problem while working abroad and the national media frequently reported cases of severe abuse and violence towards migrant workers, this has not reduced the number of women to work abroad. Today, feminization of migration has become a phenomenon in people movement across the world, as more women today migrate to show their economic independence and mobility. Therefore to ensure the wellbeing and protection of Indonesians migrant workers, close collaboration need to be taken by the Government, Civil Society Organizations and labor association. It also important to facilitate the departure training which not only cover the skills in relation to their domestic work, but also knowledge about their rights and basic understanding of legal regimes in the destination countries, and a mechanism on how to access support to justice whenever problem occurred. Those would not just be useful whenever they arrive in the destination, but also as part of capacity building to the Indonesian migrant workers. By doing this, we can expect to see more migrant return home like Eva and can positively participate in the development in Indonesia.      

Melbourne, Autumn 2014
Lia Marpaung-Abidin

June 21, 2014

Opening the Door: Disability and An Inclusive Society

“Only when people with disability will really be part of the society; will be educated in every kindergarten and any school with personal assistance; live in the community and not in different institutions; work in all places and in any position with accessible means; and will have full accessibility to the public sphere, people may feel comfortable to sit next to us on the bus.”
 (Ahiya, The World Report on Disability, p. xxi)


            The World Report on Disability, a 2011 jointly produced report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank Group (WB) highlights the global concern towards disability. The report claims that more than a billion people across the world are now living in disability, with its various forms from temporarily impaired to mentally and physically total dysfunction (Organization & Bank, 2011). The report further states that in the years ahead, the prevalence number on disability is on the rise due to ageing population and the potentially global increase of chronic health diseases such as cancer, diabetes and mental health disorders. With the enactment of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD), disability is now understood as the issue about human rights. Therefore as those without disabilities, disabled people have the equal rights to access education, health services, employment opportunities and including access to safety and friendly public services and infrastructures, such as buildings, roads, public transportation, shops and parks. However many people living in disability today are still struggling to fully participate and function within their society, and remain continuously experiencing exclusion and disadvantage in their everyday life activities.  During the launching of the ASEAN Disability Forum 2013 earlier this month, Daniel Ruiz de Garibay, an officer of UNESCO’s Indonesia Office shared that many disabled people around the globe still face physical, social, cultural, attitudinal and economic barriers that exclude them from participating effectively as equal members of society (Yusri, 2013). He further states that social stigma has even worsened the lives of the disabled, as their own family restrict their involvement in the community and denying their access to gain better living standard and to live in dignity as human being.

            So, what is disability? Why shall this issue be brought to our concern in regards to social justice and human rights? What is the social exclusion and disadvantage that disabled people face in today’s contemporary society and how to enhance their participation to the inclusive society and sustainable development that we want to achieve? This paper discusses and examines disability and social injustice based on the theory of redistribution and recognition introduced by both Nancy Fraser and Axel Honneth. Fraser’s theory of justice is used here because it helps to understand disability in today’s modern society as it encompasses analytical framework that highlights socio-economical and cultural injustice with the parity of participation as a normative approach. Whereas Honneth’s theory of recognition offers an understanding of contemporary social development that goes beyond ideas of acknowledging identity and differences as individual and social group within society. Because disability is complex and multifaceted phenomenon in a society, which involves diverse crucial factors, this paper limits the concept to the understanding of disability by mostly using the social model of disability and not to emphasize on the use of medical model of disability. By using the social model, this paper argues that disabled people are still very much disadvantaged and excluded especially when it comes to poverty, employment and acknowledgement of their participation as an individual within society. The disabled, does not only face socioeconomic injustice in their daily lives, but suffers a cultural-valuational differentiation as well.
Understanding Disability and Why Does It Matters

            On the one hand, disability is accepted as part of human condition where in some point of someone’s life may be temporarily or permanently impaired functioning of the human physical and mental activities. If it is not during the productive age of a human live course, it may come during the old age where people experiencing difficulties and limitation due to physical or mental functioning. This means that disability is in everyone’s concern, disabled or non-disabled. Furthermore, sometimes in the journey of our lives, we may have to take responsibility in providing support and care for our disabled family member, relative or friend. On the other hand, disability is known as a complex, dynamic and multidimensional area. This lies on the shift of perspective in viewing disability from an individual and medical model, where seeing disabled as a person with specific problem in relation to their health condition, to a structural and social model where society play larger roles in labeling people as disabled, which sometimes this goes beyond than just their physical limitation and condition. In regards to this, Baart and Maier (2013 pp. 18-20) point out that to understand disability we must put into account the three major dimensions, which are the impairments condition, activity limitations, and social norms or restriction for the disabled to equally participate. Similarly, the United Nations CRPD interprets disability as a result of dynamic interaction between health conditions and contextual factors (environmental and personal factors). The convention, which also acknowledges disability as a human rights issue, further states that attitudinal and environmental barriers have long hindered people with disability to equally participate within society. While discrimination may not intend purposely, society and the current systems in-placed have indirectly and in some parts directly exclude and disadvantage people with disability by not taking their needs into account. Therefore, this paper would further argues that addressing and removing those barriers would be needed to ensure the social participation of persons with disability.  For example, changes need to be made in regards to creating accessible environment that can improve participation and inclusion of the disabled. Those can be in the form of establishing and implementing policies that will support and lead to the inclusive society and the improved of service delivery system and provision, such as accessible design of public buildings, transportation, better healthcare and education services for the disabled.

            With the enactment of the UN Convention and the issuance of 2011 World Disability Report, the plight of people with disability has been raised as a global concern. In both documents, there have been shown that there are significant increases on the number of people with disability across the globe. Whereas the 2010 global population estimates that about 15 percent of the population today lives with some form of disability. Furthermore about 5.1 percent of those or about 95 million people, as according to the measurement done by the Global Burden of Disease, are children at the age of 0-14. This number is predicted to be growing with the higher risk of disability at the older ages and a global increase in chronic health conditions, which affected the lives of people within the contemporary society.  In contrast to this, inadequate policies, negative attitudes such as discrimination and stigma, lack of provision of services and problems with services delivery remain a significant hindrance to the daily lives of persons with disability. Those contribute in shaping social injustice and exclusion of the disabled that will be further discussed at the following section.

Social Justice: Disability and Socioeconomic Injustice

                  In her theory of social justice, Nancy Fraser conceptualizes redistribution and recognition as two distinct paradigms of justice, which rooted in the processes and practices that systematically disadvantage some groups of people within society. (Fraser, 1995, pp. 69-70). Indeed, Fraser does not specifically address social injustice experiences by the disabled people, but rather points out more on the case of the working class, people of color, homosexual and gender, her approach highlighted on the concept of participation as a normative guiding principle. To disabled people and those concerns with disability issue, this is claimed as the major component to ensure social inclusion and justice (Gleeson, 1997, pp. 182-183; Hugemark & Roman, 2001). As also argues by this paper, that without equal parity of participation, the disabled’s voices would not be heard and acknowledged. Their involvement, into diverse aspect of lives such as socio, political, cultural and economic arenas, would not be seen nor recognized. Their role and contribution to the world may not be counted. Samantha Jenkinson (2013 ) a western Australian disability advocate nominated for the 2013 National Disability Awards and the Chairperson of Australian Federation of Disability Organization (AFDO) states that social participation for people with disability especially in decision making and capacity building must be put into a national agenda and strategy to ensure that disabled person, as well as the abled, will have similar control and ability to direct their own role and support, speak for their own interest and run the services which fit for themselves.

            Refer to Fraser’s concept; one of the social injustices occurs in today’s modern society is as what rooted in the political, social and economic structures of society. This has caused economic exploitation, marginalization and deprivation. In this type of injustice, as according to Fraser, it will require a technique of political redistribution as a form to remedy the problem. That could be in the form of income distribution, regrouping labor’s division, or restructuring economics’ structures.

Disability, as this paper argues, is affected by the general mechanism that currently structured the globalized capitalist economic model which strongly market-profit-based oriented and most importantly, commodifiying both capital and labor. In this structure only those who are productive and competitive can exist and stay longer in the market, leaving alone and exclude the less-productive worker or those considered as higher cost and unskilled labor to the side. This condition has caused the unemployment and limit access and opportunity to engage the labor market by the disabled people. Furthermore it affects the lives of the disabled into a higher rate of poverty, compare to those people without disabilities. As according to the WHO and the World Bank’s report, the disabled people have the lowest employment rates compares other groups of people. Furthermore, even if they are already in the labor market, not only that they commonly earn less but also less able to sustain to remain in the workplace (Organization & Bank, 2011, pp. 262-263). In this respect and refer back to the theory of injustice by Fraser, this paper claims that disabled people experiencing social injustice due to political-economic differentiation. They face economic marginalization as they often poorly paid whenever they are in the job and depending on their disability condition, may also deprived and “missing out” as they are being denied towards an adequate material standard of living. As following the international convention where define deprivation as an enforced lack of socially perceived essentials (Mack & Lansley, 1985, p. 39) and it focuses on what people can not afford, the study about the disadvantage and social exclusion in Australia in 2007 identified that among all vulnerable groups, people with a disability are the third highest group in the society with the high rates incidence of deprivation, after sole parent families and indigenous Australian (Saunders, Naidoo, & Griffiths, 2007, pp. 50-53). Whereas in regard to poverty, people with disability are suffered with poor living condition and lack of assets due to being marginalized from economic activities and unemployment in the longer periods. This has led them into long term problems such as malnutrition, poor housing and lack of education.  Nevertheless, lack of political and policy support have also contributes to the disadvantages and exclusion experience by the disabled persons. There is a need to ensure the wellbeing of people with disabilities, from their access to health, education, employment and accessible infrastructure that considered “design for all”. This can only be achieved with the availability of supportive policies and programmes that ensure disabled persons are included, contributed, and benefited equally from all policies and development efforts.  

            On the contrary, there are conditions where disabilities in certain level do not get affected by the socioeconomic factor as described above. For example, in the case of those having moderate and limited low vision or hearing impairment compare to those having total loss of vision or permanently hearing loss. Unlikely the second group which may not have an alternative aid devices, the first group of disabled may compensate their impairment with the availability of aid devices such as glasses, screen-reading computer and hearing devices. This will enable them to participate into the workforce and not being excluded by the society or the system. In this context, the system and environment do not differentiate between groups of people with certain impairment and those without impairment. From an economic and productivity perspective, as long as someone’s impairment does not affect and reduce productivity, they can remain in the market and included within society (Bickenbach, 1993). With the diverse group of disabled people within society, Bickenbach states that not all disabled people experience exclusion and disadvantage due to socioeconomic structures, but more depend on how severe the disability condition and whether compensation devices or other alternative are available on the market to support them. Similarly, Danermark (2002, p. 61) argues that disability should not indicated as a one specific type of social group requires specific needs, as disabled people are too complex and heterogeneous, just like the-abled group of people. Following the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health model developed by Tom Shakespeare, Danermark views disability as just about limitations of activities and should no longer become an issue whether its included or excluded, as disabled people are not form a separate group. Furthermore, as to improve the living condition of people with disability, a rich and integrated framework to develop an understanding and support a barrier-free environment on disability has been developed and expected that it will contribute to reduce the exclusion and discrimination towards people with disabilities in the society (Commission, 2010). The global initiative, such as disability movement, is an example on one of the outcome of the framework that will continue to fight for an equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities.

Social Justice: Disability and Cultural Injustice

            Other than the needs for political-economic change, Fraser argues that social justice in the contemporary societies also demand for cultural turn. People in a post-socialist age as according to her and also by Axel Honneth, are struggle to be recognized and this require changes in the social patterns of representation, interpretation and communication (Fraser, 1998; Honneth, 1995). In related to disability, if there is any, then the question would be what are the cultural injustice as according to the theory of recognition that affect the live of people with disability, regardless of the different type of impairment or disability they have?

This paper argues that people with disability suffer from social discrimination and stigma that rooted in the cultural-valuational structure within society. They are not only having limited equal access to their basic needs such as healthcare, education, and employment opportunity, but also culturally devalued in contemporary society. Take an example of what happened to people with disability in Indonesia. If someone was born with disability, their families will not only restrict their involvement in the community, but also denying their rights to access education and other social aspects that needed to make them feel recognized, respected and able to live in dignity. Children with disability in Indonesia are often discriminated by the community and their own families. Their families tend to hide them away at home and reluctant to send them to school. But when the disabled children can go to school, they may have fewer friends and often bullied in school because of their disability status. In educational setting, students with disabilities are the most vulnerable and they often become the target of violence, verbal abuse and social isolation, compared with the other-abled students (Organization & Bank, 2011, p. 214). In many cases as documented, parent of a disabled child often isolate their child, as they feel embarrassed to have a family member who is born with disability. In this context, families of the disabled are also suffered from social stigma to have a child with disability in the community. People and society still associate a person with disability, as someone whom being cursed because of their previous transgressions, possessed by evil spirits, or carriers of bad fortune. Recent documentary filming an ethnographic research by Dr. Erminia Colucci has uncovered the story of Indonesian practice of “Pasung”, a form where people with mental disorder are chained and locked in the “cage” for many years (Arnott, 2013). This tradition has long been rooted in the society, where people devalued a person with disability as possessed by evil spirit and dark magic and therefore need to be isolated from their community (Ryan, 2013). The stigma face by people with mental illness or intellectually disabled are not only strongly occurred in a developing country like Indonesia. But even in the advanced western society, mental illness still misunderstood, sometimes seen as a crime and discriminated by the society (Ferrigno, 2012). Unlikely the other type of illness, people is not even dare to talk openly about mental illness, and often segregated the patient of mental illness from other physiological illness such as cancer or diabetes.  

Interestingly, dissimilar disability or impairment may also have different variation of treatment from the perspective of recognition. For example, people with a moderate vision impairment may not suffer injustice due to culturally devalued by their community as they can easily wearing glasses, contact lenses and screen-reading computer to support their daily activity and at work. Whereas on the other hand, people having a moderate hearing impairment and wearing a hearing aid may have different experience. They may run the risk by being culturally devalued as people see them differently to their appearance and often feel that it will require more time in making communication and interaction with the deaf people. From the second case here, the root of injustice is institutionalized on the cultural values that seeing some social actors as less than the other, and therefore may prevent or limit their participation from the other peers (Fraser, 2000, pp. 114-115).  

Misconceptions about disability are also playing a role in excluding persons with disability to be fully participating in the society. Some prejudices may occur in seeing disabled as less productive, unskilled and fragile compared to those without disabilities. Sadly, this misconception occurs not only among the non-disabled people, but also to the family members and the disabled themselves. Because of experiencing culturally injustice for so long, people with disabilities often have low self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect and lower expectation about their own involvement and contribution that they can make for their community. In regards to this, Honneth (1995, pp. 162-164) highlights that as an individual and human being where we cannot live alone in the society, we all have a need to be recognized, and by being recognized it will build our self-confidence and feeling of being respected. However as a turning point to this, the convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD) has opened the door of opportunity for people with disabilities to be recognized and to have an equal participation in life and in the society. Furthermore, the convention has contributed in re-shaping the new understanding on disability that it is not physical limitations of person with disabilities that hamper social inclusion and create inequalities, but rather the physical, institutional and attitudinal barriers that caused by society.

Despite all the cultural injustice as mentioned above, there are evidences to show on the recognition towards people with disability and their participation within contemporary society.  Other than the UN Convention, the rights of people with disabilities have also been recognized through various new developed legislations and policies, which anchored the needs and problems of disabled, at the national and international level across the UN countries. Using again with the case of disability in Indonesia, the Government has ratified the UN Convention of CRPD in November 2011. To-date in Indonesia, discrimination against persons with disabilities is prohibited, including the practice of “pasung” is now in progress to being eradicated from the Indonesian culture.  Even though it has just started, but more opportunities are now being given to employ people with disability in the government, public and private sector (Indonesia, 2012). Whereas in the western country such as Australia, the “Closing the Gap” Initiative has been designed as a joint effort to reduce the disadvantage experienced by the disabled Indigenous Australian. One of the identified strategy include in developing an understanding of local community and family structures to support a social integration among groups of indigenous communities and other groups within society (Government, 2011). All are aim to improve the living condition and wellbeing of disabled persons and in order to achieve an inclusive society.

Disability: Bivalent Collectivities and the Question of Remedy

            Aside from Fraser’s (1998) distinction on redistribution and recognition as two different perspectives, she further advocates that both are needed to be address as an integrative approach, as both are intertwined and mutually supportive. Similarly like Fraser’s analysis of injustices experience by both gender and race, this paper views disability is also an example of the bivalent collectivities. The reason is because disability is a complex phenomenon, where it intersects a wide variety of knowledge e.g. medical science, politics-social-economy and its practices, and cultural norms and conditions of living. Moreover, people with disabilities are also very heterogeneous and the forms of exclusion and discrimination they experience can hardly be explained by their impairment status only. Therefore in order to redressing the disability injustice, it will require transformative and affirmative changes in both political economy and cultural structures.

            In relation to the politics of redistribution, it is vital to emphasis the distribution of economic resources for the disabled. Here, transformative remedies such as restructuring the national welfare policy e.g. social security and universal healthcare system, combine with supportive law and regulation that accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, as well as the needs of people without impairment, are important to ensure social equality and participation. As an example to the previous case mentioned above is about the need for people with hearing loss.  A redistribution of economic resources would be vital to consider and provide for them such as an appropriate provision of sign-language interpreters to enable deaf people can equally participate in the community.

            Whereas in regards to recognition and remedy for cultural injustice, affirmative action such as revaluing the role and contribution of people with disability will eliminate the misrecognition and disrespect within society. Affirmative recognition can also be done by promoting group differentiation and to respect differences within society. That is no matter there are differences in abilities, still all shall be based on the value of equal rights to all human beings. As an example to be pointed out here is on the important role of the Australian National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to minimize the impacts of disability (Government, 2011). The policy does not only promote the opportunity for the disabled, but it also as an awareness raising to general community about issues on disability as a way to combat stereotypes. Furthermore, the policy promotes the advantage and potential benefit of an inclusive society to the wider community in Australia.


Despite an effort such as the UN Convention that has been taken to address the social injustice suffer by people with disability, still in today’s society they continuously experiencing physical, social, economic, cultural and attitudinal barriers that exclude and disadvantage them from society.  When it comes to access equal opportunity and inclusion, disabled people are amongst the most invisible and vulnerable in the world. They face not only socioeconomic injustice, but furthermore a cultural-valuational differentiation as well. Therefore a holistic approach to eradicate those barriers that affect the inclusion and involvement of disabled needed to be addressed. Transformative restructuring of socioeconomic structures and affirmative action to reshape the values and contribution of the disabled people within society shall be put into account to all inclusion and empowerment of national and international agenda and strategy. All effort that incorporate the rights and wellbeing of all groups within society, including people with disability and their needs, are must include to build a sustainable development and an inclusive knowledge societies for the times ahead.

Lia Marpaung-Abidin