Reema’s story is heart-rending but by no means unique. She describes how she was brought to Yorkshire from Qatar in July 2012 to work as a domestic worker. At the time her English was limited and had no proper documents. “Employers would abuse me all the time,” she said. ” There was one who didn’t give me any salary and there was another employer who has beaten me.”
Reema is just one of thousands of women from overseas who make extraordinary sacrifices to move to the UK as domestic workers, whose plight is highlighted in a compelling exhibition, curated by a group of workers from the charity, The Voice of Domestic Workers (VODW).
The workers seek a better future for themselves and their family, but often end up exploited and abused.
Goldsmiths, University of London has provided space for the exhibition exploring the lives of domestic workers just like Reema. It marks a collaboration with filmmaker and Goldsmiths TV lecturer Tassia Kobylinska. Photos, documents and other items including a piece of clothing worn by one of the women as she managed to escape from an abusive household are also on display.
Often escaping modern slavery with only the clothes they are wearing, the support provided by the charity VODW is invaluable in terms of helping them find a new life.
The exhibition was complemented by a screening and discussion organised by filmmaker Tassia Kobylinska and Dr Joyce Jiang, on Wednesday January 22. A video installation “Our Journey” was created by the group of domestic workers themselves. The filmmaker introduced the women to the art of framing pictures, and recording audio. By doing so, the women could have personal imprint on the outcome of the project.
After a screening of “Our Journey” there was an opportunity to discuss the film with the filmmakers themselves.
Each member of the panel offered a specialized insight into the world of domestic workers in the UK. The Q&A was with Marissa Begonia, the founder of the Voice of Domestic Workers, Lucy and Grace, two of the film participants, Dr Joyce Jiang, Dr Mirca Madianou and Dr Marina Vishmidt.
“It’s the most difficult and painful decision of my life, to leave my children behind when they were one, two and three. I wanted so much to be a normal mother who could look after them physically – but my sister was their mother, really, and not me … what kept me going was the dream that we could one day be together again,” said Marrisa Begonia.
The founder of the group has provided a distinctive voice for the charity, lobbying parliament and speaking at the UN, while continuing to work as a domestic worker. She described her situation as “a Cinderella story”, who eventually succeeded in bringing her children to live with her in the UK, after years of sadness and regret.
Lucy and Grace discussed the difficulties that domestic work entails. They shared personal stories of mistreatment and unfairness, while also illustrating their charity as a safe haven for women who may face similar struggles.
Dr. Jiang, a lecturer in Human Resources Management at York University and charity trustee of the charity organisation criticized the Home Office for placing the migrant workers in a restrictive visa plan, referred to as the Overseas Domestic Worker visa. This, she said, placed domestic workers in a vulnerable position.
Dr. Jiang called for proactive strategies to monitor working conditions, and for existing visa conditions to be reconsidered.
Dr. Madianou, a lecturer at Goldsmiths and the writer of “Migration and New Media” spoke about the role of new media in the long distance relationships formed between migrant workers abroad and their family back home.
Finally, Dr Marina Vishmidt, a writer and lecturer for the Department of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, spoke about the ways in which reproductive labour is both desired and restricted.