I came from the Middle East to the UK as a domestic worker in a private household in 2013. I was on a Six Months Overseas Domestic Worker Visa. My employers treated me like a slave and they were abusive, I couldn't fight back. I didn't have a voice to defend myself, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken a beating from them. I couldn’t take the physical abuse anymore. At the time I wanted to end my life but I thought of my kids and what they would do if I wasn’t around. Luckily someone saw what I was experiencing and offered me help to run away from the situation I was in. My employers would lock me inside the house whenever they went out including the two weeks they were away in another country on holiday. It was impossible for me to escape except through the window. While they were out shopping, I quickly put some clothes in a black rubbish bag and I informed the neighbour who wanted to help me, she put a ladder out so I could escape through the window.
Although I was able to leave an abusive situation I then found myself discriminated against again. I didn’t know what my rights were here in the UK. I had ended up undocumented because I had no right to renew my visa which meant employers could take advantage of my situation. I wanted to fight back but I couldn’t because my employers would threaten me that they would report to the police so I was scared to complain. I wanted to ask for help, but where would I seek help? Where was my place in this country if I’m undocumented? I had nowhere to go. I cried and cried but I needed to move forward because my family relied on me to send them money. I was the only one supporting them.
One day I got infection in my ovary due to a coil that been there since I gave birth to my
youngest child. I needed to remove it because I was bleeding and I had a high fever. I went to A and E but they couldn’t admit me because I wasn’t registered with a GP. I went to the GP to register but they asked for my passport, ID and home address. But I didn’t have any of these documents as they’d been kept by the employers I had fled from. I felt hopeless. Where could I seek help? In the end I was able to remove my coil in a private clinic because a friend who was a nurse who I became friendly with acted as a guarantor and helped to pay the hospital bill. Though I had to pay the money back I would have died if I hadn’t had this treatment.
In 2017 I found and joined The Voice Of Domestic Worker (VODW). My friend introduced me to this incredible group. It was here that I learned about the rights of migrant domestic workers, that even undocumented people like me have a chance and voice. This charity also helped me to legalise my status. Although it’s temporary, it gives me hope and freedom to rebuild my once shattered life. I just needed to be strong and brave to speak out and let people hear me. The more voices there are, the louder we are. I learned to become more sociable and to meet other fellow domestic workers to learn from them and to listen to their stories.
Over time I become braver. I didn’t feel alone anymore and I could fight for my rights by speaking out. Then Covid19 came and I faced difficulties accessing a vaccination. The Voice of Domestic Workers showed us how to make an appointment online so I had a date for a vaccination. On the day there were four white people who successfully got in to their appointment but when my turn came they asked me a lot of questions. They asked for my ID and my employer's written contract which I didn’t have, but I had learned how to speak up thanks to the Voice of Domestic Workers. I asked them why they didn’t ask the four people in front for their documents. Did they ask me because I am an Asian? They said it was just to make sure it was me who’s registered on their system.I can't understand why I'm the only one you ask for an ID?
They want to protect themselves but I don’t have a right to protect myself from the virus? Where is equality as a human being? I have the right to protect myself as they protect themselves. And thanks to The Voice of Domestic Workers I felt able to speak out.
I’m Gracie, member of The Voice Of Domestic Workers and Union Representative. I can say to other migrant domestic workers that every story matters, we need to speak out and be brave to fight for our rights. You’re not alone. We are here to hold your hand and say everything is alright. As a domestic worker, as a human being, we have the right to protect ourselves for our loved ones.
About the Author:
Gracie is 47 and originally from the Philippines. She has 4 children, 3 girls and a boy aged 15, 17, 21 and 27 She left to work in Hong Kong in 2007. She returned to the Philippines wishing that she’d not left her children to work abroad but living in the Philippines was tough economically so she went to Kuwait in 2010. She worked for three years in Kuwait and her employer brought her to London. Like fellow domestic workers, her employer was abusive and exploited her and she had to escape. She didn’t know her rights. She was connected to the Voice of Domestic Workers who supported her. It was here when she realised that there was still hope for her to have freedom. She is part of the Future Voices programme because she wants to help others who are afraid to voice their worries.
Find out more about the Voice of Domestic Workers Future Voices programme #VODWFutureVoices https://www.thevoiceofdomesticworkers.com/aboutfuturevoices and follow the The Voice of Domestic Workers @thevoiceofdws