When you walk around Hong Kong on a Sunday you can’t help but take notice of the thousands of migrant domestic workers or “Domestic Helpers” as they are known here, who flood the raised walkways and public spaces. Thousands of women relaxing and resting, catching up with each other, sharing food, calling family back home, playing bingo, doing each others nails and more, all whilst sitting in temporary shelters made from cardboard boxes. The things we take for granted to be able to do in the privacy of our own homes on a “day off” become part of a public spectacle for these women since they have no space of their own to relax. In Hong Kong where space comes with a premium price tag, these low-paid workers must reside with their employers and are understandably anxious to escape often-cramped living spaces on their one day off per week.
When I first arrived in Hong Kong I was fascinated by this arresting visual. As time went by and I got to know several women working as domestic workers I became intrigued by their compelling stories and as a filmmaker instinctively wanted to explore them further. In 2015 domestic helpers in Hong Kong became the subject of international attention when the female employer of an Indonesian domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih was sentenced to five years in prison for physically abusing and torturing her. All of a sudden it was a hot-button issue in the city, and people around the world became aware of this migrant worker population and the hardships they often face. This also created a very hostile environment in Hong Kong where many local people felt that they had all been stereotyped as bad employers and abusers. So when I started to make this film, much as I was also appalled by the horrific abuse suffered by Erwiana, I quickly learned that making a film that explored similar stories wasn’t going to be something that a lot of the local population would be interested in watching. At the same time I became pregnant with my first child and suddenly my outlook on the world began to shift with imminent motherhood. I began to question how and why these women were able to leave their families behind in their home countries, and why coming to Hong Kong to work was so alluring to so many. Migrant domestic helpers are an incredibly important part of how Hong Kong functions as a city, empowering massive numbers of women to return to the workforce after having a family, but often they are dismissed as somewhat second class citizens within society. My goal with this film in exploring their stories of maternal sacrifice and struggles is to humanize these women to the population at large and simultaneously celebrate their tenacity, strength of character and indefatigable outlook on life.
– Joanna Bowers, Director