by Ananya Wilson-Bhattacharya Follow @AnanyaWilson
Jennifer Dalquez, a domestic migrant worker from the Philippines, claims that she accidentally killed her employer in the UAE whilst trying to resist a sexual attack, but she is still due to be executed for the murder
The campaign against the execution of Jennifer Dalquez, a young Filipina domestic worker facing the death penalty in Abu Dhabi, has been spearheaded by the British-based Justice for Domestic Workers (J4DW), an organisation made up solely of domestic workers from around the world, overwhelmingly women.
Dalquez, who has been convicted of murder, claims that she inadvertently killed her employer in the process of fighting his attempts to rape her at knifepoint.
The judgement on her death is now being delayed to 12th April; meanwhile, her parents and two young children in the Philippines are waiting to hear whether she will be executed. If she is pardoned Dalquez will be forced to pay ‘blood money’ (compensation for the death of a loved one, paid by their killer – comparable to an out-of-court settlement in Western legal systems) amounting to approximately $50,000 for the murder of her employer. Jennifer and her parents are from an extremely poor area of the Philippines and there is no question of their being able to afford this sum. Failure to pay would lead to direct execution under current Abu Dhabi law.
What makes this campaign so interesting is the leading role played by the domestic workers themselves in organising protests, raising awareness in the media and, above all, narrating their own experiences. This is not simply a question of the patriarchal laws of Abu Dhabi. The harassment and abuse of woman domestic workers is a global phenomenon and is commonplace even here in the UK. In a world where much of the labour of major companies is outsourced to local workers living in the global South, domestic work remains one of the few areas which almost invariably involves women migrating away from their families to work in the homes of the super-rich in the West. They are required to live in close quarters with their employers – who often turn out to be their abusers – with no physical escape.
Marissa Begonia, one of the leading organisers at J4DW describes her own experience:
“As a migrant domestic worker, I experienced the same sexual harassment as Dalquez. That was the horror of my life I could never forget. I thought of screaming for help but no one could hear me, I thought of jumping out the window but the building was too high, for sure I would die. I was left with no option but to protect and defend myself. We work in a very isolated workplace in a foreign land where most employers treat us like they own us and do anything they want to do to us.”
Perhaps the most inhumane aspects of the plight of foreign domestic workers in the UK, which number more than 16,000, is their inability to leave abusive employers because they are in the country on six-month visas. Not only are they often subjected to regular sexual harassment and intimidation at the hands of their, they are unable to leave because they’re unlikely to find other work before their visa expires. In 2012, this law was made harsher, banning domestic workers from staying in the UK while renewing their visas: overstaying the six month period now makes them undocumented.
The campaign for Jennifer Dalquez was endorsed last week by the UN and is due to be discussed in British Parliament. Indarjit Singh, Lord of Wimbledon, has written to the UAE ambassador calling for ‘due clemency’ for Dalquez who he argues was responding to an attack from her employer.
“It is clear from the evidence that her action was not pre-meditated, but a desperate response to an unprovoked sexual attack,” he wrote in his letter. “I am writing to you to use your good offices to remove the threat of the death penalty and for the authorities to show due clemency.” Whilst this demonstrates the high profile attention the case has gained in the UK thanks to the persistence of the J4DW campaign, more pressure is needed to help
J4DW are holding a vigil on 11th April for Jennifer at UAE Embassy in London. You can also sign the petition to the UAE government to pardon Jennifer and tweet using #SaveJenniferDalquez.
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Ananya Wilson-Bhattacharya is an student based in London. She writes on new fiction and politics from an intersectional feminist and anti-imperialist perspective. Find her on Twitter @AnanyaWilson