Asia: Behind Closed Doors, Abuse of Domestic Workers
The women came from different countries with the same dream: to leave behind the poverty of their villages. But instead of working as domestic help, they found themselves in a kind of prison, employed by people who treated them like something less than human. One was stabbed with a knife, another doused in boiling water, another raped and jailed.
With his latest project, photographer Steve McCurry, best known for his work in war-torn countries like Afghanistan, has documented the suffering of women from Indonesia, Nepal and the Philippines who endured a myriad of abuses while working for families elsewhere in Asia and the Middle East.
“They’re at the complete mercy of these people who see them almost like slaves: ‘You’re my property, you’ll do what I say,’” Mr. McCurry, 64, said. “They go home, and they’re disfigured, and they don’t have money, and they’re psychologically scarred. They end up coming home humiliated, and it becomes like a stigma. In a way, their lives are ruined.”
It is not necessarily a new story. A Malaysian couple was recently sentenced to be hanged for murdering their Indonesian maid by starving her, the latest in a series of headline-grabbing outrages. Responding to horrific treatment in countries like Saudi Arabia, the International Labor Organization, or ILO, a branch of the United Nations, passed a treaty to protect domestic workers in 2011.
Yet the abuses continue, and only 14 countries have ratified the treaty.
Mr. McCurry has always had an eye for portraits, for the survivors who make it through war. His best-known picture, known simply as “Afghan girl,” is of a 12-year-old Afghan girl with green eyes staring straight at the camera, published by National Geographic in 1985.
These new photos are unsettling. In several, the young women show their scars. One Indonesian woman displays her naked back, with purple scars that look something like wings, from boiling water poured on her in Malaysia. A Nepali woman cradles her pregnant belly, the proof of her rape while working in the Middle East — and how she was jailed for adultery afterward.
Some women stare straight at the camera, but not with the defiance shown by other subjects of Mr. McCurry. Instead, their eyes show pain, and almost beg viewers to pay attention to what happened. Mr. McCurry described taking such a portrait as a collaboration with his subject.
“I think the best way to actually photograph somebody is to really look into their eyes,” he said. “The eyes are so expressive, they say so much about a person … I find it more direct and more simple and more honest to shoot people looking straight into my lens.”
Read the original article in full with more photos: Behind Closed Doors, Abuse of Domestic Workers | New York Times
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