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Migrant women, self-care and storytelling

The second day of the Visualizing the Voices of Migrant Women Workers workshop on February 19 saw each participant drafting their own personal storyboards, which illustrated up to three scenes that were to be shot in order to compose a minute-long video. While the first workshop in this series swiftly introduced participants to the mechanics of storyboarding, shooting and directing, the second workshop asked participants to stop for a moment and reflect on the stories they wanted to tell. The diversity of stories from these participants was remarkable. Nevertheless, some of the main themes centred around the topic of family and job.

Visualising the voices of migrant women. Workshop day 2.

As migrant workers, I believe many, including my parents, are accustomed to working for others and shouldering the pressure of taking care of family members here or back home. In this process, it is so easy to feel detached with our own individual needs and feelings. Many of the participants felt so too as they admitted to putting the needs of others like their families or their employers before their own. Of course, caring for others and taking care of our loved ones is and should be treated as our responsibility, there is nothing wrong with that. However, neglecting our own health or happiness for the sake of others is what tends to be problematic: Creating a balance between both is the main challenge we face.

Visualising the voices of migrant women. Workshop day 2.

The self-care exercise conducted by Lin Chew, the Executive Director of the Institute of Women Empowerment, in my opinion, was the perfect way of drawing our attention to this issue. All participants were asked to stand in a circle. While standing, Lin read a couple of sentences one by one, such as “I often find myself not having enough time to relax”, to which we responded by taking one step forth if it was a true statement for us. The sentences that Lin read touched upon a wide range of areas like mental health, the experience of harassment and discrimination, etc. According to Lin, the purpose of the activity was to encourage participants to self-reflect and bring their attention to the fact that they need taking care of too. That they themselves are and could be dealing with problems which they may find difficult expressing to others. It was really sobering to see a large chunk of participants stepping forth when Lin read “I am always putting on a smile even though I am unhappy inside”.

Visualising the voices of migrant women. Workshop day 2.

The exercise also facilitated a rich discussion where participants reflected on and shared their personal experiences. The importance of taking care of ourselves and paying attention to our grievances was brought up. When we do not take care of ourselves to keep ourselves happy and healthy, it tends to show negatively in terms of our attitude towards other people, and life in general. Some participants were quick in concluding that we had to take care of ourselves so we could work harder for our loved ones but simply, the sole reason of having the right to live and be happy should suffice. We all deserve to be happy and healthy.

I personally believe, apart from the drive to work hard to achieve better, the system of traditional patriarchal society is the culprit here that assigns us all gender roles and teaches women to be selfless, as it is one of our “virtues”. Be an attentive wife, a loving mother, a filial daughter and sometimes also the breadwinner. However, in this list that bounds us to our responsibilities for life, one important role is left out. The role towards ourselves, to be good to ourselves, to take care of ourselves.

Visualising the voices of migrant women. Workshop day 2.

All this being said, in the second workshop, it was good to see participants – who go to great efforts to take care of everyone else – take a moment to reflect on their own personal well-being. Moreover, the workshop encourages individuality and personal stories beyond anything, which gives liberty to the participants to make a video on anything. If a participant wants to shoot a video of picnicking by the pond, feeding fish, then that is exactly what we do! I believe this goes a long way in helping them not only visualize their struggles or individual journey but also help them reinforce and share their personal way of keeping themselves happy along with maintaining a positive attitude towards life amidst all the challenges, hardship they come across.

Visualizing the Voices of Migrant Women Workers is a collaboration between Dr Vivian Wenli Lin of Voices of Women Media, and Dr Julie Ham in HKU Sociology. HKU undergraduates can learn more about issues like these in our Globalisation and Migration Common Core course, currently taught by Dr Julie Ham.