The Jakarta Post
Nearly 20 years ago, Anis Hidayah began her journey as a human rights activist, fighting for Indonesian migrant workers, who are often neglected or ignored by the community and the government.
It has not been an easy fight. The issue of migrant workers has not been considered important, then or now.
Anis does not care. When most people usually turn their cheeks to migrant workers, she finds time to help. Case in point: In 2011, Anis was on maternity leave after giving birth to her second child, confined to bed at the hospital.
However, after hearing that Ruyati, an Indonesian migrant worker, was about to be beheaded by the Saudi Arabian government, she immediately got up ' and got to work.
Although she failed ' Ruyati was executed ' Anis is still fighting.
Anis was born on Nov. 7, 1976, in a remote village in Bojonegoro, East Java. Most of her neighbors had been or were related to migrant workers. Most of her playmates were raised by grandparents, as their parents had left to find work overseas in nations such as Malaysia or Saudi Arabia.
'I still remember that there was a cassette player in my village that played Malaysian songs all day,' Anis said last week at a ceremony where she was honored with the Yap Thiam Hien human rights award for 2014. 'The owner of that player told the children 'Listen, that cassette is from Malaysia. It is not available in Indonesia' and all I can think of now is how poor we were.'
She continues. 'We were told that the parents all went abroad to get rich working abroad, but for years, I had seen nothing but families still trapped in poverty and had heard nothing but tragic stories on how our migrant workers got raped and abused abroad.'
Anis may not present the image of a fighter, but with every soft-spoken word she utters about her struggle, her eyes become fiery, showing a passion for the ideal that migrant workers are people who deserve attention and acknowledgements.
Anis began advocating for migrant workers in 1995 while studying at Jember University in Jember, East Java.
'I learned that their rights had been violated even before they went abroad. They were treated as prisoners here in migrant worker shelters and this was a fact that everyone ignored,' Anis said. 'The same violations have been occurring for years until now. For some reason, there has been no concrete solution whatsoever to defend these workers' rights.'
The government has always seen migrant workers solely from an economic perspective, Anis said. 'They are not considered humans or worthy enough for get attention. The solutions that the government has offered so far do not touch on the core issue of human rights violations.'
Anis dismissed as simplistic government solutions such as giving the workers cellular phones. 'Can you imagine a migrant worker who is about to get raped? What good would the phone do for her? Can anyone who is about to get raped make a call to the Indonesian authorities for help?'
Anis admitted that her advocacy has come at the expense of her family. 'My husband is often jealous of my cellular phone, because I care about it a lot more to get updates or news regarding the condition of our migrant workers abroad.'
In 2004, Anis and her associates formed Migrant Care, a non-profit organization for Indonesians working abroad. 'The migrant worker issue is a cross border transnational issue. Therefore, we established Migrant Care as a regional based advocacy group,' she said.
Knowing that migrant worker issues have never been popular, Anis said that she was surprised to learn that she had been named as the winner of the Yap Thiam Hien award.
'There a lot of human rights activists out there who fight for larger issues. On the other hand, I am very grateful. This award shows that there is at least recognition of the human rights aspects of the migrant care issues,' she said.
The award is named after Yap Thiam Hien, a Chinese-Indonesian lawyer known for his continuous work and high ethics in defending the poor and the oppressed during the New Order regime.
Anis, who at around 152 centimeters was dwarfed by the award podium, said during her acceptance speech that she expected the Indonesian government would show more commitment to human rights inside its own territory first, before demanding other nations to do the same.
'The recent executions of death-row inmates in Indonesia have made it difficult for us to fight for migrant workers who are facing death penalties abroad,' she said. 'How can we expect other countries to respect the lives of Indonesians when our own government fails to do the same.'
Anis was selected from 47 candidates for this year's award, according to organizers.
'Despite of the fact that Anis' struggles have yet to produce anything significant to help our workers abroad, she and her Migrant Care have remained consistent in their commitment to uphold human rights,' prominent trial attorney and Yap Thiam Hien Foundation chairman Todung Mulya Lubis said.
'Helen Keller once said 'I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do' and Anis is a perfect personification of this statement,' he added.