Erwiana Sulistyaningsih is an Indonesian woman, best known for suffering abuse at the hands of her employer while working as a domestic helper in Hong Kong. This case has received world-wide attention, and scrutiny by both Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. In 2014, she was included by TIME magazine on its list of 100 Most Powerful People.
Erwiana was born on 7 January 1991 to Rohmad and Suratmi Saputra. Her father was a part-time worker. After graduating from high school, she wished to continue her education at college to become an accountant. However, she had to forgo higher education because of her family's economic situation. This prompted Erwiana to apply to be a migrant worker which eventually saw her accept a contract as a Foreign Domestic Helper (FDH) in Hong Kong. According to Antik Priswahyudi, a member of Hong Kong Migrant Workers Union, Erwiana did not wish to be a migrant worker, but was motivated by the hope of making money to support her family and to save for her college tuition fees. Erwiana saw no choice other than to become a domestic maid in Hong Kong.
In 2012, Erwiana received permission to be a migrant worker through PT Graha Ayu Karsa and went to Hong Kong through this company on 27 May 2013. After obtaining a work visa, Erwiana departed for Hong Kong alone. There, she met a PT Graha Ayu Karsa representative waiting at the airport. She was immediately brought to her new employer, who lived in an apartment located at Tong Ming Street, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Erwiana was physically abused for a period of 8 months at the hands of her employer, Law Wan-tung. She claimed that she was made to sleep on the floor, work 21 hours per day, and was not permitted a day off. If she did not clean the house or was slow to respond to her employers call, she would be beaten. She alleged that she was beaten with various household items, citing a mop, a ruler and a clothes hanger as items which were used to administer the punishment. Over the course of 8 months, the injuries became infected, and as Erwiana was not taken to a doctor, her health was left in a weakened state and she was unable to walk. Her employer arranged for her to return to Indonesia and gave her $70HKD (less than US$10) before threatening the lives of her parents if she revealed the details of the assault to anyone. Her employer left her in Hong Kong International Airport with a Garuda Indonesia flight ticket to Jakarta with connecting route to Solo. Abandoned at the airport and unable to walk, Erwiana finally met Rianti, a fellow Indonesian citizen, who helped and escorted her home to Ngawi. Rianti also brought her to Amal Sehat Hospital in Sragen for treatment of her wounds.
Law Wan-tung was arrested at the Hong Kong International Airport while attempting to board a plane to Thailand. She was charged in a Kwun Tong court of grievous bodily harm, assault causing actual bodily harm, common assault, and four counts of criminal intimidation. She was found guilty of 18 out of 20 counts of abuse of Erwiana and two other helpers.
This incident highlighted ongoing concerns regarding the treatment of domestic workers in Hong Kong. In November 2012, Amnesty International condemned the Hong Kong and Indonesian governments for allowing the conditions that made women especially vulnerable to exploitation, restrictions on freedoms, physical and sexual violence, lack of food, and long working hours. As a result of police not investigating the claim as an active criminal case, protests were held in Hong Kong with up to 5000 people and various civil rights groups calling for justice for Erwiana. Hong Kong sent a delegation of officers to the hospital to interview Erwiana, who filed charges after a "thorough and in-depth investigation."
In April 2014, Time released its new edition of "100 Most Powerful People", which included Sulistyaningsih in the 'Icons' category. Along with several names issued by anti-violation activist Somaly Mam, Erwiana was cited as an "inspiration" for other migrant workers fighting against violence and discrimination.
In the magazine, Mam was quoted as saying:
"Erwiana shared that she endured months of torture at the hands of her employer, a 44-year-old mother of two, who told Erwiana that her family would be killed if she did not perform her duties. Nor was Erwiana paid; when she was sent home, she had $9 in her pocket....But Erwiana could not be broken, nor could she be silenced. She spoke out against the woman, who faces charges including causing grievous bodily harm and common assault, and with the support of family Erwiana is advocating for better laws to protect others who may share her fate, placing a spotlight on the plight of a vulnerable and often invisible population. It is brave women like her who speak up for the voiceless who will create lasting change."
When Erwiana heard the news, she just said that she was surprised, hoping that no more women be treated under such circumstances.