Social Justice. Minority Rights. Regain of public spaces and civil movement from the Philippines

Essay, 2016

15 Pages, Grade: A


The oppressions that different classes and ethnic groups face are linked to a greater institutional issue. “Overly long working hours exploits the time of Hong Kong adults to cook, to shop, to take care of their children and elderlies” (Constable, 2005). Many workers are thrown into the labour force in order to earn an income to support their families, in which they sacrifice the time to spend with each other (the basic family reunion) and the the to take care of the family. “Comparing with the importation of labour, the cost of offering free childcare and services for the elderly is much higher. It would have been the responsibility of the government, but the importation of foreign domestic helpers help the government to escape from the obligation in a certain extent. The government lays the responsibility of nursing and caring problems back to the families themselves and regards these out of its responsibility. This is seen as a solution that is similar to neo-liberalism.

In this paper, it is going to analyse how the ethnic minorities contend against the institutionalised racism they face in daily life, by using the movement where the Philippine domestic migrant workers fight for their rights and justice as an example. What’s more, it also investigates the relationship between liberalism and polyethnic rights by stating and reviewing Will Kymlicka’s Liberal Multiculturalism.

In daily practice, migrant workers from the Philippines have been occupying the public space and sidewalks in Central during weekends since the 1980s, enacting a home away from home. They teach Hong Kong people how to continuously make good use of the only holiday - Sunday - creating a temporary autonomous area in Central. Just in the moment, racism is temporarily eliminated. Thought the three decades, these migrant workers gradually re-defined Central. The weekday capital arena becomes a weekend multicultural place. When these migrant workers become hosts as the majorities in weekend Central, Hong Kong citizens are thus translocated as guests. Playing the role as guests, they have to obey the host, which is an opportunity to learn to be tolerant, or at least paying a visit to the Central with an attitude of political-correctness in the weekend. Outspoken multiculturalism is a piece of mirror, forcing Hong Kong’s mainstream Chinese to face the cultural superiority that is unable to justify with their own arguments and to recognise the fear and anxiety of the ethnic minorities and marginalised groups. When these mainstream Chinese are continually made to face their morbid Hong Kong doctrine in their innermost self - a kind of inferiority in the face of Hong Kong’s colonial superiority complex, this perhaps ease the decolonisation in Hong Kong, extricating from the racial complex and transforming into a racial-sensitive multicultural cosmopolitan city.

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih is a foreign domestic migrant worker from Indonesia, coming to Hong Kong for only eight months long. Ever since her incident was exposed to the public that her employer, Ms Law, seriously abused and exploited Erwiana from basic human rights on 10 January 2014, she was expelled from work and directly sent back to her hometown. By the time she was waiting to board at the airport, Erwiana was unable to work as her entire body was scalded. Her employer did not give her any salary, only with 70 Hong Kong dollars with her. Erwiana was hospitalised for treatment immediately after returning to Indonesia. Despite the raging social pressure, the attitude of the Hong Kong Police force was unyielding. They argued that it was due to the absence of prosecution, the case would only undertake the “miscellaneous” process, putting Erwiana into a helpless state. Fortunately, the former workers hired by the same employer brought up their corgis and came out to complain that they had been subjected to the same abuse and wage exploitation. The police officially sued Ms Law and arrested her at the airport when she decided to go on a vacation in Thailand. After the healing, Erwiana came back to Hong Kong as witness and dunned for the eight-months wages arrears, under the encouragement of human rights organisation. At that moment, Erwiana became the appellant from a victim. In the testimony of her case, it manifests that the racial discrimination against migrant workers is widespread under the guise of Hong Kong Civilisation. In Times Magazine’s the world's most influential persons ranking published on 23 April 2014, Erwiana was listed in the Top 100, but the impact her case had on Hong Kong society is not seen as obvious. Regardless of the fact that Erwiana has a great influence on the anti-discrimination against migrant workers beyond Hong Kong, such similar cases are treated as special or criminal cases. They do not get any changes or compromise in government policies and public education programmes, not to mention the determination of Hong Kong Government in its intolerance for migrant workers and racial discrimination. In Hong Kong, direct or concealed racial discrimination continues just as in the past. Shelters for battered migrant workers are still overcrowded and do not receive any government funding (3). The establishment of “multiculturalism” generally relies on the pressure to the government given by the civil society, calling for the promotion of racial tolerance and a more equitable environment by every means. It could be seen that such political line of thought of liberal multiculturalism has not started in Hong Kong yet. The current ignorance of the presence and severity of racism is an occasional outbreak, little introspection and change could be seen in Hong Kong.

The unfavourable situation the minorities are in in the big communities has become the political focus of current controversy and discussion. Whether they are the immigrants, aborigines or the vulnerable groups in society, such as the elderlies, children, women, the disabled, homosexuals, the unequal status they have in the society seems to be a fact that is generally acknowledged.

It is morally agreed that many liberal countries are unanimous in providing the minorities special supporting measures. However, is such political design consistent with the theory of liberalism? It is generally believed that the construction of liberal theory is based on an individual’s point of view, one’s liberty therefore has its priority in the theory of liberalism; which is to assert that, an individual is the one who sustains the right of liberalism, any macrocosm like culture or ethnic groups enjoy no rights in the discourse of liberalism. As a result, it appears as though an individual perspective suggested by liberalism is unable to respond to the current collective rights claimed by the minority and vulnerable groups. Based on this argument, multiculturalist criticise that liberalism overlooks the interests of the above groups and believe that the politics of liberalism cannot accommodate the concepts of cultural difference and ethnic divergence, at which point liberalism is not an appropriate political theory. In the face of the upsurge awareness of rights among these social vulnerable groups, Will Kymlicka (1989) is one of the most important advocates of liberalism. He thinks that liberalism does not conflict with the concepts of cultural rights and ethnic divergence. He attempts to amend John Rawls’ theory, demonstrating justice theory of liberalism is able to accommodate the claims of multiculturalism.

Regardless of the social class, gender and ethnicity, the most fundamental commitment of liberalism is giving every individual (citizen) freedom and equality, which is the result of the definition of political rights and economic opportunities delineated by an ethnic identity during the period when people were confronting the feudal society. Therefore, some think that the group-differentiated right violates against liberalism because it seems to be more thoughtful for the status of ethnic groups than that of individuals, renouncing an individual can liberally define self-identity and life goals - group-differentiate right violates against the belief of liberalism on personal liberty and equality to a degree. Hence, a number of scholars argued that this is the reason why liberalism cannot be regarded as an appropriated political theory. According to them, the biggest misconception of liberalism lays on its default of individualism. Liberalism ignores the fact that an individual plays also the role of a community member, instead it only takes to heart that an individual as the carrier unit of one’s right, which halters itself to think from the perspective of the groups as a whole to help improve the unfavourable situation which culture and the minorities are facing. Kymlicka (1989) pinpointed that the liberalism comprehended by general public is certainly not giving serious consideration to one’s cultural member, but the equal rights of each citizen. This explains the reason why comprehensive liberal theory does not concern about how the practical result of equal citizenship strikes against and affects the minority groups. Nevertheless, in the historical tradition of liberalism, it is possible to prove that the respect for the minorities is compatible with the equal citizenship of liberalism, as to what Kymlicka proposed by saying “By granting cultural groups special protections and rights, the state oversteps its role, which is to secure civility, and risks undermining individual rights of association” (2002). This sums up his argument in believing that the idea of liberalism can be interpreted as an alternative view of taking both individuals and cultural groups into account.


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Social Justice. Minority Rights. Regain of public spaces and civil movement from the Philippines
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Social justice, Multiculturalism
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Andrea Fung (Author), 2016, Social Justice. Minority Rights. Regain of public spaces and civil movement from the Philippines, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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