Indonesian domestic workers claiming they've fled abusive employers inside a shelter at the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur on June 23, 2009. Maid abuse has become the latest irritant in a diplomatic spat between Malaysia and Indonesia, as labour groups press for better protection for vulnerable migrant workers.

Given the economics of equatorial Southeast Asia, maids generally flow from Indonesia to Malaysia.

The former is a populous archipelago where, by World Bank standards, more than one in ten live in poverty. The latter is a mid-sized nation with an upper class strong enough to support a large market for live-in housekeepers.

But while Indonesians continue to migrate to Malaysia to cook, clean and raise kids for wealthier Malaysians, this army of maids sometimes sends home tales of abuse. The tension stoked by these accounts grew so bad in recent years that Indonesia barred the export of maids to its neighbor for two years. The ban was lifted just four months back.

Now, as the Jakarta Globe reports, a crude ad has revived Indonesia's ire. Tacked to trees around Malaysia's capital, it reads bluntly: "Indonesian maids now on SALE!!! ... Now your housework and cooking come easy." A photo of the ad circulated after an activist, Anis Hadiyah, posted it to her Twitter account.

Distasteful? Doubly offensive given Indonesians' well-publicized disgust over abused housekeepers? Yes and yes.

But the ad, while worthy of condemnation from civil society, is generating an undue level of reprisal and threats of policy overhaul from authorities.

The head of Indonesia's migrant worker placement agency tells Today Online that he's threatening to "permanently" bar maids from working in Malaysia. The Malaysian government, forever paranoid over class disturbance, has reportedly ordered the woman who designed the ad to serve two weeks and jail as they decide whether or not she's upended "national security."

I phoned the three numbers listed on the ad to find out if she's still in jail. No one answered.

What's worse? That some woman had crass ads stapled to trees? Or that crass ads stapled to trees are considered a legitimate threat to Malaysia's national security?






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