Stigma on a spectrum: differentiated stigmatization of migrant domestic workers’ romantic relationships in Singapore

Nicole Lim, Anju Mary Paul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In Singapore, migrant domestic workers are not allowed by law to become pregnant. However, when it comes to their romantic relationships, the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable are less defined. Migrant domestic workers in Singapore experience layered stigmatization based on their twin marginalized statuses as foreigners and as domestic workers. But those workers in casual or committed relationships with partners in Singapore experience additional stigma due to the perceived illegitimacy of having romantic and sexual lives overseas. Through 28 interviews with Filipino and Indonesian domestic workers, employers, and placement agents, we find that this stigmatization is also a differentiated process. As the social distance from the worker increases, starting from their relatives, moving to co-ethnic peers, then employers in Singapore, placement agents, and eventually the sending and receiving states, the attitude of actors becomes less accepting. The relationship’s perceived encroachment into spaces seen as ‘pure’ or ‘private’, as well as the domestic worker’s level of commitment to the relationship also influences the degree of stigmatization they experience. Our findings highlight how, rather than studying any given stigma as a uniform, monolithic experience, we should consider stigmatization as a variable and contingent process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-44
Number of pages23
JournalGender, Place and Culture
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • Boundary work
  • Singapore
  • love
  • migrant domestic workers
  • sexuality
  • stigma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Demography
  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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