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Kuwait needs to urgently deal with domestic workers’ welfare

Kuwait needs to urgently deal with domestic workers’ welfare

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English Marginalized Groups Basic Rights

Monday 6 February 202306:01 pm
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انعدام أمان وسوء معاملة وتحرّش جنسي... العاملات المنزليات في الكويت


Last week, a teenager was arrested after he raped a Filipina worker, killed her, then burned her body and dumped it on Salmi Road. It later turned out that she was pregnant with his child and was working for his family.

This news pained me, and made me resentful of humanity as a whole, as I could not comprehend the presence of this much evil inside a sixteen year old teenager. How did his family overlook the injustice against this worker, and how did the injustice of domestic workers evolve so much — to even teenagers — that she ended up a burnt and violated body tossed on Salmi Road, instead of returning to her family after years of exile; the news reaching them wrapped in pain, injustice, and tears of agony?

An unfair system

Domestic workers suffer from a lack of security and stability, under a contract that does not provide them with any means of safety, so we find many of them escaping if there are no other solutions in sight and the house turns into a graveyard. And let's be clear: workers under the Kafala, or sponsorship, system suffer from slavery. This system was created to secure the recruitment of expatriate workers from abroad, under which the sponsored person’s freedom of movement outside the country is restricted, along with the freedom to work for any other party, except with the consent of the sponsor. This system allows the sponsor to control the lives of those he sponsors. He decides their wages, places of work, working hours, and places of residence, and can also deport any of them from the country without giving a reason. The sponsor can also prevent the sponsored person from traveling by seizing his passport, terminating the work contract, and preventing the worker from looking for another job, which pushes some to run away from their sponsors, and join what is known as loose labor that has no sponsors, and constitutes a crisis in the country.

Domestic workers suffer from a lack of security and stability, under a contract that does not provide them with any means of safety, so we find many of them escaping if there are no other solutions in sight and the house turns into a graveyard

How can a “slave reach an understanding with his master”? I apologize for the poor description, but it was so the situation of the workers becomes clearer, and because I am stateless. I mean from the "Bedoon of Kuwait". I know the value of papers very well and how difficult it is to have your feet tied down.

The sponsorship system deprives the worker of her right to leave whenever she wants, so the worker is always afraid and oppressed and does not have the power to decide, and her actions are limited to only what she’s allowed. Some families treat workers as if they were machines that do not get tired or exhausted, as it is normal to see a worker carrying a child in one hand and bags in the other at the market, all the time. And we may see a family eating while the worker is not allowed to sit and eat with it at the same table, and we also see a worker sitting at the bottom of the car, ignoring the fact that this is a human being and a soul that feels pain, suffers, and gets hungry.

It is no secret that some workers sleep in cramped rooms with the house’s junk, sometimes without air conditioning or a comfortable bed, and some may be forced to wear a certain outfit.

It is no secret that some workers sleep in cramped rooms with the house’s junk, sometimes without air conditioning or a comfortable bed, and some may be forced to wear a certain outfit

Human Rights Watch said in a report that domestic workers face a wide range of grave abuses and labor exploitation, including physical and sexual abuse, forced confinement in the workplace, the non-payment of wages, the denial of food and health care, and unlimited long hours with no days off.

Governments routinely exclude domestic workers from the means established by the standard labor protection system, and do not monitor the methods used in recruitment and employment that impose heavy debt burdens on workers and misinform the workers about their jobs and responsibilities.

“Instead of guaranteeing domestic workers’ ability to work with dignity and freedom from violence, governments have systematically denied them key labor protections extended to other workers,” said Nisha Varia, senior researcher for the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.


Workers are not prostitutes

Julia (pseudonym), a Filipina worker who works at the house of a friend of mine, says, "I am very attached to children. I feel that if I left, it would be like I've abandoned my children. Since their infancy, I have been the one who has taken care of them. If I leave my children behind, I’ll feel the pain twofold, but things are getting even worse, the employer orders me to wear the hijab all day and I am not a Muslim. The employer even deprives me of the available food. I must buy my own food for myself every month, and he prevents me from using the washing machine. He tells me to wash my clothes with my own hands and I am tired. I feel pain in my body from all the hard work. He prevents me from leaving the house if the family leaves, and locks the door for fear of my escape. I feel like I'm not a human being, I'm tired of being forced to make money for my family abroad and be slowly killed by the ill treatment here, and he doesn't stop screaming at me."

Alex (pseudonym), a Filipina worker at a health club, tells me, "I was sexually harassed by the head of the family, and I was always offered sex. All the Filipino workers around me are regularly offered sex for money. Who said that Filipino women are prostitutes?!"

Female workers suffer from continuous sexual harassment, as some men think that the female worker has to provide high-end services in order to provide him with comfort, even if it is sexual, thus violating her body’s rights in the most heinous ways, and taking advantage of her needs, weakness, and fear!

"I was sexually harassed by the head of the family, and I was always offered sex. All the Filipino workers around me are regularly offered sex for money. Who said that Filipino women are prostitutes?!"

Workers are also mistreated at recruitment agencies, according to Varia, who says, "Domestic workers are often hostage to recruitment agencies, labor agents, and employers. Governments must better regulate working conditions, detect violations and impose meaningful civil and criminal sanctions.”

The account of one domestic worker in the Human Rights report detailed the suffering a recruitment agency subjected its workers to. “I was locked up inside the agency for 45 days. We were Indonesians and Filipinos; 25 of us. We got food only once a day. We couldn’t go out at all. The agency said we owed them 1,500 dirhams – three months’ salary. Five of us ran away; we used a blanket to escape from the second floor. Four of us got injured,” said Cristina Suarez, a 26-year-old Filipina domestic worker, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, February 27, 2006.

Some domestics workers are raped, and may end up with a pregnancy, and in such a situation, workers do not have the luxury of having an abortion. Another account by a female worker in the Human Rights report describes how she was repeatedly sexually assaulted and wasn’t offered any medical treatment afterwards. “When the lady went to drop off the children to the grandmother’s house, the man would stay at home … he raped me many, many times; once a day, every day for three months. He hit me a lot because I didn’t want to have sex. I don’t know what a condom is, but he used some tissues after he raped me. [After paying off my three months’ debt] I took a knife, and I said, ‘Don’t get near me!’ I then told the lady; she was very angry with me and [the next day] she took me to the harbor and said she bought a ticket for me to Pontianak. I had no money to get home from Pontianak. I haven’t gone to a doctor,” recounted Zakiah, age 20, a returned domestic worker from Malaysia, in Lombok, Indonesia, on January 24, 2004.

I’m writing now while I'm angry, because I know that words don't save domestic workers or give them another life for payback against their oppressors. Perhaps there’s no solution for workers except through strict laws and the end of the kafala system

I think back on the situation of domestic workers with pain heavy in my heart. I am not saying that everyone is merciless, but the situation of these female workers should not be made subject to mercy in the first place. The world easily forgives and forgets them any sin they commit against them. On top of the pain of being far from their own home and separated from their family, loved ones, and friends, they endure all kinds of insults.

I am writing now while I am angry, because I know that words do not save workers or give them another life for pay back against their oppressors, and perhaps there is no solution for domestic workers except through strict laws and the end of the kafala system.

The time of slavery has not ended; the world is still black.



* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22


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The level of justice in a society is determined by the degree of individual freedom its citizens enjoy. This includes the ability to express themselves, live their lives authentically, and feel safe from harm or punishment. Sadly, in our region and many other places, human rights are constantly endangered by oppressive forces. It's up to us to make a difference and lead the way towards positive change.

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