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On International Labor Day: My guilt towards female workers and my mother

On International Labor Day: My guilt towards female workers and my mother

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إقرأ باللغة العربية:

في يوم العاملات العالمي: أشعر بالذنب تجاههن وتجاه أمّي


International Workers’ Day has arrived, and with it, the month of May, a time to honor the history and achievements of workers. But I am thinking only of female workers, and not male workers. Some might consider this “extremist” feminism, so, I will try to explain my feminist perspective.

Since childhood, I remember watching my mother working "from dawn till dusk," and I would rush to help her organize, clean, and tidy up the house. A big part of me felt guilty: Why should my mother be the one to do all the housework and chores alone?

As a child, I remember watching my mother working “from dawn till dusk,” as I would rush to help her organize, clean and tidy up the house. A big part of me felt guilty – why should my mother be left to do all the housework alone? I never felt guilty about my mother's work as a teacher, as if I knew that she had chosen this fair profession granting her weekends off and a means of income. I found myself feeling similarly towards foreign female domestic workers, many forced to work on Sundays, to complete the same tasks of cleaning and tidying up.

Although, I know my feelings of empathy were not quite the same, as domestic workers secure a living by completing these tasks. However, the sense of injustice never left me. It was as if I were searching to better understand the root cause of this injustice, only to later discover that there is one cause or source for this, even if its outcome, or victim, differs.


Our mothers teach us free labor

It is expected for mothers to practice sacrifice for free, so I absorbed this idea and it became ingrained in my mind. However, my simple mind couldn't grasp the difference between my father's working hours, outside the house, and my mother's working hours, both inside and outside the house, as if my mind was displaying an error sign whenever I attempted to calculate the difference. I try to solve the equation by rushing to my mother’s side and offering my help. Where does the guilt and sense of responsibility many of us have towards our mothers come from? Do I feel it because I'm a woman? Am I preparing myself, subconsciously, to experience such injustice someday?

I know that from a natural perspective, it's expected for mothers to practice the profession of sacrifice for free, so I absorbed this idea and it became ingrained in my mind. However, my simple mind couldn't grasp the difference between my father's working hours outside the house, and my mother's working hours both outside and inside the house, as if my mind was displaying an "error" sign whenever I tried to calculate the difference

Our mothers are accustomed to practicing free, unpaid labor. They teach us that it's acceptable for us to work and sacrifice simply because we are women, not because we want to give.


The feeling of guilt comes to us too

Why are some of our mothers unable to relax, indulge, or have fun? Why are they haunted by the fear that responsibility might escape them?

Why don't they know how to listen to music, read a book, laugh, or stay up late?

From our mothers, we inherit from feelings of guilt, as we are the females of the next generation. It is expected that we take on some of these mandatory jobs, whose fineprint is dictated by a predominantly male society, one that leaves no room for questioning or any criticism of the idea, as if those who criticize it are traitors, as if the feeling of guilt is a duty.

Where does this feeling of guilt and responsibility towards our mothers come from? Do I feel it just because I'm a woman? Am I preparing myself in my subconscious to experience such injustice someday?

What's the connection with female foreign workers in Lebanon?

I find that the sympathy for our mothers and for female domestic workers is clearly linked. Even though the latter is compensated for their labor, it is imposed under the conditions of the same society. Perhaps this applies to foreign workers in Lebanon, but female domestic workers have a unique share, raising questions about whether slavery intensifies because they are women.

According to a 2021 Amnesty report, there are approximately 250,000 foreign workers in Lebanon living in dire conditions, including “extreme working hours and lack of rest days, severe restrictions on freedom of movement and communication, confiscation of their official documents, food deprivation and lack of proper accommodation, verbal and psychological abuse,” and exposure to violence and exploitation under the slave-like kafala system.

Article 7 of the Lebanese Labor Law specifically exempts foreign domestic workers; it is almost as though those who drafted these texts (men, of course) are satisfied with women working for free, or under conditions devoid of freedom or rights in all their forms.

Confiscating and depriving foreign workers of freedom is the right of their sponsor (kafeel), and the Labor Arbitration Council rarely favors workers, unless in exceptional circumstances, i.e. if the sponsor deprives the worker of her salary.


What's the relationship between the two?

In addition to the fact that sympathizing with the situation of female foreign workers and our mothers is a part of our humanity, it also stems from a rights-based perspective. It has one source, which is the expectation of work and labor beyond one's natural capacities. Many human rights organizations confirm that foreign workers were the most susceptible to gender-based violence during the Covid-19 lockdown. This explains the relationship between those that society expects to provide more, and those subjected to a system of slavery, whereas some women in both cases are unable to achieve financial independence and assert their rights.

I speak here of many of the violations that women are subjected to; salary disparities, the precarious and weak positions of many women within the workplace, the shortcomings of Lebanese law in treating women fairly and protecting them from harassment in the workplace. Some media outlets blame women for their type of work, and criticize women in positions of leadership based on their physical appearance rather than their performance, as if rights are truly divisible and change according to what suits patriarchal society.

Today, I have grown up, and I have turned the feeling of guilt towards female foreign workers and women in general into a daily struggle to demand their rights, through writing. Why do I feel guilty? The responsibility is not really mine, but rather a social and legal responsibility.

On whom does the responsibility fall?

Today, I am grown up, and I have turned my feelings of guilt towards these women into a fight for their rights, through writing. Why do I feel guilt? The responsibility is not mine as much as it is a social and legal responsibility. Despite the necessity to abolish Article 7 of the Lebanese Labor Law to achieve justice for foreign workers and amend many laws in Lebanon to ensure women's rights in the workplace, the fundamental problem is the result of a male-dominated, patriarchal society that is unafraid of accountability when demanding more. Society is the main driver of many violations in the context of women's labor in Lebanon.

On Labor Day, I write exclusively about female workers and women laborers. I know that rights cannot be fragmented or divisible, but I allow myself to divide them and shed light on them as I please, while society fragments and divides my rights and the rights of those who do not resemble it, from domestic workers to marginalized women, to the LGBTQIA+ community, refugees, and asylum-seekers: groups whose rights are stripped away in the workplace daily, only one way in which gender-based violence is manifested.

Perhaps my guilt is compounded with my desire to rid myself of this injustice. So, I fail to help my mother clean the house, because I know she has the right to choose her type of labor, and I know she would have chosen much more, if she only knew that there is a vast difference between the love of giving and being deprived of rights, and if only she knew that challenging societal expectations within the home is the first step towards equality outside it.


* 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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