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Recently, at a resort’s swimming pool, I saw a family splashing about in the water, yelling to each other and in general having quite a lot of fun. I also happened to notice, a young Filipina lady, obviously their maid, standing off unobtrusively in a corner, keeping an eye on this family’s belongings. With all the action going on, surely, this woman must have felt left-out and lonely? She must have missed her own family, living many miles away, don’t you think? I felt sorry for her. But come to think of it, she might actually be in a better position than many of her compatriots.
Take the case of 23 year old Indonesian Sumiati, who came to the Middle-East, eager to work as a maid. After only a few months all she has to show for it, is a bruised and battered body. Her employer has been accused of several atrocities including “cutting off part of her lips with scissors, scalding her back with an iron, fracturing her middle finger, and beating her legs until she could hardly walk.”
Sumiati’s is not an isolated incident. Just a couple of months back, Ruyati, another Indonesian maid was beheaded brutally in Saudi Arabia. And then there is Lahanda Purage Ariyawathi, a 49 year old maid and a mother of 3, who was sent back home to Colombo, where doctors had to remove 19 nails, which were allegedly heated and hammered into her body by her employers. Or 25 year old Nuan, also from the Philippines who has “permanent whipping marks on her arms, legs and the side of her face from belts and electrical cable and has deep red scars on her leg where a hot clothes iron was repeatedly pressed into her skin.” Not enough? What about 26-year-old Angelique from Congo?
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So what is the terrible crime that these women are guilty of? The answer is simple. All of them dared to hope for better living standards for their families back home. They dared to dream that there was a better future in store for them, across the seas, in the homes of strangers.
These are just a few of the many, many cases which come to light. Apart from physical abuse victims, there is an even greater number of maids who undergo other forms of abuse such as what Gina had to. Verbal abuse, threats, continuous 18-hour shifts with no days off in addition to having to stay confined with absolutely no freedom for an entire 3 year period. All this without even touching upon the sexual abuse angle, which is horrific in itself, such as a 31 year old Nepalese woman, known only as B.M discovered, after being forced into prostitution by her employer. She eventually contracted AIDS and met her tragic end. Recently, yet another 25 year old Indonesian maid, recounted her ordeal of sexual abuse.
It is estimated that the UAE alone has about 600,000 immigrant domestic workers, a large part of them women, from the Indian Sub-Continent as well as from Indonesia and Philippines. These workers come from impoverished families, with little knowledge of the bureaucratic procedures involved. They are forced to surrender their passports and other documents to their employers and have no way to leave. Further, if their sponsors are unhappy with them and complain, they could be packed off back home, leaving their families penniless.
Maids contribute a lot to remove the drudgery of everyday chores and to the smooth functioning of every household, from looking after the kids to cooking and cleaning. So what is happening? Apparently, we have regressed into some form of barbarians and therefore cannot treat fellow human beings with dignity. You see, if we view lowly beings like maids as our equals, then somehow it implies that our standards have plummeted. We need to prove to the world that we are indeed superior. After all, aren’t we privileged enough to have fat bank accounts, fast cars, swanky homes and the latest designer wear? What do those women have? Nothing! Neither do they have any rights to possess even a tiny bit of self-respect and emotion, like you and me.
Although there are some employers, who do treat domestic workers with the respect they deserve, there are many who it appears, simply cannot bring themselves to be humane. If such situation persists, the actions of this Ethiopian maid, will no longer be surprising. As Gina says, “I know I am only a maid but I am good enough to teach her children, to take care of them – so why should I be treated like this? I am a human being.”
Anne John, a software engineer by training and freelance journalist by choice, is continuing her relationship with Women’s Web, this time as a Digital Publishing Trainee. She envisions it to be a mutually rewarding one!
Anne John plays with words for a living and would probably do the same even
Sad but true. But then the human race has always tried to suppress the meek and defenseless hasn’t it? The teacher of a public school abuses children from affluent families – perhaps to settle scores – just to show that he/she is the empowered one. Apart from physical abuse there are those that make servants eat left overs from their own spittled plates implying that this is more than what they deserve. The list is long and all that one can do is to refrain from such behavior and teach our children to be respectful of those around them – So what if they do the job that you don’t want to do. In fact they should be respected more for pitching in to help out.
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