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Desperate Housemaids

South Asian women, housemaids in Persian Gulf country.

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Poor South Asian women are imported to the Middle East by the plane loads to serve as housemaids in the Middle East. Quite often these women face hunger and abject poverty in their own countries and have no choice but to turn to the oil-rich Gulf region in hopes of a better life and a brighter future. They are hired by unscrupulous recruitment agencies based in their very own homelands that often require they fork over several hundred dollars to secure a job. These women are promised a good salary and even better working conditions. However, once they land in whichever country the hands of fate have dropped them, they are in for a very rude awakening.

Not only are the working conditions in most Middle Eastern countries deplorable but also there are little, if any, regulations in place to ensure that these housemaids are well cared for and that they receive their salaries on time. More often than not, South Asian housemaids are locked up in their sponsor’s home. They are forced to work around the clock with no pay, little sleep and even less food. The housemaids never get a day off and rarely see the light of day. They are routinely left in the home like caged animals and they simply cannot get away. And even if they could get away, it would be an exercise in futility given that the employer retains their passports and other documentation. Housemaids in the Middle East are frequently abused, raped and sometimes beaten to within inches of their lives. The torture they endure day in and day out is so unbearable that they try to escape the torment in any way that they can. It is common to read in the daily newspaper about a maid falling from either the roof or balcony of the building they reside in a failed escape bid. They often tie bed sheets together or try to scale down the face of the building on a flimsy clothesline. These women are so desperate that they cannot even see how dangerous their escape method is and they often fall to their deaths smashing onto the pavement in a ball of twisted bones and flesh.

The nations in the Gulf continue to turn a blind eye to the epidemic of housemaid abuse within their borders. They prefer to protect the reputations of their nationals than to curb human rights abuses. However, the rest of the World is sitting up and taking notice. This month the New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report that sharply criticized Gulf States for not doing enough to protect housemaids working in their countries. Lebanon was specifically mentioned for failing to protect an estimated 80,000 Sri Lankan housemaids and migrant workers within its borders with stringent employment laws.

HRW further illustrated the atrocities that Sri Lankan maids and migrant workers face on a daily basis in Lebanon. These women are subjected to sexual harassment, rape, confinement, verbal and physical abuse. They work between 16-21 hours per day and do not receive a day off during the workweek. Even during times of national crisis the maids are still forced to tirelessly look after the families they worked for. During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, many housemaids were locked up in homes to protect the property while the family fled for their lives. The maids were left in a veritable war zone with bombs dropping from the air. They had no chance to run for their lives.

Clearly, something has got to give. Either the nations who host the desperate housemaids in their countries must step up to the plate and protect their innate human rights. Or the countries where the desperate housemaids hail from have got to step in and demand employment laws that will be enforced to protect the lives and livelihoods of these women.


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