Human Rights Watch have started a campaign in Lebanon that I find very important: addressing the rights of (female, mostly) domestic worker migrants in the Arab world. Sadly this issue is not addressed enough. There are around 200,000 domestic workers in Lebanon, of whom 100,000 are thought to have entered illegally. There are absolutely no laws protecting their rights. This legal loophole paves the way for serious human right abuses to be perpetrated and to go unrecognized and thus unpunished. The experiences of domestic workers in the region is just shocking: many have been sexually, physically or mentally absued, have had their documents taken away from them, work long hours seven days a week without a break, and havn’t been paid in months, even years. Some have been accused of theft and have ended up in Lebanon’s horrific, overcrowded women’s prison. According to the HRW press release: ” The most common complaints made by domestic workers to embassies and nongovernmental organizations include non-payment or delayed payment of their wages, forced confinement to the workplace, no time off, and verbal, as well as physical, abuse. According to a 2006 survey conducted by Dr. Ray Jureidini of 600 migrant domestic workers, 56 percent said they work more than 12 hours a day and 34 percent have no regular time off. In some cases, workers have died while attempting to escape these conditions, some by jumping from balconies. “
I also read somewhere a while ago that it is thought up to 50 migrant women a day are in trouble. Everyday I see Filipina, Sri Lankan and Ethiopian women on the streets, running errands for the households they work in, walking dogs, carrying heavy shopping, doing all the things that Lebanese men and women think are beneath them. These women cook, clean, take care of children (they essentially become surrogate parents in fact as it seems they spend more time with the children than their mother’s and fathers), and receive almost nothing in return. Recently alot of stories have appeared in the media about employee’s treatment of workers. Some of those stories are incredibly shocking- one migrant woman in Saudi Arabia was repeatedly beaten with a rusty metal pole and chained outside for days in the boiling heat- when she was rescued her hands and feet were in such gangrenous condition they needed amputating. That’s just one case: what about the others that occur everyday behind closed doors?
We know very little about what goes on in the houses these women live and work in. It makes me sick and ashamed to think my middle-class Arab brethen from Saudi Arabia to Egypt, Jordan to Oman feel it is their right to lord over others and effectively treat migrants like slaves. It’s time the Arab world addressed this issue seriously. The Lebanese whine on about how they are mis-represented and discriminated against abroad, but they are doing nothing to protect the foreign women who work hard to run their households. So, cheers to HRW for bringing some light to the issue on the occasion of Labor day (May 1). Although they are only addressing basic human rights violations and ignoring sexual abuse and violence, I hope this is will pave the way for more awareness on the issue.Click here for HRW testimonies collected from migrant workers, here to go to Migrant Rights .