20/10/2004

Housemaids are poorly paid superwomen...

Vol XXVII NO. 214 Wednesday 20 October 2004

By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI


For BD40 a month, a housemaid is expected to toil 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She should clean the house, cook the food, wash the clothes, clean the garden (if there is a garden in the house) and in some cases even wash the cars (almost every house has a car).

If this is not enough, she is also required to look after the children and do her madam's pedicure!

In short, she is fully responsible for running the house and ensuring that all its occupants have everything they desire - from breakfast to reading bedtime stories for the children before they go to sleep.

In return, she should not get tired or sick or become slow and sloppy in her work.

She should also not complain or nag, even if she is a woman. After all, she was brought from her country to serve and as a servant, she should not talk back and demand any rights. Any resistance to law, order and servitude as put forward by the madam and sometimes even the boss, is punishable severely.

You should remember here that for every house there are different rules and regulations. There isn't a labour law to cover domestic workers, because like women, they fall under the family's wing and as such are immune from the law or rather, the law has no power over them. No one is allowed to interfere in the way a house is run - not even the law.

Very often we hear horror stories about how housemaids are being treated like animals, shackled to slavery and misery for the duration of their stay in the region.

This may not be the case for all the two million Asian maids working in the GCC without any legal protection, stipulated by a labour law, bound by a contract and governed by a set job definition. Housemaids here seem to be a jack of all trades, robotic machines who are supposed to work around the clock with no time off for changing oil and maintenance.

A study reviewed last week by GCC labour and social affairs ministers in Kuwait shows that housemaids are subjected to many forms of maltreatment, including sexual abuse and even rape, non-payment of salaries, being forced to do 'hard' work and working long hours and at the weekend.

Not many local families approve of giving their maids days off. The argument is that they are women and women could get up to mischief if left alone. The other issue raised by many madams is: if a mother can get a day off, then a housemaid could. Very funny! It is no wonder then that many a time, children develop a closer bond with their housemaid than their mothers. Mothers can leave the home and live their lives - not the housemaids.

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