Mauritania’s endless sea of sand dunes hides an open secret: An estimated 20% of the population lives in slavery.
Mauritania’s endless sea of sand dunes hides an open secret: An estimated 20% of the population lives in slavery.
45K maids to arrive every month from Ethiopia
Last updated: Thursday, March 15, 2012 12:54 AM
JEDDAH – Ethiopia is facilitating procedures to send 45,000 maids to the Kingdom every month, an informed source at the Ethiopian Embassy in Saudi Arabia has said.
Ethiopian housemaids have been high in demand after the Kingdom stopped recruiting housemaids from four countries, including Kenya, because the Kingdom has been unable to reach a satisfactory agreement with these countries, Asharq Al-Awsat reported Wednesday.
Noor Adeen Masfa, Vice Consul for Economic Affairs in Jeddah, said his department and committees from the Ethiopian Ministry of Labor met several times to facilitate the travel of housemaids to the Kingdom after they are properly trained in Ethiopia.
“We decided to finish procedures of 1,500 housemaids due to the increasing demand for Ethiopian housemaids by Saudi families. Ethiopian housemaids are trained well on Saudi customs and traditions, besides the percentage of runaways is low,” he said.
Unavailability of sufficient flights from Addis Ababa has also caused the delay in the travel of a large number of housemaids.
Some Saudi families have complained that their Ethiopian housemaids left their households after coming to the Kingdom to work illegally because they get lucrative offers from private companies and brokers. Masfa said this matter was studied and discussed. Deterring penalties will be put on housemaids who do that, he said.
“Some Saudi families employ housemaids illegally and pay them SR2,000 a month. That’s why many housemaids run away,” he added.
Masfa said the Ministry of Labor in Ethiopia is considering to put conditions in the contracts to allow housemaids use a cell phone and talk to their families and the consulate in the Kingdom.
“Saudi recruitment offices have welcomed this idea,” he said. – SG
Where is the Left’s moral indignation about the Isamic-Arab racism against, and enslavement of, African blacks?
Posted by Billene
In a post from March 2012 here, i discussed the issue of modern day slavery of Ethiopian women in the middle-east and how countries like Indonesia and the Philippines insisted on better wages and conditions for domestic workers going to Saudi Arabia. These demands were followed by a ban as the Saudi Arabian government could not come into agreement on working conditions and pay.
Now in a similar and what i consider groundbreaking move, the Kenyan government has barred its citizens from seeking employment in the middle-east as domestic workers, per this piece on BBC (read more). I find this to be an important move that symbolizes a growing concern about the safety of African women migrating to the middle-east as domestic workers.
As a concerned citizen and a woman, i find the sheer number of middle-east bound female domestic workers i have encountered at Addis Ababa airport on several occasions throughout this year highly alarming. A week ago i started a conversation with a few of them as we stood in the airport immigration queue. Most of them asked me questions about what to do with the immigration forms they had in hand and how to proceed. One of them stuck out for me and we connected at a level i still can’t comprehend because i was utterly moved by her presence. She came from a rural town near Butajira in South-Central Ethiopia and now standing in line ahead of me her life’s journey would take her to Riyad, Saudi Arabia. As always i am curious to find out what sets these women on this path so i began to inquire on the factors that led to her taking the decision to be in that airport ready to set flight.
Unpretentious, trusting and open in her conversation with me, she nonchalantly expressed how she has never been interested in leaving her home town and on several occasions turned down this offer. She leads a modest life selling legumes in her community. However, her younger sister working as a domestic worker in Qatar insisted that she leave as well and explore a life beyond legumes. Her sister apparently had successfully processed the migration of eight women from her hometown and now was ever more insistent that her sister leave as well. The sister based in Qatar began her campaign of persuasion by convincing her sister’s husband to permit her to leave. He agreed that he was capable of taking care of their two children in her absence and insisted that she go, leaving her two and five-year old daughters behind in his care.
“Emama where are you going and when are you coming back” her two-year old asks her, she tells me. She laughs and continues that she responded by telling her “i’m going to go buy you bread”, “you want bread right?”, and her daughter agrees that she should come back with bread.
I am moved at this moment by both the simplicity in her approach to her journey and by the symbolic meaning of what “fetching bread” actually means and entails. She laughs some more and her vivaciousness tugs at my heart strings. Our conversation has attracted two more in the line, one going to Oman and the other to Saudi Arabia as well. The latter has consciously decided that she wants to help me pull my luggage as the queue progresses – i tell her not to worry, but she continues to pull it together with me- often times her hands resting on mine. I find that endearing and connecting – we are two women on different life paths yet connected in the simplicity of a shared presence.
We’re chatting away some more – about what i do, what they do, where they’re going, where i am going, about other people in the queue. The conversation is not flippant or judgmental- it is imbued with a human understanding and connection. I am in that moment touched by these women and their understanding of the world, their authenticity, the absence of cynicism, the will and courage to discover the unknown based on a picture drawn by someone else.
We’re at the top of the escalator where our paths have come to an end and will diverge. The last glimpse i have is of their hijab draped bodies hurriedly walking towards their gates. I take in a moment watching them walk away, silently expressing well wishes and protection in their new lives. And in that moment i make a covenant with myself – I will do something about this!
© 2012 africanfeminism.com
November 11, 2012
ADDIS ABABA: An Ethiopia woman revealed that she was the victim of sex slavery after she attempted to find work as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia.
For H, who asked that her identity remain anonymous, her ordeal began after she took a boat to Yemen, where after two months she was able to cross into Saudi Arabia and was hired by what she told Bikyamasr.com was a “nice couple” for a “decent salary.”
But that is when her horrific experience began. She continues to look down at her hands, ever moving, as she retells what she was forced to endure at the hands of her Saudi bosses.
“I don’t think the wife knew anything that was going on,” she is quick to point out. “But if she did hear my screams and did nothing, I hope she doesn’t sleep well.”
After three weeks of relative calm, H was finding life in southern Saudi Arabia comfortable and she was hoping that much of her first paycheck would be sent back to her family in Addis Ababa. Instead, no money came.
“When the fourth week came around, I was excited because I was being treated well and was doing my job I thought very good,” she continued.
But the day she asked when she would receive money, the husband, who she described as a construction manager, began grabbing her and forced her to the wall. She said she was screaming, but knew that nobody would come to her aid because the wife was out shopping and the two children were at school.
“He ripped my dress off and forced himself onto me. He raped me. This was just the beginning,” she said, tears beginning to form in her eyes.
“He would find me almost daily and rape me. He would force me to work naked in his office if nobody was home. He would tie me up and repeatedly force himself onto me over and over for hours if the wife was out of the house. I can’t imagine that I experienced this,” she added.
After four months of constant rape and sexual violence, H was able to escape late in the night after she found her door was unusually unlocked. She met up with three other Ethiopians and they fled back across the border into Yemen, where they were flown out of the country this fall as part of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) flights.
Her story is not unusual, she says, revealing that at least three other Ethiopian women were raped while working in Saudi Arabia.
“I would never wish any woman to work in Saudi Arabia, the stories I hear are horrific and I know how we are treated. We are slaves to whatever they want,” she added.
Tens of thousands of Ethiopian migrants and refugees have entered Yemen since the end of July, according to a new report published by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC).
The report said that some 51,000 Ethiopians have illegally crossed into Yemen after the short boat trip.
H is just one of the many Ethiopian women who attempted to have a better life outside their native country.
She mostly comes from a poor community. She is female which introduces a whole new dimension to her experiences in a foreign land. She’s mostly Christian, newly converted to Islam to meet the demands of her work. She’s black African. Add to that she hardly speaks a word of Arabic. She might not even speak the official language of Ethiopia. She has probably never been to Addis Ababa until she began her process for migration, which can serve as a testing ground for what to expect in the metropolis of the Arab states. This concoction and intersection of class, gender, religion and race ultimately puts her in the bottom rung of the social strata in the Middle East. She has no information and whatever bit she has does not paint the correct picture. Once she lands in the Middle East, she is at the mercy of her employers. She has no telephone access. She has neither friends nor family to call upon. She is confronted with jealous wives and sex-seeking husbands. The Ethiopian Embassy, where one may exist, is unreachable to her because she is locked up and has no means to get access to her consulate. She is the modern-day slave fighting for survival.
Remembering Alem Dechassa
There is a piercing and disturbing pain that comes with witnessing the anguish and pain of another human being gripped in the relentless embrace of suffering. There is an even sharper pain that resonates with the realization that the intersection of class, gender, religion and race plays a huge role in the source of that person’s agony. And when that person is country folk, the sorrow felt in response to their torment in foreign lands is indescribable. Not because of an inability to feel the same for anyone in a similar situation, but because of a local understanding of the circumstances that paved their tumultuous path.
That piercing, disturbing, sharp pain and sorrow is what I have felt upon watching the viral video of Alem Dechassa, an Ethiopian domestic worker in Lebanon, being dragged by her hair and physically abused by her male employer in front of her Embassy grounds. Two days after the release of this video, reports came out that Alem Dechassa had committed suicide at the psychiatric hospital she had been admitted to. She is shown fighting for survival with every inch of breath and energy left in her.
Alem’s story is one that in Ethiopia we have become all too familiar with. The rural girl or woman who is burdened with the responsibility to take care of her family or is bridled with a passion for self-development, which the reality of her small rural community cannot afford her in its humble offerings. And so the journey that requires her to shed her language, religion, culture, name, family and all that is familiar becomes much more alluring.
Is it better?
A few weeks back I find myself in a modest hair salon in the city of Bahir Dar by Lake Tana. Conversation in there is bubbling about the next wave of women making their way to the Middle East in search of better opportunities. A young woman who is friends with one of the employees in the hair salon has come in to get her hair done before her departure the next day. I ask her where she is going and she replies with caution of her flight from Addis Ababa the next evening to Saudi Arabia. I am afraid to ask her more lest my queries and my worries about the life of a domestic worker in the Middle East should come off as patronizing. Nevertheless, I proceed with one commonly asked and somewhat irrelevant question, “is it better?” It’s irrelevant because I know she has come this far with the choice in mind that indeed it was better. Yet I ask her anyways, to get her perspective on the journey ahead of her.
She is cautious in her responses but she is also fierce. There is determination in her voice projecting to her listener that this journey is one with a purpose and end time. She has processed her contract through a “legitimate” agency she shares with me. She adds that the Ethiopian Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs have provided them with training on what to expect there, what their rights are, that they are not to give away their passports, and that they are within their right to change to different employers within the first three months of each contract. She assures me that the problem cases arise when processed through the illegitimate sending agencies only. She plans to return back with cash in hand in a few months time to start-up something in Bahir Dar.
If her dreams go as planned, it is better. Who am I to doubt that while sitting in my seat of privilege? Even my cousin has made a better life for herself after some short years in Bahrain in domestic servitude. That is if we do not factor in her near death experience when her employer’s mother poisoned her and the other time when her employer’s brother attempted to rape her.
But how long do we continue to “not factor in” these instances accepting them as “minor” hiccups in these women’s progress to self-development?
Race to the bottom
There is a socio-economic concept that posits that when a certain country X enforces strict regulations say on taxation or labor standards, foreign direct investment will seek another country with less stringent regulations. In essence, flexible regulations enable the “race to the bottom”. I found this theory somewhat worthy of mention upon reading a news article from earlier this month in which it is stated that Saudi Arabia alone is seeking up to 45,000 Ethiopian domestic workers per month to meet its requirements. This increase in demand is attributed to Saudi Arabia’s placement of “a ban on recruiting workers from the Philippines and Indonesia after those countries imposed stricter employment conditions.” (Read more here: http://www.arabianbusiness.com/saudi-seeks-45k-new-ethiopian-maids-per-month-450089.html).
This is a classic example of the Saudi Arabian government denying its responsibilities to create hospitable working conditions for migrant workers, and rather preying on countries like Ethiopia who are still in the process of strengthening their support systems for domestic workers going abroad. If in essence the Saudi government is refusing to honor better pay and living conditions for the thousands of women who flock there, would it be an overstatement to suggest that they are institutionalizing a modern form of slavery?
Whose responsibility is it anyways?
Should all fingers only be pointing to the government for a resolution? Do we as citizens not have a part to play in information sharing and raising awareness? Can we who cry out in condemnation of the many Alem stories not put our minds together and come up with a bridging solution that can reduce some of the symptoms of this problem before our girls and women leave? Can we not collaborate with the few human rights organizations working in these Middle Eastern countries to also incorporate our migrant workers in their agenda?
This is the moment when I wish for an Alem2012 viral campaign video that would generate the same fervor for action and worldwide condemnation of the Middle East track record for treatment of migrant workers.
To the governments of Middle East countries who are host to our domestic workers, I insist, our women and girls are not bottom of the rung for us!
Watch “Nightmare in Dreamland” here, a documentary on the plight of Ethiopian and other domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates.
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