Misery of the housemaids (9)

A woman in Riyadh was stopped by police earlier this week and questioned about her legal status, Arab News reports:

They learned that she was a runaway maid who fled her sponsor five months ago.

According to police, the maid then fell prey to a group of men who had offered her a job with benefits, including an annual home-visit plane ticket. But instead of employing her as a maid, the gang sexually exploited the woman.

“I had no choice except to give in for their pleasure since they threatened to take me to the police if I disagreed,” the maid is alleged to have told the police.

She is now under arrest, along with an unspecified number of men.

"Migrant domestic workers risk a range of abuses," Human Rights Watch says. "Common complaints include unpaid wages, excessive working hours with no time for rest, and heavy debt burdens from exorbitant recruitment fees. Isolation in private homes and forced confinement in the workplace contribute to psychological, physical, and sexual violence, forced labour, and trafficking."

On Wednesday, HRW issued a report on the conditions of migrant domestic workers which includes six Arab countries: Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain. The report concludes:

Governments have been engaging more in rhetoric about protection of migrant domestic workers than in reform. 

While there has been progress in several areas, for example, the formalisation of working conditions in standard contracts and greater cooperation with civil society groups advocating for domestic workers’ rights, many underlying forms of discrimination have yet to be addressed. These include major gaps in labour protections, restrictive immigration sponsorship policies that establish incentives for abusive behaviour, and prevailing social norms that justify practices such as confining domestic workers to the workplace.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 30 April 2010.