Defenseless, Exploited, Abused, and Ignored!

Note to the reader (especially to those who are from the Middle East): In every society there are good and bad people, people who are fair and people who are unfair, people who treat others with dignity and people who mistreat others and stomp on their dignity, people who are moral and people who are immoral! And I wrote the following poem in reaction to those who are cruel to their fellow human beings. I wrote it because I am disgusted by what happens to foreign domestic workers in the Middle East. Women from Ethiopia, Nepal, Philippines, and many other third world countries are exploited, raped, and abused by their employers and by others left and right. And there is no law in most of the Middle Eastern countries (such as Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia) to guarantee their human rights are protected. As foreign workers they get no legal protection from the host governments. And I am not making this up. You can read this Human Rights Watch report.

Just recently, on February 7, 2012, it was reported that a maid was snatched by two men and raped in Kuwait. In the same country, on February 1, 2011, the same news channel reported that a policeman raped a female inmate in front of her inmates. On September 2, 2010, the Economist magazine portrayed this grave situation in the Middle East as something “a little better than slavery.” I believe the magazine acted quite generous because for some of the women what happens to them is nothing but pure slavery! According to the Human Rights Watch, as quoted in the Economist article, “at least one domestic worker died every week in Lebanon between January 2007 and August 2008.” I find the cruelty disgraceful and heartbreaking!

You can read many other horrendous stories, which often are ignored and fall on deaf ears. There is little pressure put on those countries that resist to protect the human rights of domestic workers. And the countries where these women come from have done little to guarantee the safety of their citizens. My country doesn’t even have diplomatic offices in some of the countries. And government officials are mainly concerned about attracting Middle Eastern investors who can lease and develop lands for cheap!

Most of the women are misinformed about the benefits they get and the money they make when they go to the mentioned places as domestic workers. Often they leave their countries illegally, dreaming of a better life, only to witness their dreams becoming nightmares.

So I wrote the poem out of frustration, and disappointment! I used a raw, plain language on purpose. I do not believe in sugarcoating the truth. Some of you may find it unpleasant, you may be offended, but I am not here to apologize. In fact, my intention is to prick your consciousness, to shame the people who mistreat, abuse, and humiliate these helpless women—an immoral act that completely contradicts the teachings of Islam, Christianity, or Judaism!

If you are from the Middle East, and truly a believer in Allah or God, I wholeheartedly challenge you to please do something for the maids, whatever you can, either individually or organized as an advocacy group for the sake of your consciousness. You have a moral duty to demand your governments to enact laws that protect the rights of foreign workers. Obviously, those advocacy groups from outside can only have little impact on your governments.

You may think am being too emotional or biased, but the reports and facts on the ground can speak for themselves.

Having said that I must acknowledge again that not all domestic workers are mistreated. There are God-fearing families who treat their domestic workers with respect and dignity, paying them fair wages as per the contracts they have signed. For example, when I was in Ethiopia, I had heard stories about employers who often covered airfare tickets for their domestic workers so they could go home and visit their families during holidays, giving them extra money to buy gifts for their siblings and or parents. In my small town, there are many girls who have traveled to places like UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. Some were lucky to find decent families and to live successfully, but others were unlucky to come back home paralyzed for life.

In short, all I want to say is this: STOP EXPLOITING, ABUSING, and IGNORING DOMESTIC WORKERS!!!

No human being is better than another. Some might be in a better position in life or at a different stage, but the tables can easily switch. —A Tweet

Anyway, let me stop ranting and let you read the poem:

Defenseless

Am a maid, a disempowered servant.
Or call me a slave, a modern slave; more often am nothing but that! 

Am one of those unlucky maids who end up with cruel masters,
their cruel sons and their cruel wives.
The lucky ones meet decent families
who fear Allah’s watchful eyes
and are neither immoral nor racists.

I left my home to improve my life,
to work, to sweat, but not to grieve.
And here I am a Hyena’s feast:
Defenseless victim of abuse and immoral act. 

I wake up at four, I clean the house, and all the dirt;
I wash clothes, and take care of kids,
but all I get is hurtful insults and brutal punches.
I cook their food, and I barely eat,
and if I eat, perhaps once a day,
depending on madam’s moods.
There are days I wouldn’t taste tiny crumbs.
Even back in my land, I was not ill-fed,
but here I am so malnourished!

In one of those horrible days,
the husband crosses his boundaries
to humiliate and to disgust
every part of my existence.
My dignity, my pride
means nothing for this bulldog of the house.
It can get worse: in some cases,
am a chess board for the father and the sons.
Add to the mix, the jealous and barbaric wife
who would whip, kick, slap, torture my fatless meat; 

Burn or boil my soft skin, insult my kin,
and throw me out of her windowpane.
Not to mention, the police force,
and the shadowless cruel stalkers
that satisfy their male egos
by treating me like animals. 

I came here dreaming of good,
but I now go home paralyzed,
my flesh raped and my spirit dead.
A nightmare I never dreamed!

I am ashamed of being a human! 

PS: As I stated in the beginning, there are good and bad people in every society. I would like to add that the unfair mistreatment of maids also exists in Ethiopia though the brutality is not comparable to what happens in the Middle East. Most girls and women who work as maids in Ethiopian households hail from rural areas and from small towns, usually running away from early marriage proposals, domestic violence, or tough economic conditions that also push many of the city girls to leave the country for places like the Middle East. These maids encounter unfair employers who exploit and abuse them. Often times, women employers (especially hotel owners) and terrible housewives happen to be the vicious ones who mistreat them as house slaves (depressing and ironic to see women abusing other women). Some of the privileged women don’t even need maids; they mostly decide to have one as a status symbol, to show off to their friends and foes that they have a servant, which I believe is a result of ignorance and superiority complex, and a reminder of how humans can be callous when they have power regardless of their gender, racial or cultural background; certainly racism makes such experiences worse since for the racist mind the other is nothing but a subhuman. And, of course, here too, there is the bulldog who crosses his boundaries to humiliate these vulnerable women. One of my readers wrote me, “sadly, I have heard of domestic workers in Ethiopia also being exploited by their employers—getting pregnant from the young men or the father in the house and being cast out,” which I completely agree with and it has always broken my heart. However, today, there are local NGOs that more or less deal with such cases and most of the women who suffer under their employers are not left IGNORED—at the very least, they can sue their employers! But in general there is still a lot of work that has to be done to protect the human rights of maids (not to mention the human rights of all Ethiopians who oppose those in power, who advocate for social change, and who demand greater freedom in the country).

***

A must watch documentary:

NIGHTMARE IN DREAMLAND

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33 thoughts on “Defenseless, Exploited, Abused, and Ignored!

  1. Bravo to you, Elyas, for making a statement about this disgusting, horrific situation that affects so many women in many countries. Your pre-post was eloquent and your poem…earth-shaking, especially written in the tongue of one who suffers.
    The tears stream down my face as I type. I cannot bear to think of women, young or old having to bear these burdens. I say that, shame-faced, as I knew it was happening. I need to do something.

    • Thank you Judy! I too tried hard to hide my emotions when I wrote it. But it pains me every time I think about such horrific situations. I just can’t find a logical explanation to why people can be so cruel to their fellow human beings! It just does not make sense! It’s a shame!!!

  2. Brava!!! It is such a heartbreaking thing to know that these women go to these countries thinking they will find a better life and a way to provide for their families.. Yet they get there and are just abused and made sex slaves because the government does not have any laws to help them, even the people who are supposed to protect them ( police) are using them for their own devious need.. And no one in these countries care because they see them as (excuse my language) “whores”.. Anyway great post!! Thanks a bunch for sharing :-)

    • Thank you Abi! It is indeed heartbreaking! Some of these women are just young girls, fifteen and sixteen, but they leave their countries with so much burden on their shoulders, to change their own lives, and of their families back home. But what they encounter instead is a nightmare that destroys them forever! They are crushed at 15, and they can never fully recover from their abuses. They live with un-healing wounds the rest of their lives. Those who abuse them not only see them as whores, but as mere objects that they can use and throw! It’s appalling, inhumane!

  3. Here everyday we hear such stories from various sources, though according to the official media usually everything and everybody is safe and sound. Such unpleasant stories are suppressed or ignored. I don’t think things would go to that extent in democratic countries.
    Human beings are such barbarians when they have absolute hold over such helpless women who come here (often illegally, making them all the more vulnerable) in the hope of making a fortune.
    “torture my fatless meat”- moving words, Elyas! How can one woman be so brutal to another one! As a woman I respect your integrity in saying so much for the cause of these unfortunate ones!

    • Thank you Bindu! “Human beings are such barbarians when they have absolute hold over such helpless women who come here” I wouldn’t have said it better! We can be the worst animals when we stop thinking!!

  4. It really is a sad situation

    Even in the Maldives, we find the same situation.
    We have so many domestic workers from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, & Nepal
    And your poem would definitely apply to many of the female workers working as house maids. those madam’s just treating the poor workers as dirt.
    It really is sad. And when I was watching “the help” the same point kept flashing in my head … those workers who left their home and the children to go and look after someone else children, to cook and feed somone else’s family … :(

    I enjoyed your introduction to the poem :)
    shows how strongly you feel about this .. keep it up

    • Thank you Amira! Interesting that you mentioned the Help! We can make the same movie about the maids in this article. I strongly feel about it because one of these girls could have been my sister had she gone there, you know. Whenever I see the girls going there, or hear their unfortunate stories, I see my sister in their eyes. And I cringe. The pain is unbearable.

  5. Thanks Elias for sharing. Well balanced perspective as always :-) This is a great precedence for March 8, the International Women’s Day. As long as this violation against these disfranchised women continues, none of us can truly celebrate our independence. This is not only an Ethiopian issue, women from all over the world face this new form of slavery. We need to acknowledge it and support activists, organizations and survivors in one form or another.

    • Thank you Acherwa! Yes this will have to be one of the issues talked about during the International Women’s Day celebration! None of us is free until all of us are free! I agree with you regarding the need to advocate for this sad issue!

  6. So much abuse. Your poem is well realized. All voices against brutality, inequality, rape, incest, sex slaves, hate crimes, bigotry, intolerance are voices crying out for change. Now hopefully not in a wilderness, but in a society that can no longer condone these things, in a world that seeks to be civil, law-abiding, just. If this is to be, voices like yours must be raised, The press would serve society better if it shed light on this, rather than the tattoos and behavior of film and rock stars. Good luck in your quest.

  7. Thank you Elyas, for being the voice of the unheard sisters. As I have already mentioned before, I’m studying Law, so I’m well-informed about the new legislations in my country, Saudi Arabia. I always discuss this matter with my mother. I and some of my family members and friends are thinking of a way to bring attention to this matter, you must understand the difficulty of trying to make a change in any sector of the government, for as you already know it is an absolute monarch, there is no room for freedom of speech.

    There are regulations regarding domestic employment (working hours, how to report in case of abuse..etc), the problem is not that there are no laws to protect them, it is that the employees remain silent towards what they face (in my opinion, sadly, it’s because of their need of money and that their home country does not inform them of what they can do in case of abuse -as you mentioned-)

    I would like to add, though, as in the cases above, that the same man who abuses a domestic employee, would abuse his wife and daughters. And that, of course, is not a part of Islam, because Prophet Mohamed’s companion (who we can now consider a domestic employee) said that the prophet never harmed him any way, and he never heard a high pitch of his voice.

    In my opinion, as an individual of the society, the reason why we hear stories about domestic employees abuse specially in the middle east is because the legislations are still considered new, in comparison of other countries, and need time to be implied and auditted correctly. And the cases of abuse here are minor, compared to the society as a whole.

    It makes me sad that women globally, are being enslaved in different forms. But I always believe in a better future :). Thank you again Elyas, your words only proved how good of a person you are, I will keep you updated about the legislations in my country !!

    • Thank you Alia for presenting a balanced view on your country and what you think of this issue in general! I really appreciate it!

      “I always discuss this matter with my mother. I and some of my family members and friends are thinking of a way to bring attention to this matter, you must understand the difficulty of trying to make a change in any sector of the government, for as you already know it is an absolute monarch, there is no room for freedom of speech.”

      You are very right, I agree with you that it’s challenging topic. I do commend you, your mom, your family and friends for discussing it. I think if there is change to come, everyone has to be part of it. I am very well aware that there are many Middle Eastern citizens who feel strongly about this matter as much as I or other non-Middle Easterners are concerned about it. It’s the collaboration between the people who live there and those of us from outside that any meaningful and long lasting change can be achieved.

      “There are regulations regarding domestic employment (working hours, how to report in case of abuse..etc), the problem is not that there are no laws to protect them, it is that the employees remain silent towards what they face (in my opinion, sadly, it’s because of their need of money and that their home country does not inform them of what they can do in case of abuse -as you mentioned-)”

      There are so many reasons why they remain silent in the face of such deplorable abuses, few among these:

      –they don’t want to lose their job, they have come long way, so they prefer to stick it out, until the last straw breaks their back …

      –there is a language barrier … most of the maids who come to the Middle East, let alone speak Arabic, they don’t even speak conversational English. That puts them at huge disadvantage. That disempowers them. As a result they can’t access the information to find out about their rights. And God only knows if they are allowed to read such materials!

      –most of them are not allowed to leave their compounds, to meet other people, to discuss with their friends, etc, things that could enlighten them about their presence there. So they remain uninformed. Their employers of course would like them to remain ignorant so that they exploit them more. Basically in some of the cases they are more like captives, their passports taken away, no contact with the outside world!

      –most of these girls have never been outside their homes, and in their homes, they are raised to be obedient and less confrontational. And being in a new environment let alone for such girls, even for the tough-minded person can be intimidating especially when you are new to the language and the culture, and especially when you are just 15 or 16 years old girl away from your loved ones in a foreign land!

      These and other reasons are the causes of silence in my opinion.

      “I would like to add, though, as in the cases above, that the same man who abuses a domestic employee, would abuse his wife and daughters.”

      You are VERY right on this! I totally agree. And what often happens to the abused wife is that she vents her anger on the wrong, less powerful person she has next to her, and that is of course no one but the maid! Because she can’t confront her husband (for example when he hits on the maid), she expresses her anger, humiliation, jealousy, frustration by abusing the maid more. It’s a classic case of the oppressed becoming an oppressor.

      … a lot can be said. But bottom-line is that it has to change. These girls and women have to be treated humanely. It’s not fair, it’s unjust, it’s a crime, it’s immoral, it’s against humanity, it’s against Allah! No one deserves to be treated like a subhuman because they are poor, black, yellow, brown, green, “untouchable,” or whatever! And it’s our collective responsibility to STOP that!

    • Hi Alia,

      As a Saudi woman, your perspective is very refreshing. I am an expatriate who was born and raised in the Kingdom. I went abroad for my University studies but am back in Dammam now, as I’ve chosen to base my research on the plight of migrant workers in the region with a focus on domestic workers.
      Rather than make a hue and cry about Saudi national’s being unfair and cruel, I aim at doing constructive research that pushes the sending-countries to step up and take responsibility for their citizens abroad.
      You mentioned that you and your family feel strongly about these issues. If you are ever inclined to speak with me, and give me your perspective (fully confidential of course). It would also be a definite eye-opener for me to really get an understanding of the laws of the land. Also, as an expatriate woman, my encounters with Saudi families are limited and apart from news reports that are often biased, I hardly get to hear a representative voice from society.
      As the first leg of the research, I have a survey to conduct..care has been taken to avoid any sensitive or controversial questions (employer details, passport/iqama details etc), I am just trying to place where these domestic workers are coming from in india so that the Government ca initiate pension and insurance programmes in those districts. They also plan on underaking structured comprehensive pre-departure training that will build awareness among potential domestic help about the cultural and social setting in the Kingom and thus help smoothen their transition into the household.

      Do let me know if you are willing to go forward to make a difference, it could be direct involvement or through putting me in contact with any individual/group that takes up such matters. For further information about this study, feel free to contact me on jolinaiesec@gmail.com. If you are willing to help with my research, you could maybe even take it up as a project related to your course.

  8. I have been hearing about this issue since I was young. Back home people use to talk about neighbors daughters who came back from one of those middle eastern countries. Most of them came back mentally disturbed, paralyzed, and some were burned. But I still heard others so excited their daughters leaving, in the hope that they’d help them out financially.

    This just breaks my heart. Those people forget that these women are daughters, mothers, and sisters. Reading these articles made me cry and so helpless. A lot of people know about these things but yet no body is doing anything. Is it not possible for the government to interfere and help these women? I mean the Ethiopian government was quick to interfere in very publicized case of the Ethiopian maid in Libya. How bad does it need to get for these poor women? ugh!

    • Thank you Zebiba! “Is it not possible for the government to interfere and help these women? I mean the Ethiopian government was quick to interfere in very publicized case of the Ethiopian maid in Libya. How bad does it need to get for these poor women? ugh!” Excellent point! They say “if there’s a will there’s a way,” but I doubt the govt has the will to do it, at least that is what it seems to me.

      Politicians love to jump on publicized cases to get a piece of the pie; I don’t think they had genuine interest to help that poor Ethiopian woman in Libya; they just got involved because the case was too popular to ignore and could have added more damage to their already fragile public image had they ignored it—so it was done to merely save face.

      It’s unfortunate there are governments that don’t give a damn about their citizens!! When I watched the Nightmare in Dreamland video, seeing the difference how the Philippines government and the Ethiopian government deal with this issue made me wanna flush my citizenship down the toilet! You know, with the limited resource and minimal influence on the region they have, they can still save many lives if they put the right people who can do the job! They send to their Middle East embassy(ies) freaking cadres and smooth talkers whose primary job is to rub shoulders with rich investors that are told to come and lease lands dirt cheap! At least based on the video, there is no one qualified person to handle the women’s case, but you see an extravagant building that seems like an embassy for some European country, and that only gives you a stomachache or a migraine!

  9. I’m always in support of those who wish to raise their voice against tyranny and abuse…and bravo to you for speaking out. I’ve written a couple of poems myself about the atrocities that go on all over the world and the mistreatment some have for their fellow man.

    Keep speaking out!

  10. It is a very sad situation and an issue that always seems to be put on the back burner of all the authorities involved. I love the poem, very powerful. Thanks for sharing the documentary and the different news articles to reinforce the message. Keep doing what you are doing.

    • Thank you Tihtina! “It is a very sad situation and an issue that always seems to be put on the back burner of all the authorities involved.” … I think we can bring it to the front burner and make it a cause worth fighting for. If we are at the forefront of the battle, am sure others will join us.

  11. Hi,

    First off, great job Elyas. Poignant poem that really gets to the core of the issue.
    My name is Jolin and I am currently doing a survey on the condition of Indian domestic workers in the Middle East. This data collection is towards a report directed to the Indian government to emphasize the role of sending-countries in mitigating the violations against migrants in the region. The direct outcome of this report is the introduction of social security measures such as a life insurance scheme, a pension program on return, a bank savings scheme and pre-departure training sessions all aimed at migrant domestic caregivers.

    My previous independent research was about all migrant domestic workers in the GCC, but this particular project is aimed directly at Indians.
    Every day newspapers are peppered with reports about abuses against domestic help and other unfortunate expatriates living outside the protection of labour laws and other minimum standards.Their pleas are met with silence and they face deadends at every turn, thus triggering the rise in suicides as their only way out. This is abominable.

    This is not an investigative study aimed to blame the GCC country for the conditions of these workers, rather, it is aimed at taking effective steps to help their situation. It is imperative to end the impotence of Embassies in the Gulf and promote specific policy measures and concerted action by origin-country governments to protect their citizens abroad.

    I am in Saudi Arabia until June 5th and will be in Kuwait in a few weeks time. If we could establish contact and maybe discuss these subjects, it would be instrumental in informing my research. Any Resources/Contacts towards this end would also be highly appreciated.

    • Thank you Jolin for reaching out and for leaving such a wonderful message. I admire the work you are planning to accomplish.

      “It is imperative to end the impotence of Embassies in the Gulf and promote specific policy measures and concerted action by origin-country governments to protect their citizens abroad.” I agree with you 101%.

      “If we could establish contact and maybe discuss these subjects, it would be instrumental in informing my research. Any Resources/Contacts towards this end would also be highly appreciated.” Yes we could. And I would be more than glad to help in any way I can. Let’s discuss via email.

      Thank you again for stopping by and commenting!

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