Kuwait: The British newspaper, The Telegraph, published an report titled “‘I want to leave but I’m scared’: Pandemic increases risk of violence for Gulf’s domestic workers” in which it reported allegations of housemaids in Kuwait stating that they were subjected to ill treatment and during the outbreak of Corona epidemic it increased.
Maryanne 39-year-old from the Philippines came to Kuwait one year ago to become a live-in domestic worker, with the aim of supporting her three small children back home, who are cared for by her mother. She’s is paid 120 Kuwaiti Dinar per month. Since the lockdown her already busy workload has increased. Maryanne believes her safety is in danger. She tends to a family of six and their ongoing confinement due to the Corona virus pandemic has caused tensions in the home to fray, putting her in the firing line. “Yesterday, my boss acted like he wanted to hurt me, but I quickly ran to my room and locked it, I cry so much because my employers are always angry. I have to be alert in case something happens to me.” stated in her interview to The Telegraph.
There’s extra cleaning and cooking, as well as new duties such as washing newly bought groceries. “There’s no rest for me. I finish work at 12am and start again at 6.30am,” she says. There are over 1.6 million women employed as live-in domestic workers employed across the Gulf states, Lebanon, and Jordan, according to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization (ILO).
Maryanne’s employers enforce rules that she feels are intended to wear her down. Each day, she is made to wear a uniform of badly fitting old overalls that used to belong to family’s previous maid. She also has limited access to her phone, which means she can only chat to her children twice a month. “We can only text, we can’t talk by video because I have to buy my own data and it’s expensive,” she says. “My employers won’t give me their wi-fi password. They tell me they’re not a bank.”
Cristina, 25-year-old from the Philippines a domestic worker in Kuwait, says her employers are over-working her, and her working days have got even longer since the pandemic began. She is allowed a five-hour break from work twice a year, despite her contract stating she should have one day off per week. “Since I arrived at the house, I haven’t stopped working,” she says. “It’s so difficult.”
Cristina is desperate to leave her employment, but her recruitment agency won’t assist her in doing so. She’s thought of running away but is concerned she’ll be prosecuted for absconding her contract. “I’m too stressed and my body is in pain,” she says. “I want to leave but I’m scared.”
Many find themselves forced to work longer hours to complete the additional tasks that come with having the families they work for stuck indoors. Some are trapped in physically abusive environments, unable to access help, since they are unable to leave their employers homes.
They typically hail from low income countries in Asia and Africa and send the bulk of their earnings home in remittances.
The rules in place for domestic workers in the Middle East make it near impossible for them to leave abusive households. They are employed under the ‘Kafala’ sponsorship system, which means employers have complete control over them, including the power to stop them changing jobs or leaving the country. Escaping is classified as a criminal offense.