Today women represent around half of the total population of international migrants worldwide. They move, more and more, as independent workers, usually to more developed countries in search of a better life for themselves and for their families. Reproducing patterns of gender inequality, at destination they tend to find work in traditionally female-dominated occupations such as domestic work.
Stories of migrant workers being exploited have been revealed in a new report, shedding light on new cases where employees are paid below minimum wage, abused and tortured in many ways and not afforded their basic rights.
In a new report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the kafala system, which decrees that a domestic worker cannot move to a new job before their contract ends without the employer’s consent, trapped many women in abusive conditions. There are at least 146,000 migrant domestic workers in the UAE, most of them from Asia and Africa.
A 23-year-old Indonesian said, “The work wasn’t what I expected it to be. It was totally different. I would wake up to start cooking, then cleaning, washing clothes, and then cooking again. No rest, there was just no rest … Because she kept yelling, I cried and asked to go back to agency, but Madam said: ‘I already bought you,’”
Another worker from Indonesia said,“My boss started hitting me after two weeks of being there,”. “She hit me with her fist to my chest. She scraped her fingernails on my neck, and slapped my face. I was bruised on my neck. She sometimes pulled out tufts of my hair.” The worker said she remained there, hoping to be paid, but never was. HRW said some of the abuse amounted to forced labour or trafficking.
Jordan is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the east and south, is also from Asia continent. Abused migrant workers who escape their employers but don’t find shelter with their embassy face imprisonment for being illegal workers. An estimated 37% of migrant domestic workers in Jordan work illegally.
Maricel realized too late that the window had locked shut behind her. The 31-year-old Filipina was perched outside a second floor window, blood filling her mouth where two teeth had been smashed out. She had climbed on to the ledge to flee her employer, who had grabbed her hair and bashed her face into a wall, Maricel says.
“It’s so high. I want to go back, but the glass doesn’t open. Madam is close. She is screaming, ‘I kill you now!’” Maricel says. “What can I do? I jumped.”
Maricel had arrived in Jordan three months earlier, one of the country’s 50,000 migrant domestic workers. They travel from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Kenya, seeking jobs as caretakers, housekeepers and nannies to support their families at home.
Many get decent paid work; others are not so lucky. In a 2011 report by Human Rights Watch, half of the migrant domestic workers interviewed said employers or recruitment agency staff had physically or sexually abused them. Others have had their salaries and passports withheld, or live in poor conditions.
Elizabeth, from Kenya, has been in the Juweida women’s correctional and rehabilitation centre, in the south of Amman, for two weeks. “I ran away because my madam beat me,” she says, pulling her clothes aside to show bruises below her neck. Elizabeth is awaiting deportation but needs to pay her visa overstay fee first.
Martha says her agency sent her to different Jordanian employers on short-term contracts, collecting money each time for her residency and work permits. But instead of processing her papers, Martha says, they kept the money and she became an illegal worker, liable for two years of visa overstay charges and with no residency permit.
The ILO has developed a Global Strategy to support its constituents in achieving decent work for domestic workers. As part of this strategy, MIGRANT seeks to expand knowledge, raise awareness, promote exchange and dialogue and develop policy tools to ensure effective protection of migrant domestic workers’ rights, promote their labour market integration in countries of destination and address the specific vulnerabilities migrant domestic workers face prior to and during their migration experience.