Times of Eswatini
Maids with invisible wounds
THE other day I attended a women empowerment workshop, where we discussed issues of abuse that women are exposed t o on a daily basis. These discussions often focus on domestic violence and gender- based violence in the workplace. The workplace in most cases are your offices, your corporate work and there are hardly any discussions about domestic workers and the kind of abuse t hey are subjected t o i n our homes. This touches on many people because a majority of people have domestic workers in the form of nannies, cooks, maids or any other kind one might be in need for at home.
While some domestic workers enjoy good working conditions, others are s ubject t o exploitation and mistreatment by employers and recruitment agents. Such abuses include non- payment or delayed payment of wages, forced confinement to the workplace, inadequate food, no time off, and verbal, physical, or sexual abuse and invasion of privacy. They cl ean, cook, car e f or chi l dr en, l ook af t er elderly family members, and perform other essential tasks for their employers. Despite their important role, they are among the most exploited and abused workers in the world. They often work 14 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for wages far below the minimum wage.
Physical abuse is rarely experienced by domestic workers. They are more often subjected to financial and emotional abuse. While emotional abuse tends to be considered less serious than physical or sexual assault, it involves a serious and pervasive pattern of behaviours that can result in depression and anxiety. Since this kind of abuse is by its nature non- physical and might not produce the kinds of tangible, material or visible ramifications that other types of abuse like physical and sexual abuse may, it is also much harder to identify and, in extremis, prosecute.
For many of them, daily abuses like lack of rest and non- payment of wages can quickly turn into forced labour. Where they feel like they are trapped inside; they can’t go out. And even when they do have the opportunity to leave, they do not have any money. Every time they ask their employer when they could get their salary, they are told there’s no money, or that the employer is still waiting for the child’s father to send money. At the root of this situation is discrimination. That’s how I see it. The thinking that the maid is not important does your laundry and she’s not educated. The truth is that they are educated, but most importantly they are human! Paying them peanuts makes it seem like they have special shops where they buy affordable food, clothes.
They actually go into the same shops you go into; they buy the same food that is overpriced and use the same clothing shops as you. So if you pay someone E1 000 per month, when your family can’t even survive on E1 000 worth of groceries, what exactly i s going through your mind? For me it’s a personal i ssue because most domestic workers are women, and the abuse they are already subjected to without a pile up from their employer is too much to bear.
You can’t stand for the rights of women and not stand for the rights of those that work in your houses. Some are constantly accused of seducing ‘ madam’s’ husband, they are insulted and verbally abused by the boss’s wife, when in actual fact it’s your husband that’s taking advantage of someone who’s only there to make money. How come when this happens in the office it’s called Sexual Harassment, yet when it happens to a domestic worker then she’s a home wrecker?
I was s o e x c i t e d t o l e a r n t h a t d o mest i c workers now have an association. I hope that this association will look into the issues of pay, abuse and the general well- being of all domestic workers. Working in isolation does not mean that one should endure abuse and discrimination.