Being a woman in a man’s world is not a piece of cake. Being a black woman in a white man’s world is not a piece of cake. Being a black woman from a developing African country in a Western-dominated white man’s world is not a piece of cake. Last but never least, if you are all that and a domestic worker in Lebanon or in the Middle East then you are, my poor helpless friend, entering the rusted locks of modern slavery.
We live in a society that nags day and night about the way the West looks down on it but we live in a society that brags day and night about the way it looks down on its own “others”. Do you know how hard it is to make just one piece of cake? Being a migrant domestic worker is even harder. This hegemony that the workers live in is shaped by a forced consent that was naturalized among the Arab countries. The migrants, being the “inferior” has become normal. The migrants, being “objectified”, has become normal. However, only for those with a sick mind, to say the least. Foucault has talked constantly about the relationship between Knowledge and power. Do domestic workers know their rights? Do they know them? If they want to name things or if they stand up to fight for their basic human right, like many underpaid and abused domestic workers do, they’ll either committ suicide or the employers will slowly kill them. When a migrant worker first comes to the employer’s home, they look at her as if she is a statue that should fit among their house furniture. If they think she is too ugly, which she can never be because they are all very beautiful, they constantly throw it to her face. If they think she is too pretty, they either brag about her ephemeral looks to their friends to “compare” or they reduce her freedom fearing she’ll seduce others. They do not see her as a person whose mind can put all their little ones to shame. Because she doesn’t speak Arabic in many cases or because her English or French is as good as she worked on, given her circumstances, but not good enough for them, all this adds to her marginality among them. However, when the head of the house curses at her in arabic, she seems to understand every word.
Migrant Domestic Workers raise the family’s children. The migrant is a mother and sister to them more than their family ever will be. Do you know why most domestic workers are not given any phone and are not allowed a day off, even to do religious activities? Because the “Madam” fears that they’ll make friends that’ll ruin them, a.k.a. Make them see more clearly that they are quite oppressed. Yes, there are committees and activists in the country, but migrant workers still live under the Kafala System. Most Lebanese employers take her passport, her identity away from her and they think it’s normal, and it’s always the domestic worker’s fault, not theirs.
I forced myself not to copy all of Patricia Hill’s text to prove my points but there’s this quote “African-American women and other individuals in subordinate groups become empowered when we understand and use those dimensions of our individual, group, and disciplinary ways of knowing that foster our humanity as fully human subjects.” which led me to think that maybe domestic workers’ empowerment scares Lebanese people away, which leads to more restriction on the migrants’ freedom.
We love to dominate, especially when we are dominated. The Kafala system has always been a worry of mine and as much as I try to think of ways to abolish it, I constantly get reminded that no matter what you do, this society’s mode of thinking is the problem. We need to change the way we perceive things in order for migrant workers to be truly free. I just hope that with this general mobilization where people are freaking out for staying weeks at home without going out, with the economic crisis, I just hope that people will understand what it is like to be an underpaid domestic worker in Lebanon and hopefully the Kafala system will be abolished, that’s what some of us are fighting for. Lebanese look down on Migrant workers and it’s ironic, their countries are more advanced than ours, Ethiopia is taking over the Renaissance Dam, and us, we are still living in the nostalgic golden age of the arab world that was outdated long before I can remember.
Photo: Daily Star.