Generally, few cases of rape or abuse emerge from North Africa, but this month an AFP piece evidenced that the conditions domestic workers face in Morocco approximate those in the wider Mideast. Filipina workers chronicled their experiences of violence, sexual exploitation, and effective slavery at a conference organized by the Democratic Organization of Labor.
In Dubai, an Ethiopian maid committed suicide in the Ethiopian consulate. After being raped by a non-national, she left her sponsor’s home. As absconsion remains criminalized, she feared her sponsor would retrieve her from the consulate. Observers noted she suffered from mental trauma, seemingly from both the rape and mistreatment. Another Ethiopian maid allegedly suffering from mental delusions also committed suicide in Saudi Arabia. Yet another Ethiopian maid, arrested for absconding from her employers, committed suicide in a Saudi police station.
In Kuwait, an Ethiopian and a Nepali maid hung themselves in their sponsors’ homes. Another Sri-Lankan maid attempted to commit suicide after her sponsor berated her for neglecting the children. Often, sponsors conflate the role of maid and nanny, and unfairly demand domestic workers to care after both the house and the children – a backbreaking 24/7 role. The mounting pressure of these impossible expectations often induces both physical and mental exhaustion.
Domestic workers are also vulnerable to abuse outside the home, in part because of their subordinate legal status. Receiving governments that are unwilling to protect domestic workers tacitly normalize abuse and engender the gross violation of their humanity. In Kuwait, the harrowing twelve-man gang rape of a Filipina worker was neither socially acceptable nor legally permissible, but it was a direct result of workers’ legal and social marginalization.
Once again, suicides in Kuwait appear to outnumber those in other Mideast nations. However, Kuwaiti media tends to report much more regularly on registered cases of both suicide and abuse than media in other states. Furthermore, most instances of abuse or suicide are not reported to authorities. Thus, it is impossible to determine the relative frequency of these cases based on either official or press reports. However, in 2013 Migrant Rights will launch a unique project to produce a more accurate index of these figures.