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The Constrained Capabilities Of Overseas Domestic Workers In Lebanon (Report)

On March 27, 2012

Kate Denman is a British born researcher who has spent large periods of her career working in Lebanon and Syria, focusing on issues of human rights, social justice and equality. She co-founded an NGO, Refocus, and is finalising her MA in Education, Gender and International Development at the Institute of Education, London. Kate continues to research social injustice and designs artistic educational programmes to help raise awareness, understanding, and to facilitate social change.

Kate has compiled a remarkably thorough, original paper which analyses the conditions for Overseas Domestic Workers (ODW) in Lebanon as vast global disparities create a modern slave-trade where post-industrialised economies opt for cheap imported labour. ODW come from some of the poorest countries to work in Lebanon where they are excluded from national labour laws. This results in limited available protection and increased risk of exploitation and loss of freedom and dignity.

The paper uses the Capabilities Approach, with specific focus on Nussbaum’s list of capabilities, as a framework to explore the constraints that ODW face. This includes their access to recourses and their possibilities to convert their capabilities to valued functionings and agency. An analysis is made of how national and international policy is responding to these concerns in the Lebanese context. The international analysis focuses on the UN anti-trafficking protocol, CEDAW, authentic commitments made by Lebanon to the International Labour Organization’s convention, and how the MDG’s and EFA goals are failing to commit to adult education and equality.

The paper exposes the lack of legal protection available, how public attitude is emulates national policy, the physical and psychological violence experienced by ODW, forms of debt-bondage slavery and contract-slavery, education and how the ethnic hierarchy has developed.

The main findings were as follows:

  • ODW in Lebanon are frequently being denied basic rights and capabilities which highly restrict valued functionings and agency.
  • Structural barriers and non-inclusion in labour laws reinforce the demeaning socio-political landscape for ODWs.
  • Attitudinal change needs to occur to reduce symbolic and physical violence that ODWs sustain.

In response the following courses of action are recommended:

  • Education for the ODW should be provided, not only to help them understand their rights, but also give access to capabilities and opportunities previously denied.
  • Pre-departure seminars in home countries need to be investigated.
  • The education of Lebanese children about ODW should be implemented.
  • To guarantee the implementation of international labour laws public awareness needs to be raised regarding ODWs circumstances. Key constituencies such as national labour officials, trade unions, employers, media must join together to create governmental pressure.

Read Kate's full paper here (PDF).