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Abu Dhabi Judicial Department Ridicules Domestic Workers

On August 6, 2013

The following ad was produced by the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department and is aired on various UAE-based channels including Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi Plus. These channels are popular during Ramadan as viewers tune in for their well-known soap operas, so the ad consequently reaches a large audience. We could not locate the original clip online and apologize for the poor quality.

The public service announcement purportedly seeks to encourage employers to treat their maids with basic human dignity. But, in keeping with regional media narratives, the ad portrays domestic workers as infantile and malignant.

The depiction of the worker is crude and dehumanizing in several ways. She appears mentally imbalanced, making strange movements and exhibiting an overall a bewildering demeanor. She is purposefully portrayed as unsightly and sinister through her expressions and appearance; she bares a black tooth and villain-like eyebrows, cementing her physical and social subordination to the Emirati family. The maid is a caricature, not a human being with rights and thoughts and feelings. The employers treat her as a handicapped, alien other, patronizing her with fake kindness at the end of the video.

By presenting the employer and domestic worker as racially, socially, radically, different beings, the ad magnifies the distance between the two positions, stagnating an unequal relationship inimical to workers’ fair treatment.

Furthermore, such depictions reinforce distorted fears and distrust of domestic works, which work to legitimize employer abuse; if domestic workers are inherently untrustworthy, employers are justified in exercising more control over their “unstable” employees, for example, by restricting their mobility, their privacy and their access to communication. Employers, enjoying the rights of their home countries, access to judicial redress and a legal scope of control over their employees likened to slavery, are extolled as the true, silent victims. Recent coverage of “revenge attacks” against employers are heavily disproportionate, obscuring the frequent and systematic abuse of migrant domestic workers.

Employers are told only to avoid mistreating domestic because the lives of their children are at risk. They are not reminded that legally (and Islamically) domestic workers, as dignified human beings, must be guaranteed decent working and living conditions. The ad fails to challenge and condemn the principal motors of abuse, particularly the normalized denigration, commodification, and dehumanization of migrant domestic workers. Instead, it reinforces them.