Mistreatment of Domestic Workers in a Kuwaiti Soap Opera

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Aug 9 2013

The plots of Gulf soap operas and TV programs often focus on family issues and struggles, of which of course the domestic worker is always ever-present but peripheral. Housemaids are never represented except in a stereotypical manner and with irresponsible depictions that dehumanize them and trivialize their sufferings. In addition to the talk shows and news stories that accuse domestic workers of mistreating children, raising them badly, and practicing sorcery, TV shows tend to mock and ridicule the dangers of such accusations and the abusive consequences that domestic workers have to face.

Last year, we reported on a TV segment that presented an actor dressed in female clothing as a housemaid. She was supposedly explaining why she has escaped her employer. After breaking a pot, she feared the reaction of her employer and decided to escape. The housemaid's clothing and speech are selected to represent the South-Asian domestic worker imagined stereotypically in the Gulf and made a symbol for all other Asian migrants. Instead of offering criticism of employers who abuse workers and push them to escape or to commit suicide, the shows use the painful stories of domestic workers as a material for their shows only to normalize abusive acts and ridicule the claims of those victimized.

Similarly this year, we see the Kuwaiti actress Huda Hussain in a soap opera titled "I will not ask for a divorce" following the same pattern. The female protagonist is in a struggle with her husband but reacts to his behavior by mistreating the housemaid. She tells the housemaid not to keep food for the her husband, then asks the housemaid for the husband's favorite cup and smashes it on the floor. The housemaid visibly recoils in fear and is ordered to clean up the mess. Uncritically acting out this kind of mistreatment demonstrates the producer's lack of awareness or concern for the plight of domestic workers; the storyline only results in the normalization of such acts and limiting abuse and mistreatment to the level of physical violence.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East