Monday, May 23, 2011

The Difference Between Saudi Women and Their Domestic Workers

Saudi Arabia is a great place to live! Unless you're a woman or a migrant worker. If Saudi Arabian women are '2nd class citizens', then domestic workers in Saudi Arabia are '3rd or last class citizens'. But Saudi women have something in common with migrant domestic workers; they both live in cages. One difference though; Saudi women, for the most part, live in gilded cages, while domestic workers' cages are worn out and decrepit. What do I mean?

I mean, although both Saudi women and domestic workers are denied their rights, freedom and dignity; some Saudi women live more luxurious lives than domestic workers. Although both Saudi women and domestic workers suffer from abuse at the hands of Saudi men, domestic workers also suffer at the hands of Saudi women. Most Saudi women DO NOT abuse their maids, yet that does not mean that some women don't, and although most Saudi women do not live the lives of queens, they still have a better standard of living than domestic workers.

This is NOT at all limited to Saudi Arabia. My country, Kuwait, and other mostly Gulf Arab nations have the same level of abuse towards migrant workers. I am only focusing on Saudi because its women have the least rights among the Arab countries and I find the comparison more interesting and thought-provoking.

Earlier this year, in a landmark decision, a Saudi woman was sentenced to three years in jail for abusing her Indonesian domestic worker. The Saudi woman was arrested after allegedly beating Ms Sumiati so severely she had broken bones and internal bleeding. She was accused of putting a hot iron to Ms Sumiati's head and stabbing and mutilating her with scissors (!!!).

Sumiati Mustapa, 23, abused by Saudi woman

This horrific case is one of many, aside from physical abuse many domestics are also denied their salaries and there are no labor laws to protect the workers or even a minimum wage. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, "Saudi law specifically excludes the estimated 1.5 million, mostly Asian, domestic workers from protections of the labor law." This must be changed for migrant workers to even begin to have some rights. 

Recently, Saudi Arabia rejected a pay raise bid by Philippine domestic workers. According to France 24 "the dispute began early this year after the Philippines demanded a minimum $400 monthly wage for its domestic workers as well as proof that Saudi households employing them would pay and provide humane working conditions". The latest attempt to resolve the dispute with the Saudis broke down in bilateral talks held two weeks ago. At that meeting, the Saudis agreed to furnish details of prospective employers to the Philippine government, but balked at the pay hike offering instead a base monthly salary of $210.

Relatives of Filipina domestic helpers picket against wage cuts.

Even though Saudi Arabia is a wealthy nation, it stopped hiring domestic workers from the Philippines rather than increase their pay.

According to a report today by an online newspaper from the Philippines, "Recruitment industry leaders warned the government yesterday that many Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia might lose their jobs as a consequence of the continuing disagreement over the rules on hiring of Filipino domestic helpers, also called household service workers (HSWs). Local recruiters said the country faces “serious repercussions” if the Philippine government refuses to accept the Saudi officials’ appeal to lower the minimum wage of HSWs from the current $400 being demanded by the Philippines to $200".

The abuse of women across all social classes by both men and women in Saudi Arabia highlights the root issue; abuse is widely accepted in the region and human rights are seen as a privilege.

Instead, human rights MUST be a given and the abuser must be stigmatized and NOT the victim of the abuse.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saudi Woman Arrested for Driving

UPDATE #3: After practically stalking Manal she has now been arrested and taken with her brother by 4 cars with 9 people from the Secret Police (in plain clothes) to Al-Thahran Police Stationn according to @Women2Drive. #FreeManal

UPDATE #2: After being freed, police came to Manal's home and have been banging on the door. Situation developing.

UPDATE #1: Manal has been freed, yet she had to WALK home. Women of Saudi are still NOT free. The revolution is just beginning.

The woman behind the Twitter page @Women2Drive (which declares that Saudi women will begin driving on June 17), Manal Al-Sharif drove in Khober, Saudi Arabia with her children, her brother and his wife and children. Her Twitter page 'live tweeted' her driving then being harassed by the vice 'police' who at
first wanted her to accompany them in their cars by herself. This is totally hypocritical as vice police would be against women being alone with men who are not their 'mahram' or male guardian.

Manal refused to go with them and was forced to follow them to the police station. Women2Drive's Twitter page has stated that a video of the incident will be posted soon. I will update this post with the video as soon as it becomes available.

We are all Manal Al-Sharif.

Below is a video of Manal driving in Saudi without incident. It was posted by Women2Drive on May 19, 2011, two days before Manal's arrest.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Alarming Rise in Suicide Rates Among Housemaids in Kuwait

Abused domestic worker in Kuwait

According to reports by the Arab Times, in the past two months alone, 8 maids in Kuwait have attempted suicide and most of them died. Suicide attempts among domestic workers in the Arabian Gulf are on the rise. The obvious question is why? As a Kuwaiti who grew up with maids and drivers (just like almost every other Kuwaiti), I know why. Its because in most cases they are treated worse than animals; they are rarely or never paid their salary, worked to the bone, abused mentally, physically and sexually and they have no voice and no way out so far away from their homes.

Growing up, my maid used to tell me horror stories about the way she was treated by the Kuwaiti family she used to work for. She told me they would lock her in the house when they left to work and beat her if she tried to leave. She was married and her husband worked nearby and she never got to see him; she also never got her salary, was fed disgusting leftovers and was on call all hours of the night, many times working from 5am to 2am. I was shocked, we never treated her this way; she had set hours and a fixed salary each month and her food was cooked for her and not leftover scraps, fit only for a dog. 

As horrible as her story was, it wasn't the worst story. There are much worse stories out there. One maid was tortured by her sponsor and his wife with hot metal rods, which they used to burn her legs. A 28 year old Filipina maid tried to commit suicide by drinking insect pesticide. A maid from Nepal slashed a major artery in her wrist in an attempt to end it all. A young Sri-Lankan maid jumped off of a building and died from severe brain trauma. Another maid from the Phillipines hanged herself in her sponsors home. One can only imagine the suffering that would lead to such levels of despair and desperation.

Mariam Al-Foudery is a labor activist who along with a small group of fellow labor activists have started an informal advocacy organization to lobby for increased legal protection for housemaids. If you have an interest in contributing to Bayt Al-Khidma (House of Service) please email Mariam at mariamgrad@gmail.comIn an article Mariam writes about the abuses of maids and reforms that must take place to prevent them, she mentions a hotline for maids to call if they are being abused and how that only addresses the symptoms and not the causes of the problem. [Sidebar: most maids (and especially abused maids) have restricted access to telephones anyway, so the hotline doesn't really address the symptoms either.]

Emergency hotline for abused maids in Kuwait

Human Rights Watch published a report on housemaid abuses in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E. and Lebanon.  In it they report, "Krishnan S., a Hindu domestic worker, told Human Rights Watch, "[My employers] would not allow me to practice my religion. I did not have freedom to practice my religion in any of the places [I worked], Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or Lebanon." 

I'll leave you with some more excerpts from the report: 

Latha P., 32-year-old mother of four whose employer did not pay her for five months of work, and who, when interviewed, was unable to return to Sri Lanka from Saudi Arabia because she had no money for a return ticket said, "Whenever I asked for my salary, they beat me up. I got the first three months salary somehow. I got a call that my father was really sick, then I asked for my salary and they beat me up.... They told me, "We bought you using our money, you have to work for that." 

Kumari Indunil, age 23, a former domestic worker in Kuwait says, "Even if I went to bed at 3:30 a.m., I had to get up by 5:30 a.m. I had continuous work until 1 a.m., sometimes 3 a.m. Once I told the employer, "I am a human like you and I need an hour to rest." She told me, "You have come to work; you are like my shoes, and you have to work tirelessly."

Chamali W. told us her employer's son raped her in Saudi Arabia: "All of a sudden he hugged me. I beat him with the iron, he threw the iron and grabbed my arm and dragged me to a separate room... He pushed me to the floor and removed all of my clothes. He raped me. I felt lifeless, I couldn't get up, I felt so weak."

In another case, Sepalika S. told us, "In Lebanon [my employer] did not give me anything to eat or drink, so I stole food and ate. They have a lotof food items, but they did not give me any of it. I complained once to a maid who worked downstairs in Baba's mother's housethat I was not getting any food, then Baba's mother came to know I was not getting any food so she gave me food in secret. So I had to stay in the toilet and have my meal, for four months."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

For Saudi Women, This Time Its Different

Saudi women have tried to repeal the ban on driving in the nineties with no success, leading some people to wonder if this time is any different. People wonder if these 'conservative' Saudi women will continue to drive in the face of arrest or persecution. Although some Saudi women have already proven their commitment to the cause, many observers wonder if these women represent the minority and not the majority of Saudi women. But this time its different, Saudi women and their male relatives are much more supportive of lifting the ban than they were in the nineties.

Saudi women are set to drive on June 17, 2011, yet some women have begun to defy the ban already. One such woman is Najla Al-Hariri who has been driving for four days in Jeddah without being stopped, once again, this time its different.

The Twitter page @Women2Drive has posted an open letter to the King of Saudi Arabia asking him to lift the ban on driving for women. The government of Saudi Arabia is well aware of the wave of change spreading through the region, and they would be naive to assume that the Arab Spring will not pass through Saudi in some shape or form.

The Arab Spring broke down the wall of fear and despair that many Arabs had grown used to facing. Now that hope and courage have replaced fear and despair, Saudi women have a greater change of getting one step closer to equality, because this time its different.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Bloggers: The Biggest Threat to Arab Dictators?

From Egypt, to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., bloggers have been arrested for voicing their opinions and shedding light on their government's human rights violations. Why are Arab tyrants so afraid of bloggers?  Well, because bloggers play a large role in bringing awareness to the atrocities committed by governments.

Maikel Nabil

Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil was arrested in Egypt for criticizing the military, he is still being detained and his twitter page @maikelnabil has been inactive since  March 28, 2011, the date of his arrest.

Palestinian blogger Waleed Al-Husseini was arrested by Palestinian authorities for creating a facebook page named "Allah", following his arrest and release Al-Husseini posted an apology on his blog for insulting Islam and at the end claimed that his statement was not coerced, a statement I can't help but doubt.

Mahmood is the guy with a huge smile in the suit next to the two men in dishdashas

One of Bahrain's most popular bloggers Mahmood Al-Yousifi was also arrested for criticizing the government and exercising free speech. He tweeted through his arrest but that tweet has since been deleted, his twitter page is @mahmood, follow him if you want to follow up with the Bahraini revolution.

Fouad Al-Farhan
Fouad Al-Farhan is a Saudi Arabian blogger who was arrested and detained for a year for blogging about political reform in Saudi Arabia. He continues to blog about politics since his release.

Slim Amamou
Tunisian blogger Slim Amamou was also arrested for blogging and tweeting about the government during the Tunisian revolution. He has been released and is back to blogging.

In Qatar, home of Al-Jazeera News, blogger and human rights activist Sultan Al-Khalaifi has been unjustly arrested. Amnesty International has advocated for his release and you can too, just click here to demand Sultan Al-Khalaifi's release.

Ahmed Mansour
A few weeks ago, in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E), human rights activist and blogger Ahmed Mansour was arrested for calling for democratic reform in the U.A.E.

There are many more arrests of bloggers and activists in the region, and all of these arrests of bloggers reminds me of the saying "the pen is mightier than the sword" or should I say "the keyboard is mightier than the sword."

The arrests of the bloggers shows the world two things: Firstly, Arab leaders are scared shitless. Second, having a blog is the new form of public political criticism.

As a blogger myself, I will keep on blogging regardless of the threat, because as a wise man once said:

"Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison." - Henry David Thoreau

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Death of State-Owned Arab Media

Gaddafi's bizarre appearance on state TV while Libyans were being killed

Bahrain state TV shows Saudi troops coming in to tear down Lulu (Pearl) Roundabout

The Arab Spring has affected Arabic media as well. During the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, state-owned TV has proven itself to be a blatant propaganda machine. Arab state TV is notorious for its inaccuracies and biases; its kind of like the Fox News of the Middle East.

Over the course of the revolutions many people in the Middle East sought 'new media', (such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs), and pan-Arab satellite stations like Al-Jazeera for more accurate information than what state-owned TV and newspapers had to offer.

In countries where the revolution has not yet ousted the tyrant, (Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Saudi Arabia) state TV still spews its propaganda and fear-mongering lies while the government arrests anyone who tries to get the truth out. Despite Arab governments' suppression of free speech and press, state-owned media is on the decline, losing its credibility more and more each day.

Women of the Syrian Revolution

Syrian women protest the government in Bayda

The Syrian revolution is turning out to be a bloody one. Bashar Al-Assad has ordered the massacre of thousands of Syrians whose chants repeat one word over and over; Silmeya, Silmeya (Peaceful, Peaceful). The role of women in the Syrian revolution is a significant one. When male protesters get arrested, their mothers, sisters and wives go out and protest their arrests, keeping the pressure on the government. Syrian women have also created a facebook page called the Syrian Women Revolution 2011, the page could use some more 'likes' so if you have facebook show your support.

I found a great video showing the women of Bayda, I couldn't embed it in the post so just click on this link here. Here is another video of the Syrian women protesting in the town of Bayda:

Saudi Women to Drive on June 17, 2011

Saudi women have decided to revive the movement of 1990 in which women drove in protest of the law banning women to drive. Although the movement two decades ago didn't succeed, the new spirit of the Arab Spring has awakened the women of Saudi Arabia. A twitter page dedicated to this movement has already been created and has been alerting major news agencies and networks of the Saudi women's plans to drive on June 17, 2011.

I find it amazing and inspiring that in Saudi Arabia, where there is arguably the least gender egalitarianism, women have taken a leadership role in spearheading the revolution. Saudi women have already demonstrated their revolutionary spirits by going to polls and demanding to vote, protesting and demanding the release of political prisoners and now by defying one of the most backward and unjustified laws present today.

This picture below illustrates what a Saudi women must go through to avoid being arrested (!!!) for driving.

Saudi woman disguised as a man