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.


  1. الظاهر انك الوحيده اللي مافيه فرق بينك وبين الشغاله ، ( قلبا وقالبا ) .. الله يعينك على نفسك
    والله لو تنبحين بصوتك للمريخ محد راح يسمع لك .. لان كل العالم يعرفون حيآة المرأه السعوديه .. و كثير يتمنونهآ ..

    لعلمك بس : كتبت بالعربي وبالعامي عشان اوضح لك الفرق بيني وبينك ..

  2. خالد الشهري .. خليك من الحكايات البايخة .. وسالفة حياة المرأة السعودية !! المرأة السعودية مرهونة بإشارة من زوجها والا أخوها ولا أبوها !! وبئس الحرية هذه !!
    آخر واحد يفتي في مسألة حرية المرأة هو أنت !! بما انك رجل

    إلى الأخت الكاتبة
    I agree with you but not that extent. You have, by far, exaggerated when you talked about the massive abuse incidents taking place in Saudi Arabia.
    The number is not that high as your article try to prove, however, yes, the working conditions aren't humane in the meaning of : having no weekly day-offs.. no working hours !
    this is really a dire situation that needs to be addressed. We as Human Beings rely on our nature and sense to provide our domestic workers with humane working conditions, but the law is not protecting them with written laws.

    and to tell you the truth, not all Saudis are rich ! most of them are of the middle class with salaries of 1500-2000 $ a month- remember the living costs + school fees + bills etc etc..

    on the other hand, the government is not being strict with workers who abuse children or commit crimes ! in many cases they end up being deported only !! which is soooo unfair !!

    the situation needs humane and just regulations for both parties, you can't just leave it to the family to decide how to to treat the worker !


    Layla, Saudi Arabia