domestic workers

I remember my first women’s studies class at Stanford, when there was a conflict when one of the white woman students was talking about the Black maid at her home, and how much they loved her. And I raised the question, “But does she love you? What do you really know of what she says about you when she is home? What have you done to earn the right to talk about her?” Of course, I remembered that when my mother came home, the critique that she brought to bear on the white people that she worked for was fierce. They would not have been able to imagine it. She would come home and do a gendered critique, or do a critique of the idea of female freedom, of the white female leisure-class model in a way that the white people she worked for did not see because of their racism and classism.

bell hooks, in homegrown: Engaged Cultural Critique in the chapter “Feminist Iconography,” p. 39.

Funny I read this this weekend after hearing and reading so much about The Help.

Mainstream U.S. feminist responses to the trade in women have been lukewarm at best. When Gabriela [Network USA] called on women’s organizations around the world to put the issue of global trafficking of women on their agenda [in the mid-1990s], the National Organization for Women (NOW) declined to do so, stating it does not deal with international issues. The real issue may be that privileged women of the First World, even self-avowed feminists, are some of the primary consumers and beneficiaries in this trade. Middle- and upper-class professional women generally have not joined efforts to improve wages or conditions for care workers in the United States, since they have historically relied on the ‘affordability’ or women of color and migrant women working in their homes, daycare centers, and nursing homes. As Cynthia Enloe observes, 'politically active maids have not always found feminists in the host countries to be reliable allies. Too often local feminist groups in countries importing maids either from overseas or from the poor regions of their own countries were led by women of precisely the social class that hired domestic workers.’
—  Grace Change, “The Global Trade in Filipina Workers,” Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire


Save Satinah Ahmad from execution in Saudi Arabia

When Satinah’s employer tried to smash her head into a wall after months of alleged abuse, Satinah defended herself with a rolling pin.

The 41 year-old foreign domestic worker now faces execution in Saudi Arabia as early as tomorrow.

Call on the King of Saudi Arabia to spare Satinah’s life>

It takes one minute guys. JUST ONE MINUTE.

[In] the Western culture of individualism…servants are no longer displayed as status symbols, decked out in white caps and aprons, but often remain in the background, or disappear when company comes. Furthermore, affluent careerwomen increasingly earn their status not through leisure, as they might have a century ago, but by apparently ‘doing it all.’…In order to preserve this illusion, domestic workers and nannies make the house hotel-room perfect, feed and bathe the children, cook and clear up- and then magically fade from sight.

Global Woman, by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild

Join us in reading our April book club book, Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and and Sex workers in the New Economy.

Let’s Read About Feminism: Tumblr | Facebook | Goodreads

Our discussion day for Global Woman will be Saturday, April 30th.

Filipino domestic workers who disappear behind closed doors

Marilyn Restor left her family in the Philippines to work for a Saudi royal – and never returned. What happened to her and others who risk everything to work abroad?

Two years ago, Marilyn Porras Restor kissed her three children goodbye, wiped away their tears and told them she’d try to come home again soon. She left the family house, in a dusty neighbourhood in the city of General Santos in the Philippines, as she had done many times before. Only this time, she never came back.

Like hundreds of thousands of other families across the Philippines, Marilyn’s children had largely grown up without their parents. Raised by their aunt, they went to school, rode bikes and played football with their friends, while Marilyn and her husband Arnulfo cooked, cleaned and drove cars for other families thousands of miles away in Saudi Arabia, sending the money they earned back home.

There are now 53 million domestic workers worldwide – many of them migrant workers such as Marilyn, travelling from poor countries to richer ones to work in private households. In the Philippines, where 25% of the country lives under the poverty line and many families struggle to keep their children in school, the lure of a job abroad has pulled more than 10 million people out of their homes and scattered them across the world, many in Gulf nations. Official remittances sent back to the Philippines by overseas workers now top $26bn, or nearly 15% of the country’s GDP.

Once or twice a week, without fail, the Restor children would gather around a laptop as Marilyn’s pixelated face appeared on Skype, scolding them about their homework and listening to their test results and friendship woes. Then, one day, without warning, the calls stopped.

The family’s desperate search for Marilyn ended in a morgue in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, over a year later. Arnulfo, who was working in Saudi as a driver for a different wealthy family, received a phone call asking him to come and identify a body. The Marilyn he had known was robust and strong. When he pulled back the sheet, he found little more than skin and bones.

A week later, in the corner of their small living room, Marilyn’s two daughters, Ana, 18, and Lunycar, 12, are sobbing, their bodies bent around their grandmother, Nani. The house is heavy with their grief. When he tries to talk about his mother, Marilyn’s son John struggles to get his words out. “She was a good mother… She was strict, but she loved us.”

Read on:-

Abused foreign domestic helpers chat along a corridor in Bethune House, which provides temporary shelter for abused victims, in Hong Kong October 23, 2006. (Photo: Reuters)

Filipina Maid Photographs ‘Modern Slavery’ in Hong Kong

“Hong Kong is a very modern, successful city but people treat their helpers like slaves,” said Xyza Cruz Bacani, whose black and white portraits won her a scholarship from the Magnum Foundation to start studying at New York University this month.

“The abuse happens behind doors. It’s common but no one talks about it, so I want to tell their stories, I want to tell people it’s not OK to treat your domestic workers that way.”

Bacani is one of the 330,000 domestic workers in the former British colony, most of them from the Philippines and Indonesia.

She told how maids are frequently forced to sleep on toilets, kitchen floors, cabinet tops or even baby-changing tables because they are not given beds.

Many work up to 19-hour days. Some are underpaid or not paid at all. Others are denied food or beaten, she said.

“It was a big shock to me when I listened to their stories and they told me they slept on toilets, that their boss slapped them or their boss didn’t even feed them,” Bacani, a self-taught photographer, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.

“It shocked me how people could treat other people like that. It’s very barbaric. When I talk about it I feel angry.”

Human Trafficking: It’s Not Just About Sexual Exploitation

Sex trafficking gets a lot of attention, as it should. It’s a horrific crime. But trafficking in forced labor is also a grave abuse that has even more victims.

In 2012, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that worldwide there were 14.2 million victims of forced labor compared with 4.5 million victims of forced sexual exploitation. Migrant domestic workers, for example, are at high risk of being trafficked into forced labor, but their stories rarely make the headlines.

Some governments have a blind spot when it comes to trafficking into forced labor. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one example.

The UAE considers forced labor a crime, but its anti-trafficking efforts, including shelters and public awareness campaigns, focus far more on sex trafficking than on trafficking into forced labor. In fact, the country’s main agency dealing with trafficking said in its 2013-14 that “the UAE — with expatriates making up about 85 percent of its population — believes that labor issues should not be linked to human trafficking, and should be treated separately.”

With an estimated 7.3 million migrant workers in the country, the UAE should have immigration policies and labor laws that protect foreign workers’ rights and reduce the risk of trafficking. Instead, they have a visa sponsorship system that fosters conditions for trafficking into forced labor. And while the labor law covers some migrant workers, it explicitly excludes domestic workers.

Read more. 

Photo: A foreign domestic worker with a child under a billboard in the United Arab Emirates. © 2006 Abbas/Magnum Photos

[photo: black and white drawing of a domestic worker and a younger child. both of these individuals have long hair - the younger child is smiling. text reads, “your children. your home. your family. I care for what you value most. domestic workers deserve dignity and respect.”]

Pulled this from California Domestic Workers Coalition

We celebrate the IN(ter)DEPENDENCE of domestic workers and the families they care for! SHARE if you believe #domesticworkers deserve dignity, respect & FREEDOM too

Lino print by Laurel Fish was inspired by stories of the relationships between domestic workers and the children they care for. More background here:



Mary Jane Veloso is a 30-year-old Filipina mother-of-two sentenced to death by the Indonesian Supreme Court in April 2010 for drug trafficking.

Veloso’s case was submitted for judicial review but her appeal was rejected by the Indonesian Supreme Court last March 26, 2014. News reports state that Indonesia is preparing to transfer Veloso from the city of Yogyakarta to the maximum security prison in Nusakambangan Island of Central Java to await execution by firing squad.

Veloso was a domestic worker in Dubai from 2009 to 2010. She left Dubai and came back to the Philippines after her employer attempted to rape her. On April 22, 2010, she was illegally recruited by her kinakapatid (daughter of her godfather) to work as a domestic worker in Malaysia. When she arrived in Kuala Lumpur, the same person told her that the job was not available anymore and that she would instead be transferred to Indonesia. It was there that she found out that she was tricked into carrying luggage containing 2.6 kilos of heroin.

The Indonesian government plans to execute 10 convicted foreign drug traffickers, including Veloso, all at once. Their cases have drawn international flak for Indonesian Pres. Joko Widodo after he rejected pleas by the United Nations and various governments for their clemency.

India, domestic violence and child mortality rates

It’s not just access to healthcare that causes child mortality.

by Seetha Menon

There were 1.3m deaths of children under five in India in 2013 – accounting for one fifth of global child mortality. While access to health care plays a large part in these individual tragedies, other factors such as domestic violence also have a significant impact.

My new research has shown that nearly one in ten child deaths under the age of one in India can be attributed to domestic violence against the mother during the marriage. To stop this, domestic violence against women must be dramatically reduced, and women treated more equally in India – both in public and at home.

India has established several programmes aimed at reducing the number of young children who die in recent years. These rely on equitable health care and improved access to public health services with a distinct focus on births in rural and poor households. Yet, in spite of these programmes and of making considerable advances, UN data suggests India is likely to miss its Millennium Development Goal to reduce the child mortality rate to 42 per 1,000 live births by the end of 2015.

My study used India’s 2007 National Family and Health Survey which interviewed 124,385 women between 16-49 years of age. My statistical analysis based on this survey indicates that nearly one in ten deaths before the age of one – 8.9% of infant deaths – could be attributed to domestic violence against the mother during the marriage.

Tragedy of domestic violence

According to the World Health Organisation, around 30% of women around the world report experiencing violence from their partner. Domestic violence can cause child death in several ways. This could be in the form of blunt physical trauma or through the resulting loss of women’s autonomy, which often restricts their movement and thus limits access to adequate health care. Victims of violence also have higher levels of psychological stress which is associated with low birth weight or preterm delivery, which are risk factors for child death……

Read on:-

I think Arab Supremacy is not talked about enough and it is something I feel strongly about. Racism in Arab countries against South Asians and East Asians, as well as black people is seen as common and expected. It is normal for staff to treat customers who aren’t white or Arab themselves poorly, and not to mention the horrific treatment of the domestic workers and construction workers, who are completely ignored and basically have very little rights once they start working for Arab families. Racism in Arab countries is swept under the rug and tolerated. Arabs adopt a mentality similar to white people and develop superiority complexes, this has a lot to do with their skin colour, as anti blackness is rampant in Arab culture as well. It is so common to see blatant racism from Arabs openly on twitter and there seems to be little to no backlash. Why are they excused from their racist views?  
There are documentaries made about racism in Arab countries, Lebanon being infamous for it’s racism as well as the Khaleeji states (U.A.E, Qatar, Bahrain) whose ugly truths are hidden behind their attempts to constantly show off their country as luxurious resorts. White people visiting these countries (especially Dubai) will LOVE the way they are treated, because they come only second to Arabs and retain their white privilege. However, people with more melanin (especially Asians) will find their situations are not the same.
‘He came up to me and just klapped me’

Cape Town - A Kenilworth swimming school owner and well-known cyclist was arrested this week after he allegedly beat up a middle-aged domestic worker in broad daylight – without the two ever having met or even exchanged a single word – then excused his behaviour by saying he had believed she was a prostitute.

A shocked and traumatised Cynthia Joni, 44, of Khayelitsha, said she was on her way to work in Kenilworth on October 2 when an unknown man leapt from his car and slapped her repeatedly, then threw her to the ground, without any explanation.

He was traced after people in the neighbourhood responded to her screams, and took down his registration number.

Her alleged attacker was later identified as local swimming coach Tim Osrin. He made a brief appearance in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday on a charge of assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm. The case was postponed to November 27.

Osrin, 41, who is a committed member of the neighbourhood’s “security committee” and lives close to where the incident took place in upper Kenilworth, claimed he had assaulted Joni because he had mistaken her for a prostitute.

Weekend Argus was alerted to the case when one of Joni’s employers, Sheila Wilson, posted on Facebook that her domestic worker had been attacked. Wilson described the assault as “a hate crime in the middle of suburbia”.

Joni, a single mother of two children and a grandmother of three, told Weekend Argus the incident took place on October 2 after 9am. She had been walking from Harfield Road station to the home of another of her employers, Iain Anderson. As she turned left into Greenfield Road, a man drove towards her from the opposite direction, swerved to a halt, got out of his car and started striding towards her.

“He got out of the car and came straight up to me and just klapped me. Then he kicked me hard and I fell down.“

“He hit me hard on my arms and legs. I fell hard on to the ground. My joints are all still sore – two weeks later.”

“Each time I would fall to the ground, he would pick me up again and throw me hard down again.“

“My shirt was ripped and the buttons came off it. I still have an (open) wound on my elbow.”

After hitting her, he left.

“Then I started panicking. I thought he was going to get something out of the car and come back,” Joni said.

“That was when I started screaming … and a few people came out of the houses nearby. One of them was a man called Bernard.”

“Another was a woman who I had been walking with from the station. She ran back to find out what was going on. By that time I was crying and crying.”

Joni said Bernard took down the man’s number plate, which contained the word SWIM.

He had shouted to the driver, who had yelled back that Joni was “a criminal”, before racing off.

Joni opened a case at the Claremont Police Station on October 6, after being told she needed a medical report.

On Tuesday the woman officer she dealt with called her to say they had “found that man”.

Joni learnt later that Osrin had called her employer “Anderson” to ask whether he could meet her to apologise, and to explain that he had thought she was a prostitute.

“I said, no. I am not ready for that now… He thought I was a prostitute because this is the place where prostitutes walk. He embarrassed me. He took my dignity away,” Joni said.

On Wednesday a pale and exhausted-looking Osrin, 41, told the court he would have legal representation when he appeared again next month.

During an adjournment, he told Weekend Argus he had wanted to speak to Joni to tell his side of the story, but had “not been given the chance”.

He was not sure “why I am being victimised”.

The married father of two, who lives close to where the attack on Joni took place, described himself as a “clean-living guy who loves sport, and who is completely involved in my community”. He also said he had never hit anyone before, and was prepared to face the consequences of his actions.

“It has never even crossed my mind to hit a prostitute,” he added.

“I hate people thinking that I am a monster because of this … I am not sure why Cynthia has trumped up all sorts of injuries either. I can only think she is going for some sort of payment, where she can leverage some cash…

“She’s probably thinking, ‘this white guy slapped me, great … here comes my Christmas box’. People do these things, you know.”

Veering between anger and remorse, Osrin at first categorically denied hitting Joni, but later said he had “felt terrible” afterwards.

He first said: “No, I did not beat her up. I promise you that. Hearing what she claims I did to her makes it sound so terrible…”

But then he added: “I just slapped her once … and she did fall to the ground. She fell awkwardly and if she sustained any wound it would have been from falling. I picked her up afterwards as she had started wailing…” said Osrin.

His neighbourhood was “full of prostitutes”, he said.

“I thought she was a prostitute. She was walking in the street at ten to ten in the morning. I told her to get out of my street and she laughed, and I thought she was giving me the finger again. For four years these prostitutes have been giving us the finger.”

Osrin alleged further that prostitutes in the area “flash their genitals at our kids, they lift their shirts and show the kids their boobs”.

He said that after the incident he had seen a WhatsApp message from Anderson saying that his domestic worker had been beaten up.

“I phoned him and said it was me. I felt terrible the whole day,” Osrin added.

“I just want people to know the truth, where I was coming from and what led to the emotional meltdown. It was not a racist or gender thing … nothing like that.

“I just snapped. It is a result of the years of stress of having these people in our area.

“I only hope some people will understand. I don’t expect forgiveness. I know I did the wrong thing. I am here at court to face the whole thing and I will accept what happens.”

This white man really said his reason for beating up this Black woman is that he thought she was a prostitute, as if that makes it fine. He says it so casually, like beating up a sex worker is justifiable. She’s a domestic worker going to work to clean homes and this asshole jumps out of his car to beat her up. This man saw a Black woman in his neighborhood and flew into a rage. Her mere existence put him over the edge. Despite beating the poor woman up, this guy thinks he’s the one being victimized because he’s white. That’s a synopsis of race relations in a nutshell.

When a Filipino woman leaves her family to work abroad as a domestic worker/nanny, she knows it will be years before she will see her own children again. 

The looming years of separation offer no teary-eyed, last minute good-byes at the airport. 

Farewells are risky and not to be indulged. It will only allow guilt to set in.

“I really did not want my girls to come and see me off. Only my husband came,” said Leilani, a domestic worker and caregiver in Taiwan. “I knew they would just cling to me and we would just end up crying. How could I ever leave them?”

Sometimes good-bye in any form is too painful.

“We have stories of mothers who just told their children they were going to the market, but got on a plane and never came back,” said Luila Garcia, a field officer of Atikha, an NGO that promotes financial literacy among Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and their families. 

“These mothers don’t do it to be cruel. They just don’t know how to say good-bye.”

Image and text by Ana P. Santos, via Instagram. Philippines, 2014.

Ana, our Persephone Miel Fellow for 2014, working on a project about the tens of thousands of Filipino women who leave their families to find work abroad. Roughly 10 percent, or $18.6BN of the Philippines GDP comes from remittances sent home by migrant workers. Almost half of the migrant workers from the Philippines are women, filling vacancies in the service sector mostly as nannies and domestic helpers.

Meet Ai-jen Poo, the domestic workers advocate who just won a MacArthur grant

On Tuesday, the MacArthur Foundation announced this year’s MacArthur Fellows – 21 creative individuals who receive a no-strings-attached cash sum to advance their projects. 

One fellow, Ai-jen Poo, has spent years working to advance the rights of domestic workers in the US. 

Read more about Ai-jen Poo  at

Watch on

Here’s what you probably won’t see about domestic workers on Lifetime’s ‘Devious Maids’
June 27, 2013

Lifetime’s new show about Latina domestic workers finally made its debut, and it’s not doing so well. “Devious Maids” drew in two million viewers on Sunday, which is considerably less than other Lifetime dramas like “Army Wives” and “The Client List”, shows that each had around 2.8 million inaugural viewers.

But ratings are only half the story. “Devious Maids” is packed with celebrities but has little punch. Its creator is Mark Cherry, the guy who brought us ABC’s long running drama “Desperate Housewives”, which made Eva Longoria a household name. Longoria is executive producer of the new show, and its cast includes Ana Ortiz, formerly of ABC’s “Ugly Betty”, and Judy Reyes, who’s most known for her role as a nurse on NBC’s “Scrubs.”

While “Devious Maids” was originally in development with ABC, the network ultimately passed on it. Critics have panned the show for its reductive portrayal of Latinas. Author Alisa Valdez, who’s worked on developing pilots at the network, wrote a scathing, must-read op-ed at NBC Latino on why the problem of misrepresentation is much bigger than, but certainly not helped by, this one show. 

“It is not wrong to be a maid, or even a Latina maid,” Valdez wrote. “But there is something very wrong with an American entertainment industry that continually tells Latinas that this is all they are or can ever be.”

But since the show has brought the issue of domestic work to the forefront of our cultural conversation, we may as well take note of the not-so-sexy parts of the job. From the National Domestic Workers Alliance:

  • 70 percent of domestic workers are paid less than $13 an hour.
  • Less than two percent receive retirement of pension benefits from their primary employer.
  • 25 percent of live-in workers had responsibilities that prevented them from getting at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep at night during the week prior to being interviewed.