Politics The World

People in the Gulf are bragging about abusing their domestic help on social media, so where’s the outrage?

On April 4th, Twitter user @sashaksa posted a shocking thread of videos pulled from the Snapchat account of a Saudi woman interrogating domestic workers and verbally abusing them.  They were quickly translated into English and shared by user  after which they were widely shared among people from across the globe.

This is not an isolated incident. There have been a number of photos and videos from across the Gulf States of people mocking and abusing their migrant workers on social media. In these wealthy countries, citizens enjoy an extremely privileged position in society and low prestige jobs in housekeeping, cooking, and construction are filled by migrant workers from the Indian subcontinent, East Africa, and Southeast Asia. Domestic workers in Kuwait earn 20% of the average wage; in Qatar, they make 30%.

Migrant workers have few labor rights to speak of, and domestic workers lack basic labor rights because protective legislation either does not exist or is not enforced. According to the organization Migrant Rights, “With the partial exception of Bahrain, domestic workers are excluded from national labor laws and consequently from regulations relating to maximum working hours, safety conditions, mandatory break periods, and other minimum standards.” 

The Tempest asked Diana Alghoul, a feminist journalist who covers the region, what context readers should have about these videos.  “While this account shocked many in Saudi Arabia, it is clear that there is widespread desensitization regarding the root of the problem, which is the kafala (work sponsorship) system.” Diana explained, “It isn’t enough to shut down the Snapchat account, or even hold the perpetrator to account. Widespread reforms must be carried out in all countries that practice the sponsorship system, which must be dismantled for there to be any hope of improving the depressingly substandard conditions domestic workers are forced to endure.”

The Tempest also spoke with an activist who has lived in Saudi Arabia for most of her life and operates in anonymity to expose this abuse and educate people outside the region by translating these social media posts into English.

She said that the practice of broadcasting abuse of domestic workers on social media is very common, “They broadcast it because they know they can get away with it,” she added. The silence from the feminist movement locally is deafening, and even when it is addressed there hasn’t been a push to broadcast the widespread violence, which often includes physical attacks along with verbal and psychological abuse.

Outside of the region, in Western feminist circles, things are not much better, our source says. “When people talk about women’s oppression in Saudi, Arabia they always say ‘Saudi women.’ We are not all Saudis and the fact that despite being born there and our families having lived there for decades, we don’t receive citizenship.”

Translating the videos from Arabic to English for a wider community of Twitter users has been incredibly triggering for her. “However, it does not matter how I feel,” she says. “I have been talking about this forever, and it is depressing that people need videos to be enraged.” She constantly has to walk the line between publicizing injustice and keeping a low profile so that the authorities don’t take notice.

In Saudi Arabia, the people who are speaking out about this are usually immigrants, but the catch is that non-citizens who speak out face the threat of imprisonment or deportation, and so the issue is swept under the rug as victims are silenced, and those who can speak up do not.

These videos, however triggering, must be publicized and translated. They must get out of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, and other Gulf countries, because men and women are dying in a brutal system that doesn’t care what happens to them as long as they contribute to the lifestyles of the wealthy.

A few days ago, a woman in Kuwait posted a video of her housekeeper clinging to a 7th-floor windowsill and then falling to the street below. It was reported as a suicide attempt, but the victim spoke out in a video and said she was trying to get away from her employer when she fell. You can read a translation of that video provided by @shutuprebka.

Translation and dissemination outside of news outlets are critical tools in the fight against the mainstream narrative of the region that erases the fact that many of these people are practically enslaved.  

To learn more, check out Migrant Rights, and follow the community of whistleblowers who are consistently working to get the truth out.

By Katherine Kaestner-Frenchman

A lifelong nomad, Katie is passionate about storytelling, Judaism, feminism, foreign affairs, and wine. When she's not working, she's throwing dinner parties, taking photos or putting her Art History degree to good use as she explores Europe.