Amnesty International, 2005
Stripped of their rights and denied adequate legal recourse, women domestic workers in many Gulf states are often discriminated against, exploited, even abandoned in their host countries
“I confessed before the police because I was afraid,” said Mary Ann K. Speaking to AI in July 2004 she explained how she had been detained in Kuwait after her employer saw her talking to a male friend and handed her to the police. “They were yelling at me, and slapped me on the face,” she said. “I didn’t have a lawyer during the interrogations.”
Mary Ann’s story is an all too familiar one. Women domestic workers in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – face discrimination, arbitrary detention and abuse from the authorities in their host countries as well as from their employers. Yet they make a valuable contribution to the countries where they work, taking jobs that nationals of those countries would not normally want.
Women migrants account for about 20 to 40 per cent of the growing migrant workforce in the various GCC states. They come primarily from South and
In all GCC countries, women domestic workers are deprived of a wide range of their fundamental human rights. They have no protection under labour laws as domestic work is not covered by such legislation. Often, their identity documents are confiscated by their employers and their pay is delayed or withheld. They also face the possibility of rape and other forms of violence by their employers.
Once detained, these women find they have no access to translators or lawyers, and have little or no idea of why they have been detained and when they might be released or returned home.
“I have been working in for my Lebanese employer family for two years and two months, but have not been paid a penny,” said Kampen Btkawar, a domestic worker from . Speaking to AI in July 2004, she explained how she was imprisoned after telling her employer that she would complain about her pay situation to the police. “I was detained in al-’Asima police station in
To date, no GCC country has signed up to international laws that deal specifically with the situation of migrant workers. However, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have signed up to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which calls on state parties to condemn iscrimination against women in all its forms and take appropriate measures to eliminate it.
In February, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Labour acknowledged that migrant workers are subjected to abuse by employers and said that it has banned more than 1,000 people from employing migrant workers. It also announced plans to create a labour protection administration for migrant workers. But whether such measures will cover the rights of women migrant domestic workers remains unclear.
For more information on violence and discrimination against women in the GCC see The GCC: All women deserve respect and dignity (MDE