Invisible Women: Domestic Workers Underpaid And Abused

In February of this year, the body of Joanna Demafelis, a Filipino domestic worker, was found in a freezer in Kuwait. The body was found over a year after she had been killed. Unfortunately, situations such as these occur more often than one would like them to. A report from the International Labour Organization shows that there are over 11. 5 million migrant domestic workers worldwide, 73 percent of which are female. Most of these workers leave their home countries expecting better jobs and pay, but often end up facing racism and abuse, and working unsafe jobs. Although they play a large part in the workforce in numerous countries, migrant domestic workers are still exploited and abused. Both the short story “The Semplica-Girl Diaries” by George Saunders and the article “I Already Bought You” by the Human Rights Watch display how female domestic workers are taken advantage of because of who they are.

In “The Semplica-Girl Diaries”, George Saunders represents the mistreatment of domestic workers through ‘SG’s’, young women forced to sell themselves as living lawn ornaments in order to make money. The SG’s come from countries such as Laos, Moldova, Somalia and the Philippines, expecting to provide for their families back home. In the story, when Eva, the youngest daughter, asks her father about SG’s, he explains how a wire is threaded through their brains and they‘re hung up “approx. three feet from the ground. . . swaying in the slight breeze”. He tries to reassure his daughter by telling her that it’s completely safe, but later in the story when the SG’s escape, he discusses how the they could get brain damage if the microlines are yanked. This shows how those in power take advantage of the poor and do things such as trying experimental technology on them. It’s even seen as normal to treat the SG’s as inanimate objects. In fact, in the story, Leslie, the eldest daughter, asks if she can go closer to the SG’s to look at them, the way one would with a fancy decoration, which is essentially what the SG’s are.

In the story, the SG’s are used as a symbol of wealth. Having the SG’s in their “white smocks” makes the owners feel affluent and as if they matter. These rich people try to justify what they’re doing by saying the SG’s had “brutal, harsh, unpromising” lives before they came to America, and these things are less “scary/unpleasant to them because they have seen worse”. They think they are doing the girls a favour, and thus don’t think about the consequences of threading a wire through these young women’s brains and hanging them. The SG’s in the story clearly represent the abuse of female domestic workers worldwide. In an interview with the New Yorker, George Saunders talks about how was sent to Dubai, UAE for a writing assignment, and while he was “surrounded by real-life SGs”. Saunders talks about how all the architecture in Dubai is created by migrant workers. He discusses how those workers have to be away from their families for years at a time, are extremely low-paid, if paid at all, and are housed in horrible conditions. It’s very similar to the story of the SG’s - it’s about how the rich use the poor in the name of luxury. In fact, this trip to the UAE and the mistreatment of workers is what Saunders based his story off of. In the United Arab Emirates, female domestic workers are tricked into doing indecent jobs and are forced to live and work in horrible conditions. The article states that in 2014, there were “at least 146, 000 female migrant domestic workers…employed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)”.

Most of the workers that move to the UAE do so because they see it as a “golden opportunity”. The article states that they receive promises of high wages and good working conditions, convincing “them that this could provide a route out of poverty. . . for their families”. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality for most workers. Employers take advantage of the fact that most workers are from foreign countries, and end up abusing them in many ways, including physical abuse and making them work “excessively long hours without breaks or days off”. Some employers also don’t pay their employees their wage, while others stop their workers from eating. One woman even said her boss didn’t let her eat for three days as “punishment”. Another said that her employer twisted her arm so violently that she broke it. Some of the workers that get interviewed by Human Rights Watch suffer abuse that can be classified as forced labor or trafficking. These are a few of the many examples that prove how domestic workers are taken advantage of because of who they are. Their employers know that there won’t be consequences for their actions, so they think they can do whatever they want. They view the workers as ‘less worthy’ than them, so they feel no shame or guilt in hurting them. Also, even though there are laws in the UAE for workers protection, such as the criminalization of both forced labor and trafficking, the system is so corrupt and greedy that they don’t apply the laws, rendering them useless.

The issue isn’t that the employers can’t afford it - the UAE is one of the richest places in the world. They have the funds to get legal rights for workers, but don’t put in the effort to create them. The situation is so bad that there is no record of any employer from the UAE being prosecuted for forced labour in the Human Rights Watch. Today, society talks about having equality for all, yet there are still some people who are treated like kings and queens while others are treated as unworthy of life. There are over 8. 4 million female domestic workers in the world today, and over seventy five percent of those women face racism, are abused and are exploited at work every day. These workers don’t leave their homes and everything they had for that - they leave expecting better jobs and pay.

“The Semplica-Girl Diaries” and “I Already Bought You” both display how doing these things is made a normality, and nobody questions what is going on. These women are just as worthy of living long, healthy lives like everyone else. They are taken advantage of because of who they are. They are taken advantage of because they come from different parts of the world and are willing to do jobs that others won’t do in order to provide for their families back home.

01 April 2020
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