Kuwaiti Instagram personality Sondos Alqattan’s July 10 video on Instagram not only managed to go viral after being broadcast to her 2.3 million followers – normally a measure of success – but also outraged an entire nation.
It also once again shed light on the bone-chilling conditions faced by hundreds of thousands of domestic workers across the Arab states of the Gulf.
In the video, which has since been deleted, Alqattan complained about new changes to the Kuwaiti Kafala guest-worker regime. The reform, agreed to in a bilateral deal with the Philippine government, allows migrant workers to hold onto their passports and allots them four days off per month.
How can you have a servant in your house who gets to keep their passport with them? If they ran away and went back to their country, who’ll refund me? I disagree with the law. And what’s worse is they even have a day off every week!
Honestly, this new law and these new contracts means I don’t wish to hire a Filipina. She goes out one day a week and works for six days, which brings her total days off to four per month and we have no clue what happens during those four days when her passport is in her possession.”
International cosmetics giants who sponsored Alqattan — Anastasia Beverly Hills, Chelsea Beautique, MAC, Max Factor Arabia, and a number of other Western brands – distanced themselves from her cruel “ethics and attitude,” effectively terminating her career as a brand ambassador.
MIGRANTE International, a Philippines-based advocacy organization with chapters across the Filipino diaspora, quickly condemned the social media star’s derogatory rant and denounced her “slave-owner” style and what they described as a clear “intoxication in her overinflated ego and false sense of superiority.”
Alqattan was unmoved, casting the backlash as Islamophobic hysteria. “After seeing all this, I felt there’s an attack on Islam, saying ‘look, she is wearing the hijab, look at the Muslims, of course [it’s] the Kuwaitis in particular, and similarly the people of the Gulf region, look at the Arabs,’” she reasoned. Her logic was especially bizarre considering the Muslim plurality among migrant workers in Kuwait and across the Gulf, where Muslims comprise about 70 percent of the migrant population, according to Pew Research Center.
As callous as Alqattan was, her attitude reflects a pervasive Gulf culture of entitlement and cruel disregard toward a modern-day slave force seen as mere property, according to MIGRANTE International spokesman Arman Hernando.
“The video of Sondos Alqattan is an attestation of the miserable state of the domestic workers not only in Kuwait, but all over the Middle East and the whole world,” he explained. Continuing, he said:
It is common among Filipina domestic workers to work excessive working hours and without days off. Even with the assurance of various laws and their contract stipulations, recruiters and employers blatantly violate them because domestic workers are powerless in asserting their rights inside the workplace.
With the overwhelming odds against them, most domestic workers have accepted the sad reality that their rights will not be recognized and will only cope with the situation.
Under the kafala regime, workers are forced to remain with their employers for the duration of their time in the country and are unable to change employers or leave without the express permission of employers. About 600,000 domestic workers live in Kuwait, most of whom are from Africa and Asia, with Filipino nationals accounting for about 250,000 workers and residents according to Manila’s figures. Approximately 120 Filipino workers died last year, most due to what authorities claim was suicide.
According to a Human Rights Watch report on the country:
Migrant workers remain vulnerable to abuse, forced labor, and deportation for minor infractions including traffic violations and ‘absconding’ from an employer.”
Last April, a horrifying video went viral. The video, shot by a Kuwaiti woman, showed her Ethiopian maid dangling helplessly from the balcony. As the woman filmed, she mocked the maid, who then fell seven stories down and miraculously survived. While the woman was later arrested for failing to assist her desperate maid, such abusive employers rarely see their day in court.
The legal changes Alqattan complained about largely resulted from the brutal death of Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis, whose body was discovered in her employer’s freezer last February, a year after she went missing. The murder of the 29-year-old woman, which entailed strangulation and torture, provoked a major diplomatic crisis with the Philippine government, which temporarily banned work in the country.
“The situation of Demafelis is actually a common story and every domestic worker relates to what has happened to her,” Hernando noted.
Sexual violence happens with alarming regularity, yet victims often conceal these experiences from their loved ones due to the painful nature of the ordeal. Many domestic workers also return to their home countries with severe mental illness.g to the families of migrant workers but poverty and continued desperation to work even as a slave in the foreign lands.”
Source – Mint Press