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Saudis Turn to Ethiopian Maids After Asian Backlash
By William Davison & Simon Clark - Jan 24, 2013
Zeini Kadir escaped at dawn, when the gates of the house in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, were open for morning prayers.
Barefoot, she ended up at an agency catering to Ethiopian workers like her. After flying to Addis Ababa, she rode two buses and walked three hours to the mud-walled home where she grew up. She’d lasted just three months, cooking and cleaning seven days a week in the 18-room house where she said she was beaten with a stick. Still, she said she would have stayed in Saudi Arabia if she could have found another job.
“It’s different from house to house,” Zeini, 19, said, smiling. “Not all employers are bad.” Anyway, “what jobs are there here?”
So few that her father, Kadir Biftu, borrowed 6,000 birr ($327) to send her in August to the Persian Gulf port city, where she could earn enough to pay the debt in months -- something he couldn’t do in a year as a farmer. “We’ll be very happy if she goes back to Saudi Arabia,” said Zelika Kusay, Zeini’s mother, after a snack of maize browned over a fire.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has imported female servants for decades. The Indonesian government stemmed the flow after the beheading of an Indonesian maid convicted of killing her employer in June 2011. Maids from the Philippines had also stopped arriving, after Filipino lawmakers wrote a report on alleged abuses, including rapes and beatings.
So the Saudis turned to Ethiopia, across the Red Sea, where most people live on less than $2 a day. “Saudi Arabia will choose the most compliant country,” said Walden Bello, chairman of the Overseas Workers Affairs Committee in the Philippine House of Representatives.
Nearly 160,000 Ethiopian women went to work in Saudi Arabia in the 12 months ending July 7, more than 10 times the number a year earlier, data from the Ethiopian Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs show. Tens of thousands more migrated illegally, according to the United Nations.
“I have a little fear,” said Addis Mitiku, 23, before taking a job in Jeddah, in western Saudi Arabia. She’d recently returned to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, from the United Arab Emirates, with marks on her arm where she said the woman she kept house for there bit her. “But you don’t get good work here, you don’t get good money.”
While the government estimates the average college graduate in Ethiopia earns about $90 a month, a maid can make $200 a month in Saudi Arabia.
The kingdom employs more than 750,000 domestic servants, according to the UN’s International Labor Organization. New York-based Human Rights Watch puts the number at 1.5 million or more. While many “enjoy decent work conditions,” the nonprofit said in a 2008 report, “others endure a range of abuses,” including conditions amounting to forced confinement and sexual and physical abuse.
“The legal framework in Saudi Arabia is extremely hostile to migrant women’s rights,” said Nisha Varia, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.
A Saudi law guaranteeing one day off a week and limiting hours worked doesn’t apply to housekeepers, according to the group. Employers control a worker’s immigration status, including when he or she can leave the country.
“It’s a problem that’s been growing and growing with nobody really addressing the issue,” said Basma bint Saud, 48, the youngest child of the late King Saud. Domestic workers “do not have rights.”
After the beheading of the maid from Indonesia, that government stopped issuing new visas for citizens to work in Saudi Arabia as domestics. Two weeks ago, the Saudis sparked another outcry over an execution, when a Sri Lankan maid, convicted of smothering a baby to death, was beheaded.
A few months before Indonesia issued its moratorium, the Saudis had cut off new work permits for Filipina maids, following the lawmakers’ investigation. “Our report was a chronicle of abuse,” Bello, the congressman, said. They found rape was an “ever-present” danger for maids and that beatings were common, according to a copy of the report posted online.
In September, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia reached an agreement giving maids “stronger guarantees for their welfare and protection,” according to the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment, including one day off a week, sick leave, paid vacations and a minimum wage of $400 a month.
The governments are in talks over a Filipino request that welfare centers for domestics be created and a process for settling disputes with employers be established. The Philippines has started processing exit papers for maids to Saudi Arabia, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.
Still, Ethiopians are “a good alternative,” said Hassan al-Maqbool, chairman of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s recruitment committee. He declined to comment on claims maids have been mistreated. Saudi Ministry of Labor officials didn’t respond to e-mails.
In Addis Ababa, Zerihun Kebede, Ethiopia’s state minister of labor and social affairs, said the government tolerates the maid trade for now. “We prefer people should work, create their own jobs, at home and contribute to the nation’s development,” he said. The government’s goal is to “change the mindset” of citizens by raising awareness of jobs in growing industries in the Ethiopian economy, including construction and horticulture.
Ethiopia’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs offers a three-hour course for would-be maids. Rasheeda Haddish, a women’s rights researcher, said students she observed were reduced to laughter as teachers told them how to use a sanitary napkin and explained that toothpaste isn’t a face cream.
“It wasn’t adequate,” she said. “ They need more training.”
Samira Abdurahman, 24, said she ran away from three Saudi households before an agency placed her with a fourth, where she said the patriarch raped her. Even so, she said she had to think twice before leaving Saudi Arabia, because her monthly salary was 750 riyals ($200). Now she makes less than one-quarter of that selling tea and coffee in the capital.
“I was supporting my family,” she said. “I would advise others to go because of the economic problems we face here.”
For Negisti Ayalkibet, the $130-a-month she earned in Jeddah was enough to buy furniture and a Sony television for her family in Addis Ababa, and to build a toilet, so they don’t have to share an outdoor pit. An Orthodox Christian, she said she paid a bribe to have her name changed on her passport to the Muslim “Saida Mohammed,” so she could be sure to get a job in a country where Islam is the official religion.
Now she wants to be a maid again, this time in a country where she could practice her religion. “You get tired,” she said, “but you make money.”
Zeini Kadir said she became fed up in Dammam when one of her bosses criticized her clothes-washing skills. “I got tired and I spoke back to the old lady,” she said. “Then the wife of one of the sons threatened me with a knife.”
After she sneaked out the next day, police officers who found her wandering the streets drove her to the employment agency. Though she said she asked the agency to place her with another Saudi household, she was sent home instead.
Her parents said they were happy to have her back for a while in Seero, a village 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Addis Ababa. Her father grows barley, garlic and other crops on 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres), and her mother tends to seven sheep.
The third-eldest of 10 children, Zeini flunked exams that would have allowed her to continue past 10th grade. So she was expected to follow in the footsteps of an older sister, whose husband sent her to Saudi Arabia.
He lent his father-in-law the money to pay fees to set Zeini up as a maid. Costs vary, and recruiters may charge what Varia of Human Rights Watch called “exorbitant fees.”
“I spent too much money on her,” her father said, resting after dinner, the room dimly lit by a flashlight.
To Zeini’s mother, the Arabian Peninsula is a sort of paradise, a view fueled by local hearsay about the wealth daughters can accumulate in jobs in glitzy far-away cites.
“I have heard that people who went to an Arab country came back and built a house,” she said.
As Zeini arranges her next assignment, she’s trying to recoup the wages she said she didn’t receive in Dammam. Her contract with an employment agency -- which said she would stay two years -- entitled her to quit if she suffered “serious insult” or “inhuman or unbearable treatment.” The agency’s owner said Zeini abrogated the contract when she ran away.
While the adults talked, Zeini’s 10-year-old sister, Momina, excitedly counted the fingers on one hand. She was asking for money, her amused mother explained.
Clutching her exercise books as she prepared to go to school, Momina outlined her aspirations.
“I want to go abroad,” she said. “I want to go to Riyadh.”
economically strong family forms strong community.srong community forms strong nation.even though they face many challengs, ethiopian women who work abroad help build strong nation.opposition parties in diaspora can help fight domestic workers abuse in gulf countries.
When u said …"opposition parties in diaspora can help fight domestic workers abuse in gulf countries.”
Answer:- I am Diaspora and I have soultion for our Ethiopian girls who love to return to Addis Ababa… All diaspora start building one Night club, or sport Bar or regular bar where women can serve all ur need… My English is very limited when u talk about opp. Parties I thinking night club parties that united us all that kind of parties u r talking or other kind of party..
Anyhow I love ur idea helping our people by providing them a lot of party to go to and enjoy their night away drinking and socializing with our beautiful lady’s that we kindly offer them a job..
What are you talking about. If you are trying to be funny, hate to break it to you but, you are not. You are one big moron. This is not a laughing matter. The Gov of Phillipines is trying to do everything to assure nothing will happen to their ppl. What’s our Government doing to protect its own? Weshella grow up a pair.
Relatively, in Ethiopia people have freedom religious practice. This one of multiculturalism that needs to be encouraged.
The odd things there are extensive abuses in Saud Arabia. Even there are total block to access jobs otherwise one must change name. This shows very backwardness.
What Ethiopian are doing now when ladies are exposed to such inhuman action in Saud Arabia?
What is the role of international Human Rights? Come on now Prong. Alarm… to bring change! Let us judge your contribution.
In other words you call our poor Ethiopian sisters who face all problems in middle east to support their families name?
Ash [Visitor] If you don’t have any thing good to say..don’t!! insulting our sisters is an insult to all of us. you are simply displaying how arrogant at the same time stupid your mentality is. why.. you need to understand how our country is poor and Ethiopian women been traveling to work in Saudi Arabia for a very long time.
One of the great gifts of woyane and shabians to export Our sisters for prostitution and slavery. Still woyane is proud in its special Democracy in this export system compared to shabians. The shabians sisters have no right to leave the country legally so they have to pay utpo 100,000 bir and smuggel themselves hopping for the best.The rape startes already at home country while the ehtiopina sisters can leave the country legally only paying the woyanes clerk as a form of bribe including Money or sex depending the tigre clerk is man or woman.
The number of tigre sisters to arab slavery drops to zero thanks to tplf and its clerk giving strong advise not to do so. this advise is only for woyane sisters.
You see we are better than shabians thus we are number one.
An Indian high school student who lives in Abo Dhabi wrote a poem about our little maid working there:
The Little Maid In Her Shawl
We ignore her as if she were but a wall,
She sits quietly by, minds it not at all,
Suffering in quiet, her problems she alone faces,
She moves about her work with a smile on her lips.
We care not a whiff for her joy nor her sorrow,
We demand but a meal on the table tomorrow.
We think she is not human at all,
No one cares for the little maid in her shawl.
She loves us no matter our ill treatment of her,
For us the days pass in a speedy blur,
But for her each day moves painfully slow,
A lake cut out from its natural flow,
She surrendered her family, her children her life,
To live elsewhere, in agonizing strife.
The entire day she tends to our children who bawl,
Nobody cares for the little maid in her shawl.
Deftly her hands mend our clothes,
In behaviour and persona, nothing but a rose.
Tolerating all our hurtful blows.
Crying softly at night, all alone.
For her, her sorrows do not end,
Her heart can never be on the mend,
A daughter to marry, no money to do so,
A little boat ebbing against the flow,
A son crying in pain for the mother he never knew,
Her days spent with him are but only a few,
And for those who think time will forever stall,
Look towards the Little Maid in Her Shawl.
We see not the sorrows, the anguish, the pain,
But her troubles, in the end are not really in vain.
For no matter what, He sees her every move,
And when her time comes, nothing will she have to prove
To the Almighty of her goodness and purity,
Up above, she will never fade into obscurity.
For the rich will plead and beg for mercy,
But she need not ask for Holy clemency,
Her innocence and love are noted down,
And The Almighty will welcome her, with not a frown.
Her years of servitude are seen by Him,
And her light, though on Earth is but dim,
Up above, she will outshine us all,
Our Loving Little Maid in her Shawl.
What u guys talking about number one industry in Ethiopia is sex industry… In every inch u have bar and night club thanks for Ethiopian American investor they don’t know anything other then night club so what the women to do work in the sex industry in Ethiopia or be maid in Arab country and take her risk… I will take the Arab root…
If I am not Ethiopian u could fool me but rape happened in Ethiopia too. The maid raped and dapped on the street now u talk about Arab clean our house first…
Yes the Ethiopian women are prostitutes and bltches, that is a fact.
The fag Ethiopian men says “our sisters our sisters” bla bla bla on this site … bltch sisters … our sisters my azz.
You are impotent and fags that is why you are defending prostitution.
It is not only advanced level prostitution they are bringing back but also Arab bastard children with them, born out of wedlock from unknown Arab.
WISH NON OF THEM RETURN BACK TO ETHIOPIA.
It seams that you are proud of Your export!! But you dont want its consquences. When Your Family recurits for Young ethiopians for Arabs as prostutes you were happy that woyanes earn Money. But you dont want the chilrdren of these poor women who in the first Place became a victm of Your Family human traficking. You good for nothing woyane.
Yes they are Our sisters as long as they are Ethiopians.
The shabians who used to be a reason for mass exodess of their women for prostitution are now sweating. 21 years of shabi prostitute eport will be stopped soon.
For People like Ash must follow what is happning in Your families Capital than sniffing in Our forum.
PS: amiches are not ethiopians.
Ethiopia’s Women:Maid in Ethiopia
IN LATE February 2012, Alem Dechasa, an Ethiopian maid working in Lebanon, was video-taped being beaten and dragged into a car. On March 14th, she committed suicide. Her story has drawn attention once again to the plight of migrant workers in the Middle East. But Ms Alem’s fate has also highlighted a more unpleasant side of Ethiopia’s impressive growth story.
Ethiopia’s economy is based on small-scale agriculture. More than 85% of the country’s 80m people live in the countryside. Most have limited or no access to such basics as clean drinking water, health-care facilities and education. Helen Gebresillassie, a lawyer who teaches at Stony Brook University’s School of Social Welfare in New York and a former legal advisor to the Forum on Street Children in Ethiopia, an NGO, says that high inflation and market inefficiencies keep most farming household incomes so low that everyone must work, including children. When children are sent to school, parents worry about their daughters’ safety getting there. More often boys get to study while girls are expected to do housework or get married.
With little education, young women in rural Ethiopia struggle to compete in the labour market. The only realistic employment opportunity for most of them is more of the same domestic work they have done their whole lives.
Ms Alem’s case is not uncommon, explains Ms Gebresillassie. Traffickers specifically target uneducated and poor young women from rural areas in order to lure them to big cities in Ethiopia and the Middle East, she continues. That combined with the cultural expectation that children must help support their entire family means that young women are easy prey for traffickers’ with their empty promises of higher income and a better life.
The Economist Intelligence Unit, our sister organisation, forecasts real GDP growth of 8% for Ethiopia in the fiscal year 2011/2012, mostly due to hikes in agricultural prices. That eclipses the OECD’s predictions of less than 2% GDP growth for the same period. That bodes well for the country’s future, but Ethiopia’s government will need to ensure that growth rates are sustainable by cultivating one of the country’s most valuable resources—its women.
you are one chauvinist pig.I am sure you are one of diaspora vacationers who can not wait till you get addis ,so you can grab those teenage girls ,in the street of bole,kazanchese,and etc.
Tamrat Tamrat, what is ur age? R u boron in Addis Ababa? Do u know Addis Ababa? Who r u man? As if I don’t know Addis Ababa…. If u know addis during ur evil father mengistu haile mariam Arab come to Addis Ababa to get away with Ethiopian girl… Sex industry is number one employer in Addis Ababa even in mengistu haile mariam Time or king haile selassie…if there is no sex industry in Ethiopia then how come we are number one in Aids… U can shut down the Arab job market but u will open more sex industry in Ethiopia…I am not supporting the sex industry I am only telling u the fact…
Next time u go to addis just count how many night club is there in Addis Ababa in one area and ask how many of the built by Ethiopian American investors chance are majority of investor who goes to Ethiopia from America invest in sex industry or music industry another sex industry ask urself do we really need another night club? Now I told u where u go wrong u try to label me name… Man clean up ur house before u talk shit about other
So u are admitting there are some diaspora vacationers who can not wait till you get addis ,so you can grab those teenage girls ,in the street of bole,kazanchese,and etc.
So u admitting what I am saying but I still doesn’t get it why we need another party… AA have a lot of night club why we need another party to waste people time and money
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