We are all Jullebee Ranara

By Atyab Al-Shatti

The sad murder of domestic worker Jullebee Ranara is not a surprise, in light of many physical abuse incidents that have taken place in Kuwait against domestic workers through the years. Through a system that eliminates freedom of mobility, freedom of communication, freedom of expression, ability to negotiate the work agreement, ability of an individual who is sponsored under visa 20, and the government staying away from sponsorship procedures and capacitating a citizen to sponsor domestic help, a lot have misused this law and turned it into a form of modern slavery.

The sad implications of these restrictions lead to physical, mental and sexual abuses against domestic workers. A short visit to the domestic workers’ shelter will reveal the actual results of such a brutal system. If you are let in, you’ll see cases of severe injuries, burns and fractures in the head of a young woman and permanent disfigurement, and bruises all over some workers’ bodies.

A worker would feel lucky if she reached the shelter with only “verbal violence” from her sponsor. Some crimes of violence were organized and never proven due to a lack of evidence, and many types of mental illnesses suffered by these innocent workers. I remember witnessing a case of an Ivorian worker who was kept starving in an isolated area and wasn’t given any meals unless it was in exchange for sexual favors. Anybody wants to convince me the law is well implemented?

The problem is over three main obstacles – first, the lack of law implementation mechanisms, where even when the law is set, the government cannot supervise its implementation to ensure the protection of domestic workers. For instance, can a government officer search private property to ensure that the worker is able to communicate with her family or is being treated well? Many sponsors are not aware of the existence of the domestic worker law and do not commit to the work agreement, treating the domestic worker with no integrity or human dignity.

This is where the second obstacle comes in – the culture of treating domestic workers. Many people still treat domestic workers as persons they own and can ask them to do anything, even in the middle of the night at 2 am or 3 am. They will wake the woman up, who’s in need for rest after a long working day, to probably cook them some snacks and “hamsa oo aish mashkhool”.

Discrimination itself is sensed in many words they say. People wearing fancy clothes and brands and will appear to be very “humane” in front of me, but the minute their child speaks up, he will vomit all types of discrimination and racism learned, because kids can’t hide mindsets with fancy clothes – kids just don’t lie.

Thirdly, the central issue of exposing domestic helpers to such crimes is the law itself. In no developed countries will you find cleaning services provided by someone detained at your place and still call this a job. The law must be revoked and civilized regulation should replace this law.

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