Recently this year, The International Labour Organization (ILO), the Kuwait Society for Human Rights (KSHR), and Project 189 collaborated to hold focus groups in Kuwait entitled ‘A Space for Your Voice: Strengthening Communities Through a Dialogue on Domestic Workers’, with the directive to gather information regarding the various concerns and issues between Kuwaiti citizens and domestic workers within the region.
The conclusion of these focus groups were to be compiled into a report by Project 189, an informal social organization aiming to protect, promote and improve the rights of domestic workers in the Middle East. Project 189 Coordinating Manager Ekaterina Sivolobova provided further insight on the report’s objective and end target:
Question: What was the purpose of doing this in Kuwait?
Answer: Kuwait, with an approximate population of 660,000 domestic workers — the second highest per population after Saudi Arabia — and with a high percentage of youth (more than 60%), we thought that we needed to bring the gap closer between the community and Civil Society Organisations to have an open dialogue on domestic workers. Furthermore, we are also working here in Kuwait and are more familiar with the challenges and the local culture, plus our partners are also based here in Kuwait.
Q: Are other Middle Eastern (GCC) countries also doing something similar?
A: Issues that domestic workers face is present throughout the world. In the GCC countries the issues pertaining domestic workers is similar, thus we can follow similar approaches from our neighbouring countries on how to improve the conditions of domestic workers. However, the Focus Group Discussion with employers of domestic workers is a first of its kind in the region. As far as we are aware, it has not been done yet in other GCC countries, but we do hope that these FGDs will be an initiative to involve Civil Society in an open dialogue with Civil Society Organisations in a wide range of topics.
Q: What are the challenges you’re facing with the local culture?
A: Just like in every culture, the difficulties of changing a long time practice is difficult. In this case, the changing behaviour of considering a “nanny” an employee and the household head as the employer. This will be a challenging step that will need to be overcome, so it is a good to start by teaching younger generations early in their education of the role of the domestic worker not only at their workplace — their home — but also as a contributor to the economy of Kuwait.
Q: What was the conclusion from the discussions?
A: In general, we were not trying to reach any conclusions by engaging in a dialogue with the employers of domestic workers. We wanted to have this dialogue to hear directly from the employer what are the challenges perceived, the issues faced when recruiting and working with a domestic worker as well as understanding some of the practices and reasons for hiring or not a domestic worker. Perhaps what was concluded though, was the need to have more open dialogues where the Community can engage directly with Organisations and find common issues so to later work together in common solutions.
Q: What are the main issues domestic workers face?
A: There have been multiple studies that reveal critical issues concerning domestic workers. One of the studies was conducted by the International Labour Organisations, which analysed their working and living conditions. Some of the issues that were analysed was the working hours per week which in average was between 101 to 108 hours — high by international standards — time off averaged between zero to two days off per month, also in the study, domestic workers frequently cited the presence of physical, psychological and verbal abuse and frequent irregularities in the recruitment system. Furthermore, In the region as well as in many other parts of the world, domestic work is not considered work, in other words, they are not protected under labour law. This is one of the biggest challenges faced by domestic workers. Due to the fact that in Kuwait domestic workers fall under this informal economy sector, they often face many of the issues mentioned above.
Q: What is the report being compiled based on?
A: The report will include methodology used, as well as the reason why FGDs were chosen as the method to engage with employers. The report will also include the analysis gathered from the FGDs followed by recommendations, which we will hope we will be able to share back to the community.
Q: What is the methodology used in the report?
A: The report is being drafted with the analysis and conclusions of the three focus group discussions that took place between April 21-23rd. The data is being gathered and analysed by first transcribing the discussions then analysing it. This involves transcription, translation, data coding and data analysis.
Q: What are the reasons the FGDs were chosen?
A: The availability of detailed information on the various aspects of domestic workers is essential to establish objectives, to develop and implement campaigns and to monitor and evaluate programmes aimed to support national policies and regulations and the elimination of abusive practices. To achieve this Focus Group Discussions was the method chosen, to gather qualitative data, versus quantitative data that seeks to understand numeric data. FGDs were chosen as the data gathering method since the information that we were looking for could only be best obtained directly from — this case — the employer.
Q: What is hoped to be the outcome?
A: A final report is being drafted based on the discussions that were held for three days on issues pertaining domestic workers. Our first objective was to engage directly with employers and have an open dialogue on domestic workers. The second objective is to draft a final report to understand what are some of the perceptions and challenges faced by employers to better customise solutions and focus our efforts efficiently when working on issues pertaining domestic workers.
Q: Are domestic workers made aware of discussions like this taking place?
A: Domestic workers were not made especially aware of the discussions that took place. Although it was pertaining their living and working conditions, our priority in these dialogues was to engage with the employers.
Q: How reliable is the information provided based on the demographic of participants?
A: Each participant was asked to fill out a profile with questions of age, gender, origin and other relevant questions to have an idea of the demographic information of the participants. We believe that the information shared throughout the discussions was very honest and reliable based on each participants experience and opinions.
Q: How do you intend to engage with the employers once the final report is being drafted?
A: Employers are an important stakeholder in any issue related to domestic workers and we do hope that they will continue to play an active and positive role for improving their working and living conditions. After the final report is drafted, we do hope to continue to engage with the employers through a dialogue for a continue deeper understanding of what really needs to be changed and most importantly, how.
Q: How long will this project take to be implemented?
A: These research efforts are, among others, to identify priorities and actions in order to design effective way to promote labour standards, develop a social dialogue among employers and civil society organisations and government, launch effective awareness campaigns and provide groundwork for subsequent quantitative research if needed, all in order to improve the conditions of domestic workers and ensure the rights of the employer. Thus once the report is finished, it will hopefully serve as a source of information for important stakeholders including all civil organisations, local and international, to more effectively develop and implement projects.
Q: What changes do you hope will take place based on the draft?
A: It is hoped that the report will assist on developing adequate policies, better practices and effective projects to improve the conditions of domestic workers whilst considering all the issues faced by the employers, such as the high fees imposed by the recruiting agencies. Furthermore, it is also hoped that through such report other considerations to improve the conditions of domestic workers and safeguard the rights of the employer are made — such as offering recruiting agencies to, in order to continue their operations — to become certified through international labour standards such as SA8000 (Social Accountability 8000). This standard would guarantee that the rights of domestic workers are respected and protected ash well it would ensure that any fee paid by the employer are transparent and fair.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A:We want to thank all the participants that were part of the three discussions and especially for bringing very important issues regarding domestic workers in the open. We do hope that we will be able to continue our work closely with Civil Society and our partners to improve the conditions of domestic workers while encouraging a strong society. Also, this work was possible by the support from the International Labour Organisation and the collaboration from the Kuwait Society of Human Rights and Project 189 supported by the World Justice Project.