The International Labour Organization (ILO), hosted by the Kuwait Society for Human Rights (KSHR), in collaboration with Project 189, held the first day of a three-day focus group discussion under the title: ‘A Space forYour Voice: Strengthening Communities Through a Dialogue on Domestic Workers’, facilitated by Dr Al Anood Al-Sharekh. The discussion invited members of the Kuwaiti community to give insight into the role of domestic workers in Kuwait, and share views on acceptable practices within the region.
Coordinating manager for the discussion, and representative for Project 189, an informal social organization aiming to protect, promote and improve the rights of domestic workers in the Middle East, and Ekaterina Sivolobova stated that honest dialogue was necessary to achieve set targets. “We are conducting this research to better understand the issues, perspectives, and practices related to domestic workers,” said Sivolobova. Dr Al Sharekh opened the floor to discussion by questioning the nature of the employment relationship between domestic workers and their employers.
The question posited that should the participants have not found or been unable to hire domestic workers, what would be the possible consequences. The panel of participants’ responses varied, citing the local nuclear family’s ability to adapt to share the workload between all family members, and highlighting the future construction of housing would be significantly altered to create smaller houses for greater convenience.
Dr Al Sharekh went on to examine the affect of domestic workers on women of the household, asking if the participants believed that “the decision to hire a domestic worker has affected the lifestyle of women in the household” referring also to whether or not having a domestic worker has “allowed women to work.” The contributors were at odds over the necessity of a domestic worker to allow women to work, indicating that although it may alleviate pressure from menial household tasks, it was not uncommon to maintain a professional career akin to that of men without the help of a domestic worker.
The panel then assessed the various names and positions a domestic worker holds in the different households. The broad spectrum of people who employ a domestic worker will refer to her to others as ‘khadameh’, the Arabic word for servant or maid, but will generally call her by her first name when speaking directly to her, as many believed it was disrespectful and degrading to call her using the outdated term. The discussion then turned to consider salaries for the domestic workers, with Dr Al Sharekh moderating “how is the salary decided for a live in domestic worker” and whether it is ‘common to raise the salary”, and if so, under what conditions. Participants gave several instances where a predetermined salary by the company responsible for the domestic worker would be given, with an increase in pay at a fixed rate at intervals of 2-4 years.
However, there were some instances where only an oral agreement bound the employer to a set salary.
The controversial subject of withholding passports from domestic workers was then debated between participants. All contributors stated the necessity of withholding the passport in cases where a domestic worker runs away. However, many also debated for withholding the National Civil Identification for similar reasons. In response to Dr Al Sharekh’s inquiry regarding the validity of information provided by domestic worker agencies, the general panel corresponded that often the information provided is misconstrued or false. Finally, the group referred to the role of the government.
Dr Al Sharekh asked whether the government should put into place any “legislation and appropriate measures related to domestic workers” or if there should be a law “regulating domestic workers” in Kuwait. Answers from participants varied as to the extent of legislation that should be set in place. The three-day focus group will continue its series of discussions until April 22 at the Al-Sayer Hall in the KSHR building from 5:00 pm-8:00 pm.