For many Kuwaiti households, having a domestic helper is no longer a luxury but a necessity, especially among those belonging to the ‘sandwich generation’ — individuals who find themselves attending not only to the needs of their children but also having to look after their aging parents.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown a wrench into the situation for some households, with reports of Kuwaiti families facing difficulty finding household help due to an acute shortage of domestic workers.
Domestic worker recruitment agencies blame the government for the shortage, saying they do not have enough workers to meet demand and that they are unable to recruit new employees because of restrictions from the authorities. Meanwhile, those workers who were on vacation when the coronavirus struck have been stranded abroad because of travel restrictions imposed by the government.
Given the huge pent-up demand for household helpers, we set about on an investigative quest to ascertain whether domestic support staff were essential to Kuwaiti households, or were merely a symbol of luxury.
Many citizens said that maids had become integral to the smooth running of their households. They are responsible for cooking, keeping the house tidy, tending to children and caring for elderly members of the family, and undertaking various other duties that made them indispensable.
People believe that the current shortage of workers is a temporary problem, which will be solved when life returns to full normalcy. Many are also surprised to learn that Kuwait has not yet opened the doors to recruitment of domestic workers, as compared to the rest of the Gulf countries where adequate precautionary measures have been taken to ensure their safe return.
Many citizens consider domestic support staff to be the cornerstone of modern Kuwaiti society; in particular, as they are seen to be essential to take care of sick or aged parents. For some families it is not possible to do without domestic helpers, as both husband and wife are out working during the day, and they need someone at home to take care of the children and tend to the house while they are away.