LAU hosts launch for new studies of migrant domestic labor abuse
LAU’s IWSAW and IMS, together with KAFA (Enough) Violence and Exploitation, introduce two major studies on migrant domestic workers.
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“Domestic migrant workers face racist treatment that is both legally and culturally condoned in Lebanon,” Dr. Dima Dabbous-Sensenig, director of LAU’s Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World, bluntly told the audience at a recent launch for two groundbreaking new studies on domestic migrant worker conditions in Lebanon.
It presented studies by Kathleen Hamill, lawyer and human rights activist (“Trafficking of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon: A Legal Analysis”), and Dr. Ray Jureidini, professor of sociology at LAU Beirut (“An Exploratory Study of Psychoanalytic and Social Factors in the Abuse of Migrant Domestic Workers by Female Employers in Lebanon”).
Both examine — through different disciplinary lenses — the structural factors shaping the situation of Lebanon’s 200,000 domestic workers.
Cecile Abadie, a section head for the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon, spoke first, highlighting the need to work together to improve living conditions for foreign women in Lebanon, in particular “to develop rights-based government policies concerning migration while taking into account contributing social and cultural factors.”
Abadie emphasized that abuse can be physical and sexual, but is often much more subtle, taking forms that are actually both permissible by law and widely accepted in social and cultural terms.
Abadie was followed by Ghada Jabbour, head of the Exploitation and Trafficking in Women unit of KAFA (enough) Violence and Exploitation, a Lebanese NGO committed to the human rights of women and children.
KAFA initiated the “Stop the Exploitation of Migrant Domestic Workers” project in 2010, of which these two studies form part.
Hamill’s study involved identifying and redefining terms such as “human trafficking” and “abuse.” Part of the problem, she concluded, was that many domestic migrant workers do not realize they are being inhumanely treated, and many employers do not see themselves as abusive.
Her legal analysis report also flagged the vulnerabilities that Lebanon’s labor law and system not only allow but encourage. Problems stem from the very beginning of the process (the sponsorship system) and continue to develop through the recruitment procedure, culminating in a lack of labor protection and legal redress.
Sixty-five percent of the domestic migrant workers Hamill interviewed in her research had experienced forced labor. Tellingly, most were unaware that according to international law this itself constituted abuse.
Professor Jureidini’s study concentrated on the psychoanalytical and social factors that can lead to abuse. These can range from unconscious processes or mental health issues to authoritarian attitudes and jealousy. The geography of the home as a “secret” place — where one is literally behind closed doors — can be an exacerbating factor.
Most crucially, Jureidini’s research revealed the extent to which “migrant domestic workers are part of the psychological framework of the family.”
The talks were followed by a lively Q&A session. Audience members pointed out that the culture within the home countries of domestic workers also requires analysis.
An LAU migrant worker also spoke, thanking the panel for their research and highlighting the positives of working in Lebanon alongside the exploitation they sometimes face.