According to the ILO estimate, 3.16 million people were engaged in domestic work across the Arab States in 2015. Increased labor force participation amongst women in the region and changes in household structures have revealed deficits in social care services for children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled. Families have become increasingly reliant on migrant domestic workers to supplement social care needs to cope with inadequate public social care provisions and affordable private sector providers. Furthermore, domestic workers also play a crucial role in the global economy and society, and the remittances they send home contribute to the welfare of their households.
In most GCC countries, migrant domestic workers are excluded from national labor legislation and are tied to their employers or the kafeel (sponsor) through a restrictive sponsorship system. As a result, employers wield considerable power over their working and living conditions. Moreover, if an employer fails to renew the work and residence permit or if migrant domestic workers leave their employment without the employer’s permission, they fall into irregular status and become subject to detention and deportation.
This 16 June 2021 marks the 10-year anniversary since delegates at the 100th International Labour Conference adopted a historic international standard to improve the working conditions of domestic workers across the world. The ILO’s Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) and the Domestic Workers Recommendation No. 201 stipulate that domestic workers should have the same fundamental labor rights as any other worker: reasonable hours of work, weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, rights in the recruitment process, freedom from violence and harassment, and respect for fundamental rights at work, including freedom of association and collective bargaining.
What has been the progress over the last decade in ensuring the rights and protections of domestic workers in the GCC? What role can academics, civil society, and migrant workers themselves play in elevating the importance of stronger legal protections at the national level? In the context of intersectionality, can feminist and human rights organizations collaborate as equal members with domestic workers to advance shared interests?
Featured speakers: Sophia Kagan (moderator), Claire Hobden, Ann Abunda, Shaikha Al-Hashem, and Aidah Kalash.
Sophia Kagan (moderator)
Chief Technical Adviser of the Regional Fair Migration Project in the Middle East, International Labour Organization
Ms. Sophia Kagan is a lawyer and program manager, working as the Chief Technical Adviser on the Regional Fair Migration in the Middle East Project. In this role, she focuses on development of policies to support migrant workers in the Arab States. Sophia has a decade of experience working on migration issues with the UN, including in the context of rural-urban migration in China, and climate change-induced displacement from the Pacific Islands.
Sophia holds a MSc in International Development Management (London School of Economics), as well as a Bachelor of Laws with honors; and a Bachelor of International Relations (Monash University, Australia).
Non-Resident Fellow, Gulf International Forum
Shaikha Al-Hashem is a writer and researcher from Kuwait focusing on women, migrant workers and the political economy. Shaikha is also a Ph.D. Candidate at The European Graduate School, in the Philosophy, Art and Critical Theory (PACT) Program. Her specialization is in women and gender studies.
Technical officer on vulnerable workers, International Labour Organization
Claire is a behavioral scientist, political scientist, and dedicated interdisciplinarian. She has over 15 years of experience (incl. 10 at the international level) developing and implementing projects, and generating knowledge in various areas of labor policy, with a focus on domestic work.
Claire holds Master’s Degree in behavioral science with distinction from London School of Economics and Political Science, and MA in Political Science, International Relations and Human Rights from the City University of New York.
Mary Ann V. Abunda
Head Volunteer Sandigan Kuwait; Founding and Chairperson, SKDWA
Mary Ann works on empowering marginalized Filipino migrant workers by organizing them, opening opportunities to strengthen their skills by launching various projects and programs to cope with the current situation in the host country. Since she came to Kuwait in 2000, she helped hundreds of domestic workers.
Aidah is a Business Administration and Marketing expert in Kenya. Due to a lack of decent work in her country, she began to look for a job abroad to support her children. She became a victim of human trafficking in the Gulf after being promised an office job but on arrival, was forced to work as a domestic worker. Since being freed from a situation of forced labor, she has returned to Kenya and has been advocating for the rights of migrant women who are trapped, or at risk of being trapped, by human trafficking rings.