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Monday, September 27, 2021

Opinion: Not without my khadama

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A recent Amnesty International report about the dismal treatment of domestic workers in Qatar has sparked several discussions on the subject among residents in Doha. Here, Qatari blogger Raed Al Emadi enters the conversation with a different perspective.

Khadama, maid, nanny, house assistant – we have many titles for a person in this role, someone who seems to be a must in communities where a family includes more than a person and his pet!

It appears that people like to focus on the extremes with regards to khadamas. Such as:

  • All Qatari families are neo-feudalists who have come up with a new type of slavery, or
  • All khadamas are murderous thieves and perverted slackers.

These extremes at both end of the spectrum are easily identified, and condemned unequivocally. However, what I want to talk about is the gray area in between, where much of misunderstanding takes place between those who believe that we have a fair system and those who believe that the maids’ situation is closer to slavery than employment.

To do this, I will take an institutional approach, one we are all familiar with.

Ready, set, khadama

Here’s what happens first: The family (pet included) recognizes a new role needs to be filled to help maintain daily operations of the house. You are currently the human resources (HR) manager, but also serve many other functions, including but not limited to:

  • Driver;
  • Handyman;
  • Accountant;
  • Babysitter;
  • Bodyguard; and
  • Portable ATM machine.

The idea of being able to delegate some of these tasks to someone else prompts you to spread your arms wide open to a recruitment agency. The agency presents you with numerous candidates categorized by nationality and religion.

Some nationalities are blocked, some are in demand and some faiths cost more than others (for instance a Muslim khadama costs around QR500 more compared to maids of other religions).

All these random prices follow supply and demand principle, inflation rates and cost of living, resulting in an astronomical figure.

The CVs of the candidates are mostly standardized. They feature an image of a tired face in a silly uniform (some need a picture with a uniform to make up their minds I suppose).

The CVs list many of the requirements that you and your family are looking for at Home, Inc.

And so, after many weeks or possibly months of anticipation, you are contacted with the happy news about your new employee’s arrival.

At this stage, you are being congratulated by family members for receiving your all-in-one employee.

Houston, we have a problem

Not long after the jubilation subsides, you are confronted with a classic HR problem. The candidate is neither aware of the job description nor the functions it entails.

The candidate also does not understand a word of English. So much for the word “fluent” in the CV! By now you are doubting everything you were promised, so you resort to hand gestures, holding an imaginary child in your hands while saying: “bambino?”

And as it turns out, the maid does not have a child as the CV describes, does not know how to cook (which was listed as a plus) and has not traveled all this way to work as a maid!

The maid moved to Qatar to work for a company, not a house. Something inside of you breaks – it’s not necessarily rejection, but perhaps the knowledge that you are someone’s disappointment. In some instances, workers pay the recruitment agency in their country to come all the way here.

Ironing

Feel bad not! The saga continues.

Your employee, the maid, is irritated and disappointed. She therefore does not feel like exceeding your expectations. She does not feel like meeting them to begin with, and this is evident from the sloppy jobs here and there, the carelessness and lack of motivation.

The requirements were not met, and you feel like you have been tricked! You are frustrated because you compare yourself to her.

You would never go back to your own manager to say: I am too slow and I cannot meet the deadline, so why should she hold you accountable to this part of the contract?

You feel unease trusting her around your kids, because she shows no interest in your kids, and is unlikely to take a selfie shot with them while smiling. You have paid an arm and a leg to get this employee onboard, but as it turns out that she is a bad hire.

What do you do? The recruitment agency would have replaced her for someone else within the first three months, but that would take a long time, and you cannot go back to a situation of having nothing in the interim, so you settle for less quality and compromise.

It’s sad, so sad – why can’t we talk it over

It gets weirder as the days go by. Do you allow her to use the internet? When she takes the day off, is she allowed to do anything? If not, did the recruitment agency in her home country explain these social norms to her?

What would be fair to someone who sleeps under your roof but does not necessarily share your beliefs? Would you allow your maid to pray five times a day on time if you’re a Christian, even if your kids require attention while she does so?

Would you allow her to drink alcohol on her day off if you’re a Muslim? The contract does not go through these meticulous details, which could be a deal breaker to both parties.

The contract’s duration is two years, and after three months she is not sure about wanting to stay that long.

Now what do you do? Do you force her to stay against her will, because of her contract obligation? What if she cannot pay you back the amount you have paid the recruitment agency?

Or do you lose your money and risk bringing another employee who “fluently speaks English and is a loving mother herself?”

What guarantees do you have that your next recruit is not one who is mentally ill? Trust me, it’s not pretty. Trust me.

Jokes aside, the domestic worker industry in Qatar needs reform, as the current contractual agreements do not address many areas that result in this awkward predicament.

In addition, recruitment agencies need to be held accountable to both employers and employees i.e. the maids. Both government entities and civil society organizations need to create the necessary framework, codes and guiding principles.

Collectively, we need to ensure fair treatment of these women who travel across the globe to earn their bread, and at the same time acknowledge that, just as any employment contract, employers need to benefit from the recruitment.

Thoughts?

38 COMMENTS

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Michael Pearson
Michael Pearson
7 years ago

While I appreciate the sentiment of this post and the perspective it is trying to bring to the table, it doesn’t dissuade the perspective which is shared by the majority of the world – if you are wealthy enough to hire servants, your life can’t be that bad.

Complaining about one’s servants isn’t the most tactful thing to do. Jus’ sayin’.

Chilidog
Chilidog
7 years ago

I completely agree. Personally, the author alienated me in the first paragraph when introducing the concept that a maid is a “must” when you have more than a pet. We are expecting our second child soon and have never lived closer than a five hour drive from either set of grandparents. Sure, it’s tough at times when we can’t do certain things or go places on a moment’s notice, especially just the two of us. So when I hear someone who has an entire family structure living (sometimes literally) within arm’s reach I have a hard time sympathizing.

Desert Witch
Desert Witch
7 years ago

1. Don’t use an agency. Do it yourself. Speak to them beforehand by phone and ask open ended questions. Experience has taught us to avoid questions answerable with a yes or no. There is a lot of tooing and froing to Immigration but in the end you have more chance of getting what you need/want.

2. Would we allow our maid time to pray five times a day if she was Muslim even though we are not? Yes
3. Would we allow our maid to drink on her day off if we were Muslim? I would like to think that we would still be open minded individuals irrespective of our religion. Our maid is an adult. In her own country she would not have to get permission from her employer to go out for the night or have a drink. Why should we govern what she does in her spare time? If she did drink on her day off and then was unable to work next day, then it might become an issue we would have to address.

But I do agree about accountability being in the hands of both the agency and the employer. The government needs to overhaul the system and provide more protection for domestic workers. This business of them being outside the labour laws is ridiculous. The real sticking point for not including them is because they would have to be given a day off each week and some people seem to think that is unreasonable.

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
7 years ago
Reply to  Desert Witch

2. Would we allow our maid time to pray five times a day if she was Muslim even though we are not? Yes

maybe you personally would and thats very open minded, but i have met many people working in “western” countries that weren’t allowed prayer breaks (especially true for low level jobs)

why should we govern what she does in her spare time?

maids often live in the house with the employer so i understand if a conservative family doesn’t want someone coming back into there home drunk/tipsy

Curiosity Killed the Cat
Curiosity Killed the Cat
7 years ago

My home country isn’t obliged by law to offer Muslim prayer breaks just like Qatar isn’t obliged to offer me non-halal meat. I wonder which country will yield first? 🙂

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
7 years ago

We will probably start offering non halal meat (pork) as the number of non muslims increase demand increases and eventually the market always wins 🙂

Observant One
Observant One
7 years ago

My country, Australia, is obliged by law to allow freedom of religion and prayer areas and time during work hours…all I wish for is that this country would use indicators and drive a little nicer…not a bad exchange is it?

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
7 years ago
Reply to  Observant One

It’s a great exchange if only you can add stopping aussi drunks from harassing and physically assaulting random brown/black ppl and you my friend have a deal we do the exchange tomorrow 🙂

Observant One
Observant One
7 years ago

Its as easy to stop Aussie drunks from assaulting people as it as easy as stopping landcruisers tail gatting, undertaking, pushing in, driving recklessly, failing to give way and bullying people on the road…both have the same result..serious injury or death. So the deal is you stop that and I’ll ring the Pm discuss the randmon assaults and get him to tell the drunken Aussies to stop that nonsense …we can then solve the crisis in Ukraine together, reunite Cyprus etc…we are going to be famous you and I….Albanai & Observent Consulting Noble Peace Prize winners 2016…. ;-0

johnny wang
johnny wang
7 years ago

If only their employers realized that this maids are human beings just like any of us and that they need time to rest, relax and unwind once in a while. Keeping them locked up like birds in a cage and not allowing them a day off for the imaginary fear that they might run away with someone is not making the situation any better.
Besides the need of the hour is training schools for employers on how to understand and treat their maids in a proper and fair manner which will lead to a happy work atmosphere

KK
KK
7 years ago

We do not have a maid and we do not need one. Yes, we do have children, and yes we manage perfectly. Do not be lazy and learn to organize yourself.

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago
Reply to  KK

You’ve made that comment before, and I don’t think you understand that some families really can’t manage. So I’ll just copy and paste my previous reply: It’s not about being lazy. Some expats and locals, for example, have maids and drivers to clean the house, look after the kids, drop them off to school, etc, because both the parents work for long hours. As for children using buses, well, our school buses weren’t exactly all that safe… some of them didn’t have seat belts so that wasn’t an option! Both my parents often had to be at work at the same time, and although my grandparents helped out, they couldn’t help out all the time, and there was no way my mother could come back from her night shift, or no way my father could come back late and be expected to clean the house. I don’t think in the least that my parents were being lazy. Having a maid does not mean that you don’t value human rights or human dignity… Treating a maid like a slave, and withholding her rights from her does. Having a maid and being abusive and/or lazy are therefore mutually exclusive

KK
KK
7 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

That is why we choose to live close to close so we do not need a driver for our kids (because I agree I would never use a driver); we clean our house ourselves (for the simple reason that I do not want a stranger to live in our house). Yes, we get up 5:45 am and work long hours as well. We do our shopping on friday morning for the whole week…

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago
Reply to  KK

Don’t get me wrong, I understand where you’re coming from, but my main concern was with the word “lazy”. I can call a lot of people lazy, but to say that my parents hired a maid to clean the house because they were “lazy” to do it themselves, is, I feel, an unjust and callous statement. Believe what you like, but I really don’t believe either of my parents could have pulled it together to look after five children themselves and clean the house, and go to work every morning only to arrive late at night… At least try to be more understanding, that’s all

Deepak Babu
Deepak Babu
7 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

How does the middle class in the rest of the world manage without maids? If both parent’s go to work every morning and arrive late night only – would you then be depending on your maid solely for the upbringing of your children ?

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago
Reply to  Deepak Babu

No, my grandparents raised me, as well as my parents as well as my uncles as as well as my aunts, as well as the rest of my extended family. The maid was there, really, to clean the house. Laws should be in place to protect maids from abuse, to alleviate their living and working conditions, but having maids is not a bad thing. In fact, it could be a good thing from an economic point of view… After all, these maids come to Qatar because they’re desperate for a job and to make a living… We can allow the maids to benefit by introducing the proper legislation and fully implementing the laws to ensure their basic human rights are not violated.

Chipper fluffypants
Chipper fluffypants
7 years ago
Reply to  KK

Wow, that’s a bit “holier than thou” isn’t it? True, most of us “could” manage without help, but some of us work full time without the help of grandparents and are stuck with nurseries that close at 1pm. Jobs that place your villa 45 minutes+ from the job, and traffic so bad that a 20 minute school run takes you 60 minutes. So, having a helper at home does not constitute lazy. It makes things a bit easier for those who want to spend time with their family on nights and weekends instead of cleaning the house and ordering takeout every night. Back home, I had my parents to help with the kids. School was less than a mile away, and day care closed at 6pm. Work was 10 minutes away and we could walk to the grocery store. So yes- very easy to function without help.

KK
KK
7 years ago

If a maid helps you out fine, but it is perfectly possible to do without. We spend 45 minutes in traffic; but kids got to school less than 500m. If you choose to live at the other side of Doha then you are in trouble. We have kids, jobs and manage perfectly well. As a Westerner, I see others (i.e. Westerners) taking a very easy approach when moving to Qatar even if only a partner has a job.

Chipper fluffypants
Chipper fluffypants
7 years ago
Reply to  KK

You do realize that not everyone gets to “chose” where they live, right? Many companies- including ours, have specific compounds were we are placed. And they can be up to 45 minutes away in traffic in one direction, while school is 45 minutes in traffic in the other direction. If you read my post, you will see I never said we couldn’t do it, but I would rather have some help and use those few hours I do have spending time with my kids rather than cleaning toilets and arguing over who takes the garbage out. Again, if I was back home, I would not have help- but I wouldn’t need it as my parents would watch the kids and I would be saving up to 2 hours a day not sitting in traffic. Plus, I wouldn’t be living in a 4 story villa with marble floors that need dusting/sweeping everyday.

Chillaxxx
Chillaxxx
7 years ago
Reply to  KK

Usain Bolt can run 100m in 9.58 seconds, can you?

Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean everyone can. I applaud your tremendous time management skills and the level of discipline you have achieved in order to manage your household in Qatar without outside help. But that doesn’t mean everyone can do the same. It comes down to a lot more than laziness. There are countless factors that determine whether other families can do this too but you are lucky that you can!

outdoorsboys
outdoorsboys
7 years ago
Reply to  KK

I employ a houseboy, who is well paid, and my villa rental includes the services of a gardener. The houseboy works office hours, 5.5 days a week, gets all national holidays plus his own annual leave etc. does not live with us, his free time is his own. That does not make me lazy, it makes me fortunate, and I have made the choice to spend some of my very hard earned salary on a luxury that allows me to spend my non working hours with my Beloved and my family, enjoying a clean, well cared for home and garden. We do that rather than eat out often, buy luxury goods, drive expensive vehicles etc.- it gives us a better quality of life, in OUR opinion. You are very rude, in my opinion, to call everyone lazy and disorganized because their lifestyles and choices differ from yours.

rambling rose
rambling rose
7 years ago

Here’s a new idea! Treat your maid the way you would like to be treated. And as her employer treat her the way you or your husband is treated at work with set hours and responsibilities and adequate rest. Treat her as a fellow human being and respect her right to do as she wishes in her time off!

AMM
AMM
7 years ago

I can understand that big families might need help but what is happening in Qatar in majority of families is really worrying and will have huge negative consequences in the society, and I’m saying it as a qualified sociologist. Take a look around at all children with maids, who can’t control them and you can clearly see children have no respect for them. It is very upsetting to me to see local woman playing with their phones while their children are looked after by maids. When I was a child and my mother wanted some time off, I would be with my grandmother who passed some great values to me, from cooking to certain behavior. What children can learn from maids that come from different cultures? How your children feel being left with strangers for most of the time rather than be taken care of, by parents. Most of the kids here have no manners, and are rude.
Another thing is about woman’s responsibilities as a wife, especially in traditional Arab societies woman had a key role as a “housekeeper” and now even if you look at local house design, design of the kitchen you can tell it is made for maids not for woman to cook. I do believe the high rate of divorces in Qatar comes from the fact that families lost their natural bonds that were coming form day to day responsibilities. A wife doesn’t take care of the house, children cooking so the husband doesn’t feel that he has to make any effort as well.

Observant One
Observant One
7 years ago
Reply to  AMM

Look well written and well thought out apart from the last part stereo typing of females. I agree with you about the ill disciplined nature of children here in Qatar and being bought up by maids. The kids in my compound who are managed by maids are out of control, have no respect for anyone or property, the kids being raised by parents are completely different, polite and respect property.

Diego
Diego
7 years ago

Anyone that works need fair and consistent conditions with down time for rest and relaxation.Some of these maids could also do with some training that you find in other Countries.That training educates them on how to be caregivers and could also provide them with insights into what they should do,not do and perhaps how they should deal with unacceptable treatment.In some Countries the maids save up and pay or the sponsor pays.The fees are kept low in understanding that it is important that there is training available.

fullmoon07
fullmoon07
7 years ago

“Khadama” means servant…this word itself smells racism

AEC
AEC
7 years ago
Reply to  fullmoon07

Can’t it also mean “lackey” or “menial”? Perhaps more classist than racist? Arabic experts please..

fullmoon07
fullmoon07
7 years ago
Reply to  AEC

racist or classist still BAD

Issa Alnaimi
Issa Alnaimi
7 years ago
Reply to  fullmoon07

How is it racist? Please explain. Why didn’t you say that the word “maid”, which also means servant, also smells of racism?
The use of the word in Arabic does not include any notion of race or nationality, and was actually used for domestic help of arab origin.
Presenting proven facts is one thing, but accusations of racism just because a word is Arabic is itself racist.

fullmoon07
fullmoon07
7 years ago
Reply to  Issa Alnaimi

Arabic is not racist; but this word translates “servant” as much as the attitude often used by those who hire them.
Also English as French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese have the word “servant”, but we don’t call them in this way. We use “domestic help”.
This word was used centuries ago in Europe, unless you want to offend.

Issa Alnaimi
Issa Alnaimi
7 years ago
Reply to  fullmoon07

I see an issue with your idea that the word khadama is inherently racist/classist. As far as I know, its original use in Arabic denotes a specific job, just like bartender, waitress, babysitter, midwife…etc.
I agree that the word has been sometimes used with a discriminate attitude, and so could any other word. “Domestic help” would also be racist or classist if it were used with a racist/classist attitude.
What everyone agrees upon is that these attitudes must be abolished.

fullmoon07
fullmoon07
7 years ago
Reply to  Issa Alnaimi

of course it is the tone to offend in most cases, but I guess you will agree with me that “servant” is not very respectful. Domestic help is the help given at home (domestic).
I am not obsessed with definitions, but this one really sounds harsh and ugly.
You are right that it is the attitude that should be abolished and certain families blacklisted, so that they won’t abuse of other maids or helpers. On the contrary, once they have no help in the house they will bless any help given!!! And they would treat them with respect and dignity, because every job has dignity, but it is the attitude of others that take the dignity away from some workers.

ChaTo
7 years ago

> “What if she cannot pay you back the amount you have paid the recruitment agency?”

That recruitment money WAS NOT GIVEN TO HER, so I don’t think she should be the one paying it back.

Hillieroo
Hillieroo
7 years ago

Maids MUST have set working hours and responsibilities, caveats included, in their work contracts with their respective employers. The government could make this condition mandatory.

Mr. B
7 years ago

At the end of the day, it becomes both the host country’s as well as host family’s responsibility for the well-being and treatment of their maids and workers. They’re the ones with the power to actually do something; the maids do not.

Lynn
Lynn
7 years ago

There is no set of criteria to who should get help or not, if you need help and can afford it, that’s perfectly fine; the issue here is the abuse by employers and lack of skills of maids; but the real responsible side is the hiring agencies, cashing huge profits from both sides, selling deceptive qualifications to employers, never care to protect the employees from serious physical and psychological abuses; Human rights organizations reported high rate of maids attempts of suicide in Lebanon by jumping from balconies, this is a serious indication of severe abuse; normal working hours should be 8, any more than 8 without proper limitations and proper compensation is abuse; living conditions should be humane regardless where the maid come from; I totally agree with the comment holding parents responsible for leaving the children to be raised by maids, absolutely appalling ! I am saddened to see women mumbling for hours enjoying coffee or dinners while the maid is running around attending to babies with nothing offered to her 🙁 I heard stories (in another countries) of maids eating left overs, sleeping on thin blankets, working on demand any hour of the day or midnight; I am new to Doha, impressed by the great efforts invested in many areas to improve and set high standards, hopefully this issue would be addressed in a fair and objective way for all sides; crack on hiring agencies, they are the problem 🙂

Abu Ali
Abu Ali
7 years ago

Don’t want to seem like singing out of tune, but people in many countries all over the world live without Khadama. I know it is not easy but my wife and I has made up our minds that we don’t want any stranger at home. We don’t want any stranger to take care of our children. Of course we get tired and some days exhausted but I think the result deserves all the efforts.

Did anybody notice how some children here cling to the Khadama? play with her and spend most of the time with her? It is enough reason for me to refuse any Khadama at home

Issa Alnaimi
Issa Alnaimi
7 years ago

Regular employees are governed by their respective companies’ HR policies, which in turn comply with Qatar laws and regulations. Individuals, however, do not have HR policies and are not monitored for compliance by the government. That effectively denies maids the protection of the law, and the relative security of a proper law compliant HR policy.
I believe that not only should the contracts be reformed, but the whole sponsorship system (kafalah) should be removed, taking the household workers from under the governance of unpredictable individuals, to the governance of the state laws, just like everyone else.

I totally agree with the author regarding the employment agencies. They should be reformed and regulated, and harshly too, I might add. Many of these agencies are opportunists who are indifferent towards the employees’ well being. These agencies creat the bulk of the problems that arise between the employers and employees. They take eyewateringly high fees (14000 QRiyals last I checked), they take minimal responsibility and risk in the whole deal, and they often provide innaccurate information to both employers and employees. Agencies are simply out of line, and should be stopped. Laws should be put down to insure that these agencies do a better, more humane job, and to make sure that the money goes to the employees’ pockets instead of the agencies.

Lastly, I truly think that law reform will limit people’s dependence on domestic help. While the debate on the need for domestic help will never end, it is important for us to recognize that a culture of over dependence on maids has emerged in Qatar. I have seen young ladies walking walking empty handed while their maids were following them carrying everything. Not only that, but when reaching the car, the maid would run past the young lady to open the door for her! The words “lazy” and “spoiled” suddenly become under statements.
The very low salaries of domestic workers, combined with the lack of government oversight, makes it easy for some people to get more than one maid, even more than three maids per household in some cases. This convenience tends to numb people’s conscience towards the rights and well being of the domestic worker in their houses. In addition, this unjust convenience opens the door for even more dependence on maids to the extent that they become status symbols; the more maids follow you in shopping malls, the higher your social standing becomes.
Strict laws and regulations will make it relatively harder work and (more expensive) to employ a maid, which would hopefully lead to more appreciation of their roles and less dependence on them.

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