Isolation a factor with violence inside the home

Helping domestic staff keep in touch with others from the same country of origin should lessen their isolation and help reverse the increasing incidence of violence.

What should be the official response to the increasing frequency of violence between domestic staff and the families who sponsor them? As The National reported yesterday, the authorities cite a significant increase in the number of violent incidents, be it by families against their maids and drivers or by such staff on members of their host families. In some cases, these attacks are fatal.

This is not a new issue, even if the frequency and severity of the incidents add impetus to finding a way to reverse the trend. Part of the difficulty of dealing with this kind of offending is the nature of the environment: behind closed doors in the family home, with both victim and perpetrator living within.

One reaction to this news has been to suggest introducing standard contracts for all domestic staff in the UAE so everyone involved knows exactly what they are an entitled to, but a better solution could be something far simpler: ensuring domestic staff get adequate time off every week. This would provide more than just a chance to rest, both physically and mentally, although that plays an important role in reducing the cumulative pressure that comes from unrelenting work and an unchanging environment. The primary benefit would be to lessen the isolation felt by many domestic staff.

Within the home, a maid is on her own if the family is either abusive or places impossible demands on them. Many of these women have limited education and life experience. A day off would allow them to meet others in similar situations, compare notes and get advice.

In places like Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, there are places maids can visit to meet with others who come from the same region. The UAE has no equivalent of this other than malls, where many maids feel unwelcome.

It is important for domestic staff to be in touch with others from their countries of origin, to decrease their sense of isolation and enhance their knowledge of what is – and isn’t – acceptable conduct by their host families. A community organised association offering advice and practical help for maids would also be beneficial.

Isolation provides the environment where abuse can occur but maids who have a sense of community will know when to report it, and this will make everyone safer.

Published: May 18, 2014 04:00 AM

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