“”I was sleeping in the kitchen. Suddenly I realized someone was trying to get on the top of me. I screamed loud but he shut my mouth with his hand. Then he molested me. At one point, I applied all my force and he was compelled to leave me,” she said.”
Shirina Begum, a woman who went to work in Saudi Arabia to work as a domestic worker recounted her harrowing tale of abuse she experienced, physically and sexually.
As an aspiring researcher wanting to specialize in gender and migration, I have been following this issue for quite some time and for academic assignments, I had analyzed this issue in the past. But today, I am not writing as a researcher merely, or a feminist activist but as a frustrated Bangladeshi citizen. While I am critical about several policies of the KSA government, including their kafala system, their infamous record on the treatment of migrant workers and the rights of women, what infuriates me equally if not more is the insensitivity at large on our end.
According to several reports, Bangladesh has improved a lot in terms of gender equality! Women are now able to step out to work, or to study- not only in the capital city but all over the country. However, when it comes to the safety of women, at home or in public places, we still have a long way to go. From a minor girl in a remote corner of Bangladesh to an ambitious young woman working in the media sector- nobody is safe! And we are interested in remittances but not interested in safeguarding the people whose hard-earned money is contributing to this country’s economy.
When it comes to the female migrant workers, the women migrate to gulf countries as workers with the hope of helping their families economically. Many of them do not know a word of English or Arabic, but they are determined to work and stand on their own feet. However, once they arrive in Saudi Arabia, many of them discover with horror that the promises made by the brokers or agencies are false and that their employer and/or the entire family is absolutely violent and brutal towards them. And lack of a support system makes it difficult for them to escape. But even when they do, the help that they receive is so little.
While the civil society has been trying for years now to address the issue of migrant workers, particularly the safety of women in the Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, the government’s policy and the response has been a major pushback in ensuring the safety of the women. There is absolutely no sympathy towards the plights of the female workers and rather, derogatory remarks from government officials from time to time show how inferior the position of women in Bangladeshi society really is!
Whenever I read the news or go through the reports, I feel traumatized. I feel frustrated about my inability to do anything to save these women or to help them. Most people in power have turned their back on this issue- as if their lives don’t matter. What matters is remittance! What matters is development!
I am not denying the economic importance, however, this is absolutely shameful that all we are interested in the remittances they send back to Bangladesh after working tirelessly, often without a day off for weeks, for months. Some of them end up dead, and some manage to return to Bangladesh, with empty hands, shattered dreams and uncertain future awaiting them. Many times, the families refuse to accept these women back.
But what are we doing? Some of us are just venting out our frustration, including myself, on the cyberspace. And the government has turned its back on these workers. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder, how different such act is from human trafficking. Human traffickers trade human lives for greed for money, and our government stays silent on this issue for the sake of remittances, and economic development.
Have we, as a nation, sold the future of our migrant workers, in the greed or need (however you may put it) for remittances? We are not bothered about the inhumane treatment many of them have experienced in the past and are experiencing, and we are also as a society not going to accept them back because of the stigma associated with being victims of sexual violence!
Shame on us! Shame on KSA and shame on our government!
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The writer is part of the core team of Women Chapter. She has completed an M.A. in Development Studies from International Institute of Social Studies, the Hague, the Netherlands. Her passion includes inter-faith peacebuilding, refugee rights, women empowerment, etc. She is one of the young leaders of Women Deliver Young Deliver 2018 Program. When she is free, she likes to write, travel or make quilled art/crafts.