I have final exams and assignments in the next few weeks, but I just can’t resist writing about this ad campaign. The campaign is called Rahma which means mercy in Arabic. The main purpose of this campaign is to raise public awareness of mistreatments of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. The campaign itself has been going on since the mid of November 2008 on Saudi-owned satellite TV — MBC channel (watched by millions across the Middle East), but I honestly have just watched this ad a few days ago. To give you an idea how the ad looks like, let’s watch this video:
The first part of the video (until 0:09) shows an Arab employer scolding his maid; calling her zift (literally means asphalt in Arabic, but has the “other” meaning which is similar to shit in English). The second part (0:10 – 0:24) shows his other worker (probably his gardener or security guard) asking for his 2 months salary which has not been paid for. The poor worker said, “abgha raatib. Itsnain syahar mafi raatib” (Meaning: I want a salary. Two months without salary). But the boss says that he’s been telling him over and over again that he doesn’t have any money. The third part (0:25 – 0:34) shows the same man screaming at a worker (I’m guessing he’s a street sweeper since he’s wearing an orange shirt), telling him to quickly go away. The fourth part (0:35 – 0:48) shows the man’s employee in his office asking for permission to go to the hospital to see his sick daughter. But the boss refuses to let him leave and tells him to go after he finishes work. The last part of the video (0:35 – onwards) shows the man asking God for forgiveness and help. Then a sentence is shown that reads: “He who is not merciful, will not be given mercy.”
There are two other similar videos with different scenarios. This video shows a mistress telling her maid: “Are you not done yet??? You cannot go to sleep until this house is clean! Understood?!!?” While another video shows a mistress who scolds and screams at her maid, telling her to “go out of my face” and calling her “abnormal”.
I have to give applauds to this campaign. The issue of abuse of foreign workers, not only in Saudi Arabia but also in other parts of the Arab world, is too common and accepted in the societies; yet it’s still a sensitive issue to discuss and most people have been in denial about it. I’ve heard too many stories of abuse and mistreatments of workers (especially Indonesian maids) in Saudi Arabia. Every Indonesian maid who had come to work with my family experienced at least once, twice, or more mistreatments by their past employers. I met someone who did not receive her 6 years salary! Imagine that… and I’m pretty sure there are many workers who have the same experience. I also met an Indonesian domestic worker who had not been given any foods for the past 3 months (yes, no kidding!). She said her employee locked the food cabinet and the fridge, leaving her no options but to starve. I was just SOOOOO furious when I heard this, knowing that her mistress was actually only a few meters from where I sat. But I knew that if I did something, in the end, she would be in trouble. There are also countless workers who have been constantly beaten by their employers, not to mention rape and sexual abuse.
My experience of working in Saudi Arabia last year was also shocking. The mistreatments did not only happen in households but also in offices. Two of my bosses were very nice to me; maybe because I’m a woman and I held quite a good position in those companies that I worked at. They never screamed and yelled at me (thank God). But I was completely stunned at how they treated the other workers (e.g. driver and office boy). They NEVER treated these workers with respect; I barely heard my bosses said “thank you” or “please” to them every time they did something (like making coffee, etc). They never hesitate to scream and yell at these poor employees, especially if they’re in a really bad mood… as if these workers were the source of the problems! I also saw my boss throw stuff in the presence of his employees when he was so angry at them for few times. Although he didn’t throw directly to them, it made me DAMN SCARED and I was sure everyone was not pleased to see it. One of the workers I knew had not received his salary for 3 months, yet he was expected to work more than necessary during busy weeks. And believe it or not, I was almost in that position too.
To wrap up this post, people need to understand that these workers are human beings too. They have the right to be treated nicely and receive justice. They have the right to LIVE, just like every one of us! Imagine Saudi Arabia without foreign workers, can it function???? I don’t think so. Who is going to sweep the streets? No Saudis would like to do that job. Who will replace the South-East Asian maids? Saudis? I doubt it. Who will drive their children to school and wives to malls? Saudis??? NOPE. People need to change their mind; even though others do low-level jobs, it doesn’t mean they’re not better than us! We need to treat them with respect.
Quoted from ArabNews:
The Rahma campaign is an initiative to publicly address the abuse of domestic and migrant workers in Saudi society,” said Al-Khatib. “We sometimes forget that those who we deal with as helpers are actually human beings. We are obliged to treat them well. Why ask them to do things that we can’t bear ourselves? If we have mercy on them, then Allah will have mercy on us,” he added.