The difficulty of being a domestic help

Unnoticed and often ill-treated, she struggles to earn a respectable living for her family

CONCERN

FAYAZ SAFVI

She heads off to work at eight in the morning, makes breakfast for her morning employer, readies her children for school and juggles many other roles. She works 10 hours a day with one hour lunch break. She supports her two children and puts aside whatever money she could to put a roof on her house that she has been building over the past two years. Hanifa (name withheld) is a 50-year-old mother of two children, a grownup boy and a girl.
Hanifa’s husband is mentally challenged, so a burden on the family. Hanifa is one among many women who work part time as domestic help to earn a livelihood for her family. Working as a domestic help for the last 25 years, she decries the day when she set out on this path. Oblivious of its trials and tribulations, she never knew that it would be such a thankless job. She is dreaming of the day when her son would take the responsibility of running the family on his shoulders and let her retire peacefully. “It is not easy to make bosses please every time, especially if one happens to be a female,” Hanifa says. “It is a very tough job and you often get to hear abuse. What is most frustrating is sometimes couples take out their personal frustration on maids, which drives me mad,” she laments. 
Working with housewives of varying temperaments can be emotionally and physically draining. Some crib about the cleanliness while other are fixated with how their children are cared for. The irony of this kind of work is that there are no set rules. Majority of their employers think that maids have it easy and make a quick buck. They rarely feel the pain that a maid goes through while upholding the small and often crazy whims of their bosses.
Domestic work is typified by the non-recognition, low wages, excessive working hours, lack of social benefits and social security, besides unfair termination or employment, harassment and lack of organization. Unlike other employees who enjoy all these benefits, she has nowhere to register her complaint or grievance. “The prime reason for our plight is lack of proper labour laws that govern us, indifferent attitude, and want of a proper forum that can take up our causes. The laws that are there merely exist on paper,” Hanifa adds.
It is not mere work that causes her immense mental agony; her personal life is not smooth either. Every day after returning home she has to attend to her husband to check whether he has taken his daily dose of medicines, which is a considerable drain on her income of Rs 1800 per month.
Hanifa grieves over the day when she got married to a mentally unstable person who was unable to support the family. He barely had any idea what matrimony meant or how the emotional needs of a women are cared for. Having come from a poor family, she had no choice but to accept what fate had thrown her way.  “I was devastated when I saw him after marriage, but knowing that my family would not take me back if I turn my back on him, I chose to give it a try and make it work,” she says. “I have been carrying on since then and God knows for how long I can continue like this.”
Soon after she became a mother, she gave up the thought of ending her marriage. Then a trail of hardships began for her. She had to grapple with two children and simultaneously find means of raising some money for the survival of her family. Initially, help did pour in from certain quarters, but that dried up soon, after which the onus of feeding her children fell entirely on her shoulders. Not having any skill and being uneducated, the only way of bringing any income home was by working from house to house as a domestic help.
Not being used to getting yelled at or hearing harsh language, she says it was a terrible blow to her self-respect. “But overtime I got used to it by convincing myself that it comes as a package deal with the job,” she says. Her experience has taught her many lessons on how to keep her employers happy. She has many stories to tell of the families that she has worked for, but she never reveals them as she believes it is against her work ethic and the code of conduct she follows while at work.
Working with working couples is tad easier than those that employ maids as a status symbol. The former tend to be generous and value work more than later that rant and rave often about small chores and are always unsatisfied with the work of maids. “The biggest downside of this work is that not only the employer but even the society tends to look down upon this work,” she complains.
Being a mother of a grown up daughter gives her sleepless nights as the thought of marrying her of depresses her every now and then. She doesn’t want her daughter to suffer the same fate that she has lived through. “In a couple of years she will be of marriageable age. The obligation of finding the boy for her and arranging money is going to be a huge challenge for me,” says Hanifa. “I want a decent life for her.”
Hanifa hasn’t let her enthusiasm for work to fizzle out yet. She is determined to build the house for her children who are her driving force as of now. She chose this work because of the circumstances surrounding her. She yearns to live a respectable life where she doesn’t have to wash dishes and clean others dirt.

Lastupdate on : Thu, 7 Feb 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 7 Feb 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 8 Feb 2013 00:00:00 IST




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