13 March 2017

Zambia: Heartbreaking Tales of Housemaids

Photo: Zambia Reports
Police at a polling station in Zambia (file photo).

AS Zambia celebrated International Women's Day (IWD) last week my mind wondered to domestic workers and how they are mistreated despite the big role they play in running homes.

It should actually be noted that as hundreds of women and men were celebrating, laughing and chatting in their beautiful 'Chitenge' outfits bought by their employers throughout the country and indeed world over, one could not help but wonder about how the women domestic workers were doing with some of them being t out there in the cold, by their employers.

Women domestic workers continue to suffer serious abuse at the hands of their wealthy employers.

These maids are usually left starving and are not paid salaries for months on end.

A Domestic Worker speaks out!

According to a local organisation known as 'My Wage Zambia', domestic workers in Zambia face many challenges.

One maid remembers working under very harsh conditions and explains that one of her worst experiences was working for a named embassy in Zambia's capital, Lusaka, where she was paid a paltry K125 ($25) monthly.

According to 'My Wage Zambia,' this maid was subjected to a body search by male guards on a daily basis.

In addition, her refusal to convert to Islam led to physical and verbal abuse.

According to the maid, only known as Judith, she worked under constant surveillance from CCTV cameras placed around the house which she saw as an invasion of her privacy.

The embassy also deducted National Pensions Scheme Authority (NAPSA) from her pay but never gave the mandatory social security card to enable her prove that the remittances were being made.

Judith believes affluent people in society are the worst culprits when it comes to abusing domestic workers as many regard their employees as lesser human beings.

She also remembers working for a former Pember of Parliament who did not allow her to eat while seated and also ordered her to prepare her own food outside, and not in the family kitchen.

But she says the worst ordeal was being subjected to washing the couple's under wear on a daily basis.

'My Wage' further reports that neither the former parliamentarian nor the embassy ever paid Judith any overtime or transport allowance despite subjecting her to very long working hours.

According to Judith, reports of some workers eloping with their married male bosses had created a rift between domestic workers and their female employers.

To safeguard their marriages, some female employers now dictate what their employees should wear. Make-up and certain hair-styles are not allowed.

Judith, however said when she once worked for the late president of Zambia, Michael Sata, when he was minister in the old regime. She was treated and offered better conditions of service than what is contained in the new Domestic Workers Order 2011 and regrets having had to quit her job to stay home with a terminally ill child. But she was often called in for part time work which she was well paid for.

Judith is now co-owner of a Domestic Workers Recruitment Centre and conducts placements in Lusaka. She aims to ensure young women who get into domestic work, do not become victims like she was.

Many domestic workers continue to suffer physical abuse, verbal/psychological abuse and sexual harassment from their employers.

One maid spoken to by the author said her previous employer beat her when she ate something from the kitchen despite being a living in maid.

"She got so angry with me, and after that she started to beat me every time I irritated her," she said.

These maids are usually withdrawn, quiet and shy. They are isolated and lonely, and they are rarely given a day off. Some of them are not even allowed to own a phone, let alone to mingle with other family members.

These maids are ever moving from one employer to the next running away from suffering and hoping for greener pastures.

Some Zambian domestic workers have tried to go and work abroad only to suffer severe abuse at the hands of their wealthy employers.

Another maid, Memory tells her story with tears rolling down her face. She is now 23, and left her home village when she was only 15.

"I worked for a woman who used to call me all sorts of names. She always said I was crazy, sometimes she called me a dog and a whore. I used to sleep on the floor, without any mattress and I generally feared for my life," she said.

Of course there are people who go to extra lengths to ensure that their maids are happy and satisfied but such people are usually very few.

However, for many maids, living in their employers' house it is a traumatizing experience, especially for young girls who are unable to fight back and have nowhere to report.

In Zambia, maid recruitment agencies are there at a lower level and they do very little to assist the abused maids.

Some maids come from villages and they may not know how to properly carry out their duties but their employers get irritated and ill treat them.

Another former maid confessed that, "I was treated as a slave and the husband sexually abused me for months. He would also feel my breasts every other day but I was afraid of reporting him to the wife," she said.

These maids also have their personal effects searched by their bosses on arrival and every other time. Many are also forced to sleep in kitchens and other inappropriate places.

These maids go through a lot of stress and exhaustion as they work up to about 22:00 hrs every day.

The maids spoken to said what hurt the most was the way they were tricked out of their parents' homes and promised a brighter future only to be subjected to so much suffering and hardship.

One girl tearfully narrated how she was forced to perform oral sex on her male boss, and later having sexual intimacy with him against her will.

According to a recent research published by a women's organisation in Tanzania, 60 percent of maids are being sexually abused in their workplaces.

The maids are often young and often can do little to prevent the abuse.

Tanzania Media Women's Association (TAMWA) which published the report surveyed over 730 maids including 15-year-old Josephina Mbaya.

According to TAMWA, Josephina started working in the house of a senior government official and before long, he started making advances towards her.

"He came to my room one night and said he wanted sex with me. I refused... but in the following days and weeks he kept on asking me to have sex."

"I felt terrible because he was very old, old enough to be my grandfather. It wasn't right what he did. I am too young, I haven't even had my first period," she said.

"My boss promised to give me money and gifts as well as increasing my salary but I didn't believe him. He was very angry when I refused," Josephina added.

One woman said she had not been paid for four months because she was refusing to yield to her male boss's sexual advances.

Maids in Tanzania are now being given advice by Tamwa about their legal rights if they are sexually abused or raped.

Of course, the call is not for people to treat their domestic workers as super human beings but that employers must consider treating these maids with dignity and kindness, after all they are also human like everyone else.

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