Wednesday, March 17, 2010

If being a maid is an 'honorable' profession, why do men get so upset if Saudi women work as one?

There was plenty outrage going around these past few weeks among Saudis over news reports that Saudi women were working as housemaids in Qatar.

The gist of this outrage goes something like this: Being a maid is an “honorable” profession, but it’s a “great shame” for Saudi women to work at this honorable profession. Sometimes I wonder whether we as a nation will ever get over ourselves.

The outrage followed a report by a Saudi Arabic-language newspaper in January that 30 Saudi women were employed as housemaids in Qatar. Over a six-week period news reached scandalous proportions where any Saudi with access to a computer registered alarm and disgust that Saudi housemaids were earning $400 a month, just slightly above the prevailing wage of Indonesian housemaids.

A great many Saudis employ housemaids, so they went to great lengths to point out that maid work is honorable. There’s no reason to go out of our way to insult the people we employ. But apparently what is honorable for an Indonesian or Filipina is not honorable for a Saudi.

By voicing outrage and complaining of the great shame of Saudi women working as maids, Saudis undercut their own argument that maid work is honorable. In fact, the last thing these hypocrites are thinking is that maid work is honorable. If cleaning houses was a good profession, then it should be suitable for Saudi daughters and wives.

Much to the relief of the Saudi press, the news report was apparently inaccurate. Qatar does not permit Gulf women to be employed as housemaids and all maids must have a sponsor. Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility that Saudi women are working illegally as maids in Qatar.

Unfortunately, after the story broke a good many Saudis displayed their true colors about how they view some professions and about the people they employ. I’ll be the first to admit that my family would be horrified if a female family member took a job as a housemaid. There would be plenty of shouting, shared misery and recriminations about how a poor girl was led down this wanton path.

Oh, but how soon we forget our past. It wasn’t uncommon in my mother’s generation to have Saudi housemaids. As a girl, I recall an aunt who managed a busy household, the farmland surrounding her home, and had employed Saudi housemaids. That all seems pretty honorable to me.

Saudis were a practical lot a generation ago. Work had to be done to support the family. The honor was in the labor and the food that was put on the table was a result of that labor. Your neighbors judged you, sure, but they judged you as a provider not whether you swept floors and did laundry.

Somehow the practicalities of daily living of my generation have been replaced by an exaggerated sense pride. It’s no longer enough that you put in a day’s hard work to provide for your family, but what kind of work you are doing.

Today’s reality is that Saudi Arabia is churning out a record number of female university graduates. More than half of all university graduates are women, yet less than 12 percent of Saudi jobs go to women. More and more Saudi women are looking for jobs abroad. While the Ministry of Labor has made efforts to expand the job market for women, employers continue to resist change. As a society we continue to limit job opportunities for women, yet we express outrage when a woman seeks work we consider taboo.

We also are forgetting that not all Saudi women are university or even high school graduates. There is a significant class of Saudis working near or at the poverty level who need their daughters and wives to work to feed their families. To deny these women the opportunity work aboard as housemaids is cruel.

If a poll was taken of Saudi families of what kind of employees that would want in their homes, the universal answer would be Muslim employees. Most Saudis respect their non-Muslim workers’ right to practice their religion. But Saudis also want an employee who understands their religion, customs and traditions. And whether it’s
rational or not, they want to be relieved of their underlying fears that that their employees are teaching their children religious values not consistent with Islam. Once Saudis got over their initial prejudices, the idea of a Saudi housemaid could be appealing.

I sense a shift in the attitudes of young Saudis today. The definition of what is acceptable and what is not is changing, especially among young women. If it doesn’t bother a young Saudi woman to do laundry for a family in Qatar, or for that matter in Saudi Arabia, why should it bother anybody else?


Angel said...

You know I see where you are coming from. I also want to add something, it isnt about being a maid however it is about Saudi culture and tradition taking over Islam. You see I am Australian, I am a muslim alhumdallah, and i was supposed to get engaged, to a saudi. However his father and mother are of older generation do not approve because I am not Saudi and I dont follow the culture and tradition. It doesn't matter that I am a good muslim, that I wear abaya or I cover my face. I sit with saudi women, my friends are saudi but I am not good enough for them because I wasn't born in Saudi. Tell where does the Qur'an say it is ok to allow culture take over Islam. Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) married a slave and a jew. The King os Saudi is married to a forgiener. tell me how that is fair

Saudi said...

There is always double standard in Saudi Culture. I am proud of other nationalities being housemaids because they earn their money out of hardwork.The saudi families are used to have been pampered by housemaids. However, saudis dont realized that all the houseworks are assumed by housemaids that tend the saudi wives to become lazy. The point is, lots of saudi women are unemployed. This is a dellima.I pray to Allah that one day, Saudi women will become housemaids so that they will realize how hard to be housemaids. Not all the time the gold spoon is served at your mouth. Allah is just and all-knowing. Time will come Saudi women will eat their prides. For sure not this time, but when the oil is drained then saudi women should ready themselves. Thats how I appreciates expats housemaids because they do their jobs because of needs and survival but with great honors and integrity. Expats women are women of great substance. They are more than a soldiers fighting taliban. Just imagine the cruelties and sexual abuses they get from their employers, they are fed with messy leftovers and to an extent they dont get food or even salaries. Some are vocals while others just keep silent.

I know a lot of women expat housemaids who suffered at the hands of their employers.

For our saudi women, wait for your turn. It is becoming very near to you--to become the NEXT HOUSEMAIDS in the middle east.

CKC said...

I was looking for blogs that are like minded to my views.

I think that what you are doing is good for your country and faith to make others aware what is going on. We as people face different problems in all cultures, but we must strive to keep going, and trusting in my/our God. We must also realize that the higher power loves us all regardless of our culture and the way we exercise our faith determines that.

In America, we face different challenges, but the struggle is the same. There is so much poverty, no jobs, struggling families just trying to make ends meet, yes here women can work, but if you are not highly educated then jobs are very hard to come by. Our capitalist system is geared up for big business, rich, and wealthy people only.

So at least Saudi women will eventually get a chance to work as Housemaids and stand tall, so that they can help take care of there families.

We need to pray for our world and all of our human race, and come together as the higher power intended us to. So continue to spread the word so change can come.

Please feel free to visit my blog Thank you.