‘Are we not humans?’ Pakistan’s domestic workers confront abuse

Shakeeb Asrar in The Christian Science Monitor:

Last month, when Samina Farooq, a domestic worker, learned that a fellow female worker in Lahore had been beaten by her employer for spilling milk on the floor, she went to see her. Her message: You should quit now. “Bibis [female employers] beat us for dropping milk on the floor or deduct a portion of our salary if we mistakenly burn a piece of cloth when ironing. Are we not humans? Can’t we make mistakes?” says Ms. Farooq. After the employer acknowledged that she had treated her maid unfairly, the maid agreed to stay on. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that Pakistan has more than 8.5 million domestic workers, mostly women and children. Some suffer appalling abuse at the hands of their employers. Last year an 8-year-old girl was beaten to death by her employers in Rawalpindi for letting their parrots escape.

Activists have long complained that in addition to high-profile abuses, domestic workers are routinely exploited behind closed doors, without any of the protections and benefits provided to formal workers. So, when the province of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous, passed a law in 2019 that barred child labor in homes and extended labor law and social security to all domestic staff, it was hailed as a landmark reform. But the Domestic Workers Act, a first for Pakistan, hasn’t lived up to its promise because of resistance from employers, lax government oversight, and, perhaps surprisingly, lukewarm support from domestic workers themselves.

More here.