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Why doesn no-one care about slavery when the slaves are female?

(72 Posts)
margerykemp Wed 19-Oct-11 15:06:18

www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/the-womens-blog-with-jane-martinson/2011/oct/18/visa-migrant-domestic-workers

garlicBreathZombie Thu 20-Oct-11 01:08:07

I'm unconvinced this is a gendered issue. There probably are more women in crap "jobs" like that, because there are always more women in the crap. But the catering industry, for example, is a long-time abuser of male immigrants (as porters & cleaners), farms keep male workers in shite accommodation then charge them nearly all their lousy wages for the privilege, and there are people like those Chinese men who died picking cockles. It's going to get worse.

I thought the article may have more impact on Guardian readers than tales of fruit-pickers and porters, since domestic help is probably more of a personal issue to most.

Pan Thu 20-Oct-11 01:21:57

indeed garlic - not sure why this is specifically in the feminist section. In my various sojourns around the less-advertised sections of a significant northern city (ok, Manchester), the leisure/catering/retail sectors massively exploit men who are 'new' to the country, and treat them in a manner which the soft lefties would raise one eyebrow at...and then forget about.

I see that women so 'indentured' are more likley to have children as an immediate concern, and also be more vulnerable to that incidence, but men, ime, probably statistically outweigh the female experience as they are more 'attractive' exactly because they come with less baggage.

This post isn't based in the experience a Guardian writer, but as someone who sees this sort of stuff too many days in an average working month.

Pan Thu 20-Oct-11 01:29:34

btw, that post was not intended to rflect a sort of 'race to the bottom', or a competiton element viz-a-viz domestic 'slaves'. I intended it as a widening of awareness re the abusive practices that keep immigrant people (both women and men) in the power of empoyers who use our rubbish empoyment laws to keep labour costs down at the expense of peoples dignity.

garlicBreathZombie Thu 20-Oct-11 01:45:32

Yes - me too!

fridakahlo Thu 20-Oct-11 02:25:50

Both men and women were present at Morecombe Bay during that infamous incident.

Beachcomber Thu 20-Oct-11 08:37:08

I think this is a feminist issue - I'm kinda surprised that others don't.

In fact it has so many feminist angles that I'm amazed other posters don't.

Domestic workers are mostly women, they are employed to do what is traditionally seen as 'women's work', they don't have many rights, they are often isolated and they are vulnerable to domestic abuse.

Domestic workers who are brought to the UK by their employers are in a uniquely vulnerable position. Most (around 84% in 2010) of those seen by Kalayaan are women. Often they come from impoverished backgrounds with little education, may not speak English, and don't have a support network in the UK. Living in a private home they can easily be isolated and completely dependent on the people paying their wages. Despite this, during the summer the government refused to support the International Labour Organisation Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, aimed at protecting cleaners, cooks and nannies, citing sufficient protection for British workers. Yet currently domestic workers are not covered by working-time regulations OR health and safety legislation, and if they live with their employers and are treated as 'family' are not entitled to the minimum wage.

That other migrant workers are also treated badly does not make this particular situation a nonfeminist issue. confused

moonshineandspellbooks Thu 20-Oct-11 09:49:50

I think it's a feminist issue because it's about women. That's not a value judgment implying the plight of female immigrants is more important than the plight of male immigrants any more than I think male DV victims are less important than female ones. All are equal and all wrongs are equally wrong. But, as a feminist, I am concerned about maltreatment of women and therefore consider this a feminist issue.

When it comes to exploitation of male migrant workers - labourers/kitchen staff/cockle pickers, etc., I think there is more public awareness of how these people are exploited. I have always been appalled by the mistreatment of immigrants, and was horrified about the Morecombe Bay tragedy, but I'd never stopped to consider female domestic workers TBH, and I think that's probably true for a lot of people. There was a post on here about a year go that opened my eyes to it. sad

There is still a huge amount of ignorance about how many female immigrants are badly treated outside the sphere of prostitution. I think many people still labour under the misconception that immigrant domestic worker is basically a cushy au pair number. In a country where many still feel it's acceptable to accuse SAHMs of living off their partners, it's easy to see how people can whitewash the plight of these women thinking that it's perfectly acceptable to pay them £50 per week in return for being on call 24/7 because, after all, they have a bed and food provided for them.

Obviously no one on this thread would think that, but I'm pretty sure a significant proportion of the population does - not because they are racist or xenophobes, but simply because they haven't thought about it at all or seen the evidence. Getting that information out there is what, for me, makes this a feminist issue.

ComradeJing Thu 20-Oct-11 11:56:03

Dear me yes, What About Teh Menz? hmm

<refuses to waste energy discussing whether or not this is a feminist issue and just discuss the original OP instead.>

I lived in India for a number of years as a child and our aya eventually left for Europe where she was kept in virtual slavery as a domestic worker. She, thankfully, escaped back to India but not without suffering some horrible abuse. sad

My understanding is that it is harder to find these women because they are kept in private homes. They also tend to be fairly brutalized physically, sexually and emotionally which keeps them from speaking out. Who can you speak to if you can't leave the house?

Australia doesn't allow any domestic worker visas. I wonder if that is to prevent women from being brought into the country 'legitimately' then treated as a slave once they are there?

MsAnnTeak Thu 20-Oct-11 12:34:48

moonshineandspellbooks - acquaintences were paying childminder and nursery fees for two young children which equalled hundreds a month. They were by no stretch of the imagination living on the poverty line, both on good salaries but she decided to hire a nanny from an EE country to keep costs to a minimum. The nannies salary was £60 a week, plus board and lodgings. She spoke little English so had no social life.

Is women hiring and exploiting other women to enable them to continue with a career a feminist issue ?

SinicalSal Thu 20-Oct-11 12:49:24

What a daft post, MsAnnTeak. Of course women can behave outrageously and treat people cruelly. Women are people too, you know, not some sort of Other

it's interesting that you frame your question as the female half of the couple being the driver. Has the husband no responsibility for domestic work? Why didn't he sort a more ethical alternative or give up work himself?

MsAnnTeak Thu 20-Oct-11 13:02:04

SS hubby worked abroad for weeks at a time but was happy to pay for the childminding, she on the other hand wanted the least expensive option and also have a nightlife.

Beachcomber Thu 20-Oct-11 13:03:25

Is women hiring and exploiting other women to enable them to continue with a career a feminist issue ?

Yes it is. It is a massive feminist issue - because it takes two people to have a child, and yet, women are overwhelmingly the main carers (either the mother or another women brought in to replace the mother). Both parents are responsible for the child existing, both parents are responsible for childcare.

This is a feminist issue and it also highlights how patriarchal and exploitive capitalism is of women throughout the system.

garlicBreathZombie Thu 20-Oct-11 13:07:28

OK, yes, I see the plight of exploited femael workers is an issue for feminists and also see that people may not have considered the problem wrt domestic workers. I really wasn't doing a "what about the menz" and I think Pan was stressing that this wasn't his intention either.

I have been aware for a long time about this problem overall (I was instrumental in getting union protection for catering staff, though that all went by the board many years gone) and am acutely aware it's going to get very much worse. The fact that someone said they hadn't really considered the issue, until the article prompted them to think about domestic workers, illustrates what I was trying to say about "Guardian readers" in my first post.

For me, this is a critical issue that will affect many areas of our social, political and economic life. This doesn't mean I'm going "what about the menz", it means the problem is not a specifically gendered one imo. Never mind, I'll butt out again now ... Got a work crisis anyway.

MsAnnTeak Thu 20-Oct-11 13:09:44

Afternoon Beachcomber, these days of feminism there's an increasing number of women who are choosing to have children with the intention of remaining a lone parents.
Do those women have a duty to pay higher than average wages to their nannies ?

moonshineandspellbooks Thu 20-Oct-11 13:19:27

All parents have a duty to pay fair wages to nannies. End of. Doesn't matter whether they are single or coupled parents. All Beachcomber is saying is that in coupled relationships the burden placed on the female parent to organise childcare is often no different to that of the single parent because too many men are not pulling their weight.

Personally, I'd like to see nannies brought in under existing childcare rules, partly for the benefit of children, and partly because at least that way lone parents could more easily use WTCs to help pay for nannies and therefore have a much wider choice of careers.

MsAnnTeak Thu 20-Oct-11 13:37:16

moonshineandspellbooks - completely agree about fair wages for all.

Many men don't pull their weight but not in our family. The mother's in my family produced some great males. One of my brothers has never had a days unemployment, runs his own successful business though he has some strange views on the world. He's married and they have 2 fine young men for sons which he has done his upmost to provided for. His wife has worked part time, her wish, and he found the male childminders to care for the boys.
Every Saturday since they began living together, he's insisted my sister-in-law went out for the day. He cleans the house from top to bottom, irons his own clothes and they return to a meal.
Children have recently left home to go to uni and SIL wanted to pursue her dream of opening a shop. He put in the capital and is starting a new phase of her life in her 40s as a business woman. They're still loved up.

Pan Thu 20-Oct-11 13:40:41

ComradeJing - your passive/aggressive, sarcastic response (menz) isn't really useful, is it? It adds nothing to what is being considered.

Thistledew Thu 20-Oct-11 14:03:24

ComradeJing raised the issue of Australia's lack of immigration options for domestic workers.

Unfortunately, this only has the opposite effect of exacerbating the problem and providing less protection and greater opportunities for the exploitation of domestic workers.

It is only through doing away with the idea that people are "illegal" through their mere presence in a particular country that we can work towards the idea that all people are entitled to the protection of their human and civil rights, including employment rights. Not having an immigration category for domestic workers only forces more people into undercover, unregulated employment, where if they are in a situation of exploitation they are unwilling or unable to seek help.

I agree that it is particularly a feminist issue as domestic workers and people trafficked for sexual exploitation predominantly are female.

Rhubarb0oooo Thu 20-Oct-11 14:06:48

Actually slavery affects children too. In fact, mostly children.
Why confine slavery to feminism when it is a worldwide problem that affects people of all nations, ages and gender?
And why accuse posters of being all about the "menz" when they point that out?

Rhubarb0oooo Thu 20-Oct-11 14:10:38

This is from the PolarisProject, a US based organisation that aims to stop human trafficking and I think they make a very important point about not confining slavery to one group of people:

"It is essential to remember that vulnerability to human trafficking is far-reaching, spanning multiple different areas such as age, socio-economic status, nationality, education-level, or gender. Traffickers often prey on people who are hoping for a better life, lack employment opportunities, have an unstable home life, or have a history of sexual abuse - conditions that are present in all spheres of society."

Thistledew Thu 20-Oct-11 14:17:39

I don't think that anyone is suggesting we 'confine' slavery to being a feminist issue, or that feminism cannot have a view on social problems that affect a wider social group than just women, or that if the issue is being addressed by other movements, there is no space for it to be examined from a feminist perspective also.

It is interesting that a view persists that feminism is somehow 'other'. Feminism affects all of society and how it interacts. It is just a prism through which to look at life, not something that is relevant only to women, as distinct entities from the rest of society.

Rhubarb0oooo Thu 20-Oct-11 14:29:11

Ah but some posters have made it clear that as feminists they are concerned with the ill-treatment of women. So is this thread merely looking at womens slavery from a feminist point of view or are you incorporating all types of slavery? Because slavery does not affect more women than men or children and I personally believe that when discussing slavery, it is important that we discuss all aspects of slavery and not concentrate on one group of people.

ComradeJing Thu 20-Oct-11 14:35:28

Rhubarb: yes, slavery is a world wide problem. Yes it affects children and men too. However, the article was specifically discussing female domestic workers and the affects of the government removing a domestic worker visa. In a FWR board Is it unreasonable to discuss how slavery impacts women? If the OP had wanted to discuss it in a general sense she could have posted it in politics or whatever.

Pan, thanks for pointing out which part of my post was sarcastic. I hadn't realized. <---- that was sarcastic too btw. I don't think that commenting on how slavery affects men too helps the discussion on female domestic workers and slavery either but <shrugs>

Thistledew Thu 20-Oct-11 14:39:31

There are many social and political factors that come into play with trafficking. Some of these will affect women more than men and vice versa.

I see nothing wrong in feminists focussing specifically on the factors that tend to affect women more than men and discussing how these can be addressed. It is not to dispute or discard the fact that there are other factors that may affect men to a greater degree, but to narrow the discussion somewhat. If you insist on talking about all types of slavery and its impact upon women, men and children every time the topic is raised, then you will never get beyond a general "slavery- isn't it bad, such a big problem, so many people". A much more focussed discussion is needed in order to start tackling the many roots and causes.

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