Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A student's perspective on foreign maids in Jordan

One way to get unique, unvarnished insights into foreign cultures is to read blogs and articles written by students participating in semester-abroad programs. Today I stumbled on a recent post by American student Laura Ashbaugh, who is currently living in Amman, Jordan. 

In her post, she reflects on her conflicted relationship with her host family's Sri Lankan maid, who is close to Ashbaugh's age. She also discusses a friend's research into abuse of foreign domestic workers in Jordan. 

Until I read Ashbaugh's post, I had no idea that Jordan was home to so many foreign domestic workers. A bit of digging revealed that more than 50,000 workers--mainly women from the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka--are working in homes across the Middle Eastern country. 

So why do women go to Jordan to work? In a word: poverty. According to Human Rights Watch, Sri Lanka's foreign workforce sent home over US$2.3 billion in remittances in 2006 alone, accounting for over 9 percent of Sri Lanka's GDP. Female Sri Lankans working abroad support an average of five family members each back home. Put starkly, these women work as maids because they have to. An article from Jordan Business magazine provides many other disturbing details, as does a piece in Sri Lanka's Daily News outlining Amnesty International's efforts to help foreign domestic workers in Jordan.

(Jordan is just one of many, many countries providing work to migrant workers, by the way. And few, if any, of those countries have a spotless human rights record when it comes to treatment of those workers. For instance, a recent article in the Toronto Star detailed the poor treatment of Mexican women hired to pick apples in Ontario.)

Kudos to Ashbaugh for bringing to light a sad subject of which I was woefully ignorant. If posts like hers aren't an argument for travelling off the tourist grid, I don't know what is.

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