Changing Society’s Perception of Female Domestic Workers
23 June 2023
Being a woman and a domestic worker in Africa, especially Tanzania is a double tragedy. Despite grappling with negative attitudes and ridicule they face from society, they also have to endure sexual harassment, rights violation, and insulting names such as beki tatu.
On the other hand, the media are awash with reports of violence against women and girls, being perpetrated by their employers and other people, confirming the sad reality that it is an area where workers encounter violence while trying to earn a living.
As if that was not enough, the increase in acts of sexual violence against domestic workers, lack of employment contracts, child labor, unfriendly working environment, and lack of life skills, are some of the challenges that continue to hog the vital but demeaned sector.
It is against this background that made Beatrice Johson and her fellow domestic workers joined forces to establish an organization dubbed ‘The Light for Domestic Workers.’
Beatrice, who is the Director of the organization revealed that it opened doors in 2019 and they started as 15 girls, all domestic workers. “What pushed us the most is that we have been working as domestic workers, hence we know and have lived those challenges,” she said.
Explaining how they started, she said that in 2021 they got their first grant from Women Fund Tanzania Trust, which enabled them to start implementation of planned activities.
“We started in five wards of Morogoro Urban District. We continued to spread our wings and now we cover 15 wards of this District. Our main beneficiaries are women and girls employed as domestic workers, their employers, and society in general,” she added.
According to her, the main goal is to provide awareness to the community about domestic workers and help change the society’s negative perception against them, which leads to cruelty and other forms of abuse. A member of the organization, Victoria Paschal, While sharing on abuses faced by domestic workers said they include not being given their rights after work (salary), improper dismissal, harassment, lack of freedom of worship, humiliation, acts of violence, rape, beating, etc.
She further explained that the funding from WFTT enabled them to implement activities such as identification of women and girls engaged in domestic work in the area, conducting awareness to the community, holding meetings with employers, dialogues, and media programmes.
“In meetings with employers, we have been discussing and educating them on the importance and value of their employees, their rights, the laws that protect domestic workers, the effects of not appreciating/recognizing them, etc.
“We have also been holding meetings with community members at ward level and we informed them about the rights and responsibilities of domestic workers, how they can take part in protecting them, especially reporting incidents happening in their localities,” she said.
According to them, their efforts are bearing fruit as society's understanding of the rights of these girls and the importance of appreciating and protecting them is increasing. This led the number of cases being reported of girls who experience violence at their work increasing, and so far 30 cases have been reported.
On the other hand, employers have started giving their employees contracts and until now, more than 250 girls have work contracts. The organization’s efforts saw domestic workers being empowered with knowledge, with their self-awareness increasing and they are now considering their work as any other normal job, hence some have started to open bank accounts to save their income.
Mariam Jonas, a domestic worker and volunteer facilitator narrated, “Before I got this knowledge, I didn't even dare to speak in front of people or even say that I am employed as a domestic worker. I felt that my colleagues were laughing at me. Sometimes when asked by my colleagues what am doing now, I lied to them that I am studying or I am living at my brother's place”
She said that she is now confident and loves the work as her employer allows her to participate in seminars and trainings organized by LDW, where she is now a facilitator, empowering other domestic workers.
Despite the successes, the organization is facing some challenges such as lack of understanding, willingness and cooperation from domestic workers and employers providing false information because they don’t want them to be part of the programme.
Regarding their plans, the organization has added the economic aspect to their programmes to help domestic workers appreciate and see the value of the work they do.
The organization’s dream is to see female domestic workers’ self-awareness and confidence increasing, and the society respecting and protecting their rights.