Exploited by their employers and estranged from their families, unskilled foreign workers talk about their lives, unfiltered, in TikTok videos. In the Gulf countries, these young women are more isolated than ever since the pandemic.
“Freedom? I do not have any. One day off? I do not have any.” Here’s how Brenda Dama, 26, from Kenya, describes in a TikTok video what it’s like to work in Saudi Arabia as a domestic worker.
Hired in 2019, she left her native country to work and live with a wealthy Saudi family. A choice she tells the New York Times :
It’s really very difficult here. You end up crying every day. But when you see the positive comments under your videos, you’re like, ‘Oh, this person gets me.’
Even more isolated since the pandemic, domestic workers have taken to the social network TikTok to tell about their difficult daily life. In these videos, they evoke, sometimes with humor, the ill-treatment, sexual harassment and racial discrimination they suffer.
Many find in these clips and their comments a supportive community. TikTok has become, for some, a loophole: a free place where they can laugh or express their anger. One of Brenda Dama’s videos has been viewed over 900,000 times and elicited nearly 5,700 comments.
Workers deprived of essential rights
In most Gulf countries, foreign workers are hired through a sponsorship system called the “Kafala”, which can be likened to a guardianship of the employer over his employee. For human rights NGOs, this practice perpetuates a form of modern slavery.
In practice, this legal system deprives workers of essential rights: they cannot leave the country or change jobs without the prior consent of their employer. Often, this control goes even further and these low-skilled employees find themselves deprived of passports and mobile phones.
According to a study relayed by the New York Times, in 2016, there would have been almost four million domestic workers in the Gulf countries. Thanks to the TikTok app, these women can finally bond and break their isolation.
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