International Women’s Day – 8 March 2017

‘She is dead; her body came from Saudi’

International Women’s Day is calling on the masses to help forge a better working world- a more inclusive, gender equal world. However, that gender parity working world and that equal pay is a far cry from the reality of the working conditions that is facing trafficked women and girls across the world. The US Department of State estimates that between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, and that 80% of them are women and girls.

Increasingly, Ethiopian women are migrating abroad, and particularly to the Middle East and the Gulf countries to work. Women and girls in search of decent work, a better wage and some escaping the despair of child marriage migrate to the Gulf and other countries. However, what greets them is in stark contrast to the promises made by the recruiters. Alone in a strange land, they find themselves facing culture shock and loneliness, as well as long working hours with inadequate breaks. Too often, women are isolated and confined in private homes, refused pay and forced to work in slave-like conditions. Employers treat them in an inhumane manner, denying them food and sleep, refusing to pay their salaries and beating and belittling them.

‘I didn’t mind about the lack of sleep or even the beatings for that matter. But not getting my  salary, that was unbearable. Every month, I had to cry and beg my employers to pay me’

Many are locked in to the residences of their employers for extended periods of times. Some are victims of extreme violence. Rape by employers, relatives of employers or even law enforcement agents while in detention is also common. In the worst case scenario, women are killed.

‘He raped me in every possible way for six months. I used to pass out every time he forced himself in me. My womb almost out of its proper place’

This trauma causes ongoing complex and far-reaching consequences after victims return, including physical disability, reproductive health complications and psychosocial problems. Isolation and depression can cause them to harm themselves or others. They also face stigmatisation because of their physical and mental status, as well as economic difficulties.

Those who survive this treatment often return home traumatised, and at times physically impaired, only to find that there is little support for their reintegration. On their return, there are limited mental health resources in Ethiopia generally and cost and distance may limit access to those that exist for victims of trafficking. Instead, the responsibility falls to the NGOs to provide services and shelters for these women.  Unfortunately, lack of support minimises their capacity resulting in returnees being left to beg on the street, have unresolved mental health problems and in some cases suicide. “She finally committed suicide. We found her hanged with her own scarf in a bathroom”, stated the Director of a shelter

Recognising the need to focus on the impact of these horrific journeys of the victims and the consequences of the trauma in their lives after they return, SIHA in collaboration with its members in Ethiopia developed the research paper ‘Caught between poverty and trauma: Addressing the human rights of trafficked domestic workers from Ethiopia’. The paper will be launched online on 10 March and will be made available on SIHA Publications.