Dedicated to the survivors: Tales of a Domestic Worker
2015-12-01 16:40:12 -
Human Rights
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Mariaam Bhatti: Tales of a Domestic Worker

 

With this year’s 16 Days of Action Opposing Violence Against Women (25 November to 16 December) upon us, I feel the need to dedicate the following to all survivors of violence and those still experiencing it. I know very well that this issue affects women and girls from all walks of life, different social statuses and origins, including those who are domestic workers and who experience it either at work or in their own home. By focusing more on women, I am not trivialising that it also happens to some men and boys, yet the high percentage of women experiencing violence says a lot about our society and how women are viewed.

 

I constantly ask myself why other humans think they should be superior to others, why some men think women were created to serve them, or to be their punching bags. I think the idea of more men holding power positions in society than women is the reason why some men in their homes justify their actions for punishing women in their lives for even trivial things like not ironing their shirt, or not putting the biggest piece in the pot on their plate.

 

This is an issue I care very much about, though I have rarely publicly said so until now. Being African, I was raised in a home like many other traditional African homes, where men are worshipped in the family and society alike. This elevated status of men is very evident culturally when we give physical courtesy as we greet elders; when we prepare and serve them food; when we give them the platform to speak first or ask permission from them to speak at traditional gatherings; and in the low numbers of women holding positions of power such as village head or chief. 

 

I, too, in my early life, took pride in upholding this and I never questioned things as that is how I was socialised. But as I grew older and witnessed my own mother go through three of the four primary forms of violence, I knew it was very wrong for her to be hurt and bullied that way, especially by a man she had vowed to love, who was also the father of her four children.

 

Although I did not allow it for long, unfortunately I had my own share of it at one point in life. It was a November night back in 1999 when I was 22. Now when I look back, it was right during the ‘16 Days’ although back then I had never heard of it, and had no idea that what had been happening to my mother was called violence against women and that if it was, it could be applied to intimate relationships. On that night it started verbally; I was accused of cheating simply because I had received a call late at night. I never imagined in my wildest dreams it could be a problem until that night when I was getting slapped, punched and kicked on ribs and all over as I lay coiled on the ground.

 

I’ll never forget how much I hated him from that day. At the hospital I was asked if I wanted to lay charges against him, but I refused to do so because I imagined him losing his government job and I never wished that on anybody. Instead, I preferred to leave him all in one piece so he wouldn’t blame me all his life for ruining his career. 

 

I went to a police station weeks later after I had gathered enough strength and confidence to leave him. I did not do this because of the beating but to get a barring order of some sort because he was publicly humiliating me and manhandling me on the street in front of my friends whenever he bumped into me. He claimed our relationship could only end if he ended it. As far as I was concerned, it had ended the night he beat me up to pulp. 

 

Maybe it was a mistake to go to the police alone, especially since the man who beat me was one of their own. I was laughed at by the officers at the station and told I must be living in dreamland to think I could bring him down. I left the station shattered after being told it was a domestic issue so they could not open a case. I felt trapped and thrown into a dark hole.

 

I write this having women who still live with such violence every day in mind. I think of women who work in parts of the world where consenting to being a domestic worker is considered consenting to physical and sometimes sexual abuse. I now know there is help out there. I also know that sometimes perpetrators are people who hold power, or people we depend on for employment or everyday life or our sole providers, but there are people who work tirelessly to support people like you, and me, and my mother back then. I also know that there are many people who are in healthy relationships and are respected by their partners and that there are many employers who value and support their domestic workers. If only everyone could be like them.

 

 

Mariaam Bhatti is a member of the Domestic Workers Action Group and Force Labour Action Group of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland

TAGS : Tales of a Domestic Worker Mariaam Bhatti Human Rights Violence Against Women
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