Care work needs care
2016-12-01 16:14:15 -
Human Rights
Mariaam Bhatti: Tales of a Domestic Worker

Recently I was moved to call my aunt back in South Africa and say my condolences after learning of the death of my paternal grandfather, who was almost a decade over a century old. 

The news was a surprise, though not unexpected. What I didn’t expect was the ‘when’ part, especially when three days before he passed, when my aunt visited him, there was no indication that he was about to exit the world. On the other hand, we had had him long enough to know that his departure was imminent. Nonetheless it was still painful and a shock for those first minutes and hours.

Eager to call and talk to my aunt, who was the main person who provided for granddad’s day-to-day care in his final few years, I heard a calm voice at the end of the line. After a few exchanges of hellos with the woman who answered the phone, I discovered I was speaking with my aunt’s domestic worker, who I met when I returned home to visit last December, seven years after my arrival in Ireland.

My heart leaped when I realised. I don’t know if I was happy to remember her, or that she was still around a year later (when I lived in my aunt’s house briefly, a year was a good stint for her domestic workers, sadly). I remembered the chats we had at bedtime about her working conditions and how best I tried to help her with housework while I was there. I even looked for an assurance she remembered me, and she chuckled and calmly said: “Of course I remember you, but you don’t seem to visit often.”

After we spoke, as I waited half an hour for my aunt to be ready before calling back, a thousand thoughts came to my head. I shifted a little from this domestic worker. I thought of the other domestic worker who was caring for my granddad in a rural area without adequate training in caring for the elderly in a modern way, which is a new thing for many domestic workers in the developing world at large, let alone those in rural Africa.

Although I know that it seemed like a burden put on the young domestic worker’s shoulders, I am however aware that many governments in the developing world these days are educating people in rural areas to catch up with those in cities in relation to child, elderly, disabled or patient centred approach to caring. My mind went back to the domestic worker I had just spoken with, who is in a city although recruited from a rural area. I thought about my unwell aunt who has become part of my other aunt’s household in the last one month. I am sure this young worker has accumulated a wealth of housework experience at this stage, but I still worried for her that she is now also the main carer for my ailing younger aunt in addition to her full-time housework.

This brought a lot of thinking about the importance of allowing domestic workers access to training that complements their responsibilities, but also to appreciate and value the work they do when additional responsibilities are added to their everyday tasks. It is a difficult discussion to have, especially with friends or family members who are employers of domestic workers, but it is not taboo topic. Friends or relatives who mean only the best won’t find it offensive if it is brought up respectfully and not imposingly or in an accusatory way.

Mariaam Bhatti is a member of the Domestic Workers Action Group and Force Labour Action Group of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.
TAGS : Care Irelan Mariaam Bhetti Tales of a Domestic Worker Tales
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