Lebanese feminist group collects views of women migrant workers

BEIRUT: It was a cloudy Sunday in Beirut’s Burj Hammoud district as members of Nasawiya, a Lebanese feminist group, took to the streets to find out what female migrant workers had to say about their treatment in Lebanon.

“We know that bad things happen to migrant workers,” Farah Salka, a Nasawiya coordinator, told one Filipina who stopped to talk. “But we don’t want to just keep talking between ourselves. We want to hear what you have to say.”

“Migrant women are invisible from campaigns for women’s rights in Lebanon,” Salka told The Daily Star. “We don’t work like that.”

The previous day, around 25 volunteers had taken up positions across the country to get all women’s take on their treatment in society. Responses were varied, said Salka. While some said the situation was good, complaints included the right to pass on nationality and sexual harassment.

Nasawiya shared responses on Twitter throughout the day. Responses ranged from a woman in Furn al-Shebback who declared: “Women have enough rights!” to another in Sassine who said: “If I was the president I would dig a hole and put in it all the people with patriarchal minds and burn them.”

In Burj Hammoud Sunday, many of the women migrant workers were quick to say their experience was positive, and their employers fair.

“Some women, even if they have a good situation, they want more,” one woman said. “They want holiday.”

“They’re often too scared to say anything,” said Salka. “It’s probably the first time a Lebanese person has talked to them about something that’s not to do with the house. So it’s understandable.”

But there are some telling stories.

One woman, a Filipina who has been in Lebanon for 11 years laughed when Salka told her many of her colleagues had reported positively on the situation. “No,” she said. “It’s not good. I know this much.”

Another woman tells Nasawiya’s Nadine Moawad about the ill treatment her daughter received when she came to work in Lebanon from Sri Lanka.

“After a month she tried to kill herself,” Moawad said. “They sent her back, without any of her papers, or compensation. When she got there she was put in to a mental hospital.”

Nasawiya intend to analyze their results for patterns in the coming days.

The biggest recurring issue Sunday was the ban the Filipino government placed on sending workers to Lebanon in 2007, later tightened to stop existing workers return to Lebanon once they have left, meaning they can’t freely visit home. “Homesickness,” one Filipina who has worked here for five years said. “Of course that’s the biggest problem.”

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