Sexual abuse faced by 30% women domestic workers

‘Poor, helpless and voiceless; people like us have to keep tolerating. Where will we look for justice? Money is needed for justice. If you don’t have money, then you have to tolerate it.’

Saleha, (false name), 18 years old said this. She used to work as a domestic worker. Many people keep facing what Saleha had faced. 30% women working as domestic workers in Dhaka are victims of sexual abuse and harassment. But they can not talk to anyone about this. They don’t even get justice. 

These figures were discovered by BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) in one of their research. The study was conducted by BIGD in collaboration with the Institute of Development Studies and the Green Expeditions Foundation. The research work was done from July to November last year (2021). 

The BIGD survey was conducted on women domestic workers and women workers in various agro-processing factories. Mahin Sultan, a senior fellow at BIGD, told Prothom Alo that 30% of domestic workers and 20% of factory workers faced sexual harassment. Sexual abuse is rampant in both the formal and informal sectors of the country. However, the amount of harassment in the informal sector is much higher.

About 250 women workers took part in the BIGD survey. They work in different houses in Dhaka city and in different factories around Dhaka. This research is done in a qualitative manner. In addition to the survey, these women workers were interviewed here.

80% of domestic workers surveyed said they had heard or seen other workers being abused, 40% factory workers have similar experience. 

Types of sexual harassment

Both domestic workers and women factory workers have spoken out against various forms of sexual harassment. These include sarcastic comments and direct sexual insults. The incidents of staring, sneering or making bad gestures are more common with domestic workers. The research report states that most domestic workers have been physically abused at least once. Some domestic workers also reported going through severe physical abuse.

Sexual harassment and sexual abuse occur in different ways. In many cases, sexual harassment is committed in the form of praise, favour, or even sympathy, according to the research report. Domestic workers are usually the victims of such harassment through male members of their employer’s family. And in the case of women working in factories, even if their superiors do not do this, they are subjected to such harassment through their colleagues. In addition, workers are harassed on the road or outside the factory.

According to the research report, female workers working at home feel more helpless as they are alone. On the other hand, women who work in factories have their colleagues present around. Women and men have the opportunity to work separately in multiple factories. That is why they feel safer than domestic workers.

There are three types of domestic workers. The first type works while she lives in the employer’s house. The second type arrives in the household to do chores, and then leaves. They are also referred to as ‘contract maids’. And the third category is the workers employed through various organizations providing domestic workers.

Sanjida Sultana, Director (program) of NGO Working Women, told Prothom Alo that the most vulnerable of these three categories are those who live at home. They can’t talk about their grievances. They have no chance to seek justice. Those who work have the freedom to quit their jobs. And those who come through the supplier organization are in relatively good condition.

Sanjida Sultana said, “The picture that emerges from the research seems to be in line with reality.”

Harassment but hesitation to complain

Research has shown that both domestic workers and women factory workers are reluctant to tell anyone about their abuse because of shame. Employees are worried about where to complain and how. 

There is no formal complaint mechanism for domestic workers. Factories have an authority or human resources department. However, the research report said that most of them did not complain even though they had this facility in the factory.

Kohinoor Mahmud, Director of the Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies (BILS), an organization working on workers’ rights, told Prothom Alo that the situation of women domestic workers is very fragile. They have no wage structure, no working hours, they have no trade union. They have no choice but to organize to overcome this situation.

Source: Prothom Alo 

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