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Maid from Bangladesh

Maneeza Hossain

While her male counterpart can send home a small fortune from Dubai to Dhaka, or even return home with a small nest-egg to start his own business, the prospects for the Bangladeshi female worker abroad are considerably dimmer. Her earnings ceiling is considerably lower, and the housebound conditions in her place of employment are not conducive to any entrepreneurship. She may never hope to have the small fortune to which a man aspires. Instead, if the experience of her sisters from other nations is any indication, she is more likely to be left on her own in foreign lands and hostile domestic environments to fend for herself. The two main issues are economics and personal and moral welfare.

Bangladeshi female workers abroad will often earn considerably more than their sisters at home. More, however, might not be enough for their families to allow an eventual graduation from a newly redefined and globalized subsistence economy, a cyclical entrapment that offers neither Bangladesh nor her daughters anything to be proud of.

There is no prospect for Bangladesh in this system: like a welfare check in the West, low remittances from female workers abroad may insure the survival of their familiesno insignificant achievementhowever, they may also ensure their entrapment in a condition of dependency vis-a-vis the monthly bare minimum check. Upward mobility may thus be denied, as well as progress and development in Bangladesh. The alternative may be in providing training to enable women to seek more than subsistence wages for their families at home.

We have a responsibility to endow our citizenry with skills and a duty to insure that those who have them are at least given the opportunity to fare better in the new global markets. These markets, it should be noted, are not all similar. Bangladesh must work to encourage its women to seek employment in places like Malaysia, Oman, or the UAE where the economies are relatively liberal, and may allow a relative margin for the entrepreneurial spirit to take root. In such countries at least, there is a remote chance for some female workers to move up from being household maids.

While economics are of natural concern, it is the personal and moral welfare of our sisters that preoccupies us first. Bangladesh’s government should impose on agencies to adhere to a high standard of consideration for our foreign workers in the host countries. The basics of this standard are safe work conditions, psychological and medical welfare, as well as periodic access to consular officers in the country of residence. Beyond the basics, our standard should include the social welfare of our sisters. In all cases, it is imperative to have subjective personal rules that would ensure that there would be no physical, sexual, or psychological abuse.

There is a balance of power at question here, because the fact is that the host countries needs Bangladesh’s cheap labour as much as Bangladesh needs the remittances sent home from abroad. In many such societies, the attraction of Bangladeshi women workers (compared to Ethiopians, Philippinas, and Sri Lankans) is that their moral, spiritual, and social values are compatible with local ones. This advantage imposes on the host society the added responsibility to uphold the dignity and standards that the Bangladeshi women are bringing with them.

This responsibility must be quantified and monitored. Bangladeshi women in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and other Muslim countries after all, are going to imprint and help educate the youth in shared values between Bangladesh and these host societies. The respect of these values with regard to Bangladeshi women should be absolute and immutable.

As a result of this religious and socio-cultural affinity, Bangladeshi women might expect “better” treatment than her non-Muslim counterpart. However, it should be acknowledged that housemaids in many of these countries have been subject to abuse of many forms. If Bangladesh is to allow its daughters to provide the help needed in these societies, it is incumbent on it to ensure that “better” treatment is positively good respectable treatment.

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