Being black, poor and a woman in the Cedar Revolution land

Just when we thought probably the coming of a new year might slightly hold a different situation for migrant domestic workers, we are impeded with the triviality of our hopes. The first uninvestigated death (not to say that there was any investigated death so far) of young Theresa from Philippines happens on the 4th day of 2010. Just like all its predecessors. No investigations. No sorrow. No arrest. No trial. No media shock. No “دقيقة صمت عن روحها”. And the world continues unalarmed. And the employer of the house Theresa lived in sleeps in his bed on the same night.

The case is simply left of the table as all what has passed before and all that will pass after. After all, Theresa was just another Filipina who does not possess billions of dollars like the Hariri family (most of which are ours) to call for a national tribunal (let alone an international one) and investigate the perpetrators of such a crime.

It is funny how we get used to this term: death of a migrant worker. What a coincidence. Every single week in a country as small as this, a migrant domestic worker dies; full stop. Those black ladies just love to die don’t they?! We should draft a report, Lebanon being the case study and evidence that women from 6 different countries (Nepal, Bangladesh, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Philippines) have this thing in common. Taking turns at dying. It is more of a hobby that conceptualizes itself by throwing themselves from windows and balconies.

At what point in time will we start calling things by their names?

Those women are not dying. They are being killed and the names and addresses of their murderers are up and there, known for the public. But no one does anything about it. Whether those fallings from the balconies are actual suicides or more precisely “throwing” from the balconies, a problem exists. A crisis exists.

What is this hidden force that is causing this amazing mathematical equation of 3 to 5 deaths a month?

Is it the weather? Not possible considering the diversity in spaces where the deaths have taken place. Is it an inherent part of the culture of those women? Not really since they do not usually practice this tradition at their home countries. Is it ignorance of how fateful jumping of 10 story buildings can be? They just want to walk out of this prison and their only exit is the balcony? Or is something more profound; like solitude, zeal for a decent life, need for a scent of freedom, cry for help from the deaf outer world, missing a family which you are forbidden from calling throughout months on end during your stay in Lebanon, escaping harassment and all what happens behind closed doors, begging to go out of a house you are locked into when the madam and mister leave for fear of you running away?  [1]

More than a 100 deaths in 2009 through dropping from balconies, hanging on trees, strangling from rooftops, drinking detergents, getting heart attacks (not to mention all the persecution that has not necessarily caused (physical) deaths such as rape, sexual harassment, physical violence, burning skin, etc…) and the respectable Lebanese government never stopped for a second to ask “why”? What is causing this unprecedented pattern[2]?

This year witnesses the first incident of a Filipina woman taking out her rage on someone else rather than herself by ending her own life. Rovina stabbed her employer’s sister to death and injured the 7-year-old daughter Rosy Marie with a kitchen knife in Ain Saadeh. I and everyone wholeheartedly feel for the family of the deceased and the child. But again allow me to pose some logical questions here. 2 Why’s?

Why would Rovina be so animalistic to an extent that she stabs someone to death? There are 2 options. Either she is a sick human being (which is fair enough, is a probability and happens). Or then the question would be how come there was someone who is so sick minded in this family’s house and they never took notice? Either she was a perfectly sane woman from Philipines who came all the way from Manila to Ain Saade to earn a better living and was faced with some factors which have led her to go totally insane outrageously ending the life of another human being. If so, what are those factors? Are we going to look into them? Rovina claimed that she had received death threats before stabbing the woman. Are the Lebanese police going to believe her? Are they going to consider the 5% chance that she has done this crime on self defense basis?

Come on. Of course not.

Secondly, another question that we ought to ask is why all the sudden hype about this incident? Is it because the blood came out of a rich, white Lebanese woman? Does the death of this woman exceed in importance the dozens and dozens of uninvestigated deaths of black African and Asian women in the past years, weeks and days? If not, then why has this gained so much more coverage than anything else? Why is the Lebanese republic at awe after this incident and where were the needed reactions back when we were saying for ages that a crisis is at hand and if you do not resolve its roots now, you are going to dead ends like this? The deaths of those migrant domestic workers were either suicides or potential murders by the employers. The probability of both options is 50-50 and no one can deny this until proper investigations start taking place.

Amber, Santi, Lama, Batlehim and Theresa are already dead (and probably their families do not even know about it). This is only the death toll for 2010. These are only names we have not for lack of other deaths but for lack of publicizing the other names. A time should come when no more names are added to the list. And this time will come not when our ministry of labor suddenly wakes up and realizes it is time to open a complaint office for migrant workers (mind you; without a hotline, or a translation system or a publicizing strategy for this office or even a basic system of securing the basic fundamental human rights to all).

It will come when we stop confiscating passports. It will come when we stop holding MDWs in the general security offices in the airport until their employers come to pick them up. It will come when we stop referring to Ethiopians as SriLankans. It will come when we abolish the sponsorship/ “kafeel” system. It will come when those women sit with us on our lunch and dinner tables. It will come when we allow them to build friendships during their work stay here. It will come when we penalize an official figure like ElMurr for referring to those women as “3abeed” (yes!). It will come when we stop trying to unconsciously not touch their skins when taking something from them. It will come when we boycott all private beaches which do not allow MDWs to enter (or swim or wear bathing suits). It will come when we treat the black victims on the Ethiopian plane crash with the same sorrow as the Lebanese ones. It will come when we annihilate the whole racist ground that is allowing all this.

But it will come one day.


[1] It is funny how we say running away. Imagine my sister’s boss in France locking her up in office every time they leave for fear that she runs away from the office. Run away? Why on earth would you run away if there is nothing concrete to make you want to run away? And if so, wouldn’t the right word be resigning then rather than running away?! And if run away is the term we want to use, isn’t oppression the reason why they are running away? This is always missing from the discourse.

[2] Which brings us to another point: Has this pattern just started recently or has it been happening years before without us knowing it?

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