Taking a page from the Rizana Nafeek Story

Is it worth sending our women to meet this fate?

| by  Anjalika Silva

( January 12, 2013, New York City, Sri Lanka Guardian) How many more like Rizana Nafeek will end up being victims of a barbaric system that cannot even be referred to as a “Justice System” because it is furthest from justice?  Sharia Law is just what it is and against women and even innocent women who are victims of rape that end up being punished.

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After the beheading of an innocent woman, the country must take a stand.  We cannot let barbarians enslave our women just because they are poor.  We cannot let unscrupulous agents use these poor women to sacrifice their families, get into debt to pay agents and undergo abuse and even death.
The domestic workers of Sri Lanka are major foreign exchange earners and provide bragging rights for politicians but little is done for them.  In reality, the earnings of these poor women is equivalent to the foreign exchange drain out of the country for education purposes making the exercise of equating the suffering of women domestic workers for the affluent to send their children abroad for education hardly balances the equation making the sacrifice of our women being reduced to no gain.
 In terms of benefit to the country, it may be that we are educating one segment of the population but ultimately the expense of foreign resources evaporates when many of them seek employment overseas as knowledge workers and do not return to contribute to the country in return for the foreign exchange spent.  This is partly due to the lack of opportunities and also because there is no systematic study of the needs of the country to encourage those studying abroad to fit back into the needs of the country.  The domestic workers on the other hand are the money making machines for the country and their irresponsible spouses in some cases.
The outflow of women domestic workers has a direct correlation to poverty.  Women are sometimes burdened with family responsibilities due to irresponsible drunkard husbands who do not provide for their children and desperate mothers make the sacrifice to leave.  However, the socio economic impact far outstrips the financial gain that may provide bricks and mortar and a roof over their heads and all the modern implements like television, cell phones and other luxuries.  There may not be any serious studies done to evaluate the implications that have led to loss of family structure as a result of mothers leaving as providers.  We have also not formally documented the suffering endured by these women who make not only the sacrifice of leaving their families but pay the supreme sacrifice with their lives too.  Only anecdotal cases and sensations are known.  There are many in the shadows that have a story to tell.
I had the opportunity to talk with some of the women at different times while in transit at airports.  The women leaving for employment overseas are distinctly visible and it is very easy to also recognize the innocence in some of them leaving for the first time.  Many of them have resorted to leaving for domestic jobs in the Middle East due to abject poverty that has made them easy victims for agencies that function for nothing else by financial exploitation.  Some of the women I spoke with indicated that they bring home about Rs. 9,000 a month after paying the agent.  This sounds like a small fortune for some of the women from the remote parts of the country to whom even Colombo seems alien.  Domestic work within the country especially in Colombo is far more profitable if there is an organized system in the country to seek out opportunities in affluent homes that currently pay anything between Rs. 12,000 to Rs. 15,000 for domestic work.  Above all, some of the stories I gathered from these women were heart wrenching because they described their work day that some of them began at 5:30 AM and ended beyond midnight.  They were sometimes the only domestic in households that had more than two generations.  Some described how they have to cook at least two or three different kinds of meals and that the employers were absolutely lazy and did nothing to help.  They reported being physically assaulted when they made a mistake or felt tired or sick and unable to work.  Other exploitations are also swept under the rug in many cases.   They were not always paid their full wages.  This kind of inhuman treatment of women is unacceptable by standards in Sri Lanka but in the Middle East it is acceptable.  Barbarians and their Sharia law that they push to bring to western nations should not be allowed under any circumstances. Manmade cruelty dished out to women in the name of Islam is the furthest from the true doctrine.  We have seen it in all the countries that have made religion an excuse to commit the most dastardly inhuman crimes mostly against women.
In questioning some of the women, they were not aware that they could earn as much as they brought home after all the deductions without leaving the country.  One woman mentioned that they are in such remote places that the agents seek them out and if not that these unscrupulous agents go to depths of remote areas and seek these women; they have no avenues to look for employment in the big cities or have access to domestic jobs within the country.  This doesn’t speak well for the fact that we have a formalized body for foreign employment but not one for domestic employment except lining up outside the offices of their political representatives for other jobs.  Domestic employment appears to be one area in Sri Lanka with the largest number of job openings that go unfilled because of fear due to high crime committed by unchecked domestic workers with the lack of a scheme to check criminal backgrounds and provide clearance for those looking for work.  Only a referral system works but not everyone has the luxury of hiring through recommendations.
 Sri Lanka has formalized bodies for monitoring foreign employment.  However, it is evident that official actions are only reactionary and there is no creative planning or remedial action taken when extreme cases are reported.  Rizana Nafeek’s case should become a landmark for change.  How can a country claim to be developing and progressing with concrete and bricks and highways and byways when poor women have to leave the shores as minors due to abject poverty?  Even the ministries assigned to see to their welfare cannot find alternatives when extreme cases are reported.
What we need in Sri Lanka is a well-structured domestic worker training scheme that is set up not on the lines as a money making scheme but for social development of women and other domestic workers as a nonprofit social responsibility program.  It should not become one like the mushroom English tutories that are run by those who do not know good English but are making money by fooling people.  The domestic worker plan should be a serious program that has to be well thought out and regulated without corruption or political interference.
One of the common topics of conversations in the affluent dining circles in Colombo and other big cities is the lack of good domestic staff.  Working parents that are two earner families have great difficulty in seeking good childcare.  Here’s a glaring example of employment opportunities but without any takers.  The domestic worker population has dwindled because employers have also not grown to accept that times have changed and that domestic workers too have aspirations to improve their lives.  Most domestic workers are engaged without proper training and do not meet the expectations of the employers that sometimes results in abuse.  On the other hand domestic workers do not have any idea of their worth and they follow the criteria of what they believe they need to demand without any relationship to their competence or experience.  Some employers do not have any regard for fair wages and work hours.  Some employees abuse leave and do not have accountability for time off.  All of these issues can be remedied if there is an organized way to bring together the demand for domestic work, the fair wage structure tied to skills and experience.  With a certified training program and levels of certification tied to a wage structure that is regulated as fair wages for the level of certification, domestic employment can be formalized in a contract between employers and employees.  To protect the employer, domestic workers can be registered and their criminal records checked before they can be employed.  A system that encompasses all the resources in the country including law enforcement can be brought into this program.  The contracts between domestic workers and employers can be regulated with wages tied to skills and above all the regulation of work hours and leave allocations with accountability to labour laws in the country.  Domestic workers abuse leave privileges with their Sri Lankan employers and this is a complaint that we hear over and over again but nothing has been done about it.  Both sides must honour some standards including living conditions for domestic workers and if there is dignity of labour, there will be a greater desire on the part of the work force to take domestic jobs within the country.
After the beheading of an innocent woman, the country must take a stand.  We cannot let barbarians enslave our women just because they are poor.  We cannot let unscrupulous agents use these poor women to sacrifice their families, get into debt to pay agents and undergo abuse and even death.
 Formalizing and structuring the domestic worker to a higher level will take some thinking, planning and doing.  Most importantly it will take the commitment of someone who is genuinely interested in the welfare of women.  There is an element of risk due to the displacement of the money hungry agents believing they will be put out of business.  With some creative crafting, it will be possible to keep the agencies legal as long as they are registered and also hold them to accountable to standards and compliance.  The government and politicians should rise above corruption and advocate a scheme for the people.  Sri Lanka’s domestics who refuse to leave overseas are wiser because they do not have to endure the hardship in barbaric countries.
In the case of Rizana, she had no mercy, not even the representation from none other than the President of Sri Lanka.  She worshipped the same God as those who beheaded her.  It doesn’t say much for human standards because they have  carried out Sharia Law that they are trying to tie to religion believing it is acceptable to behead a woman without proper and fair justice. We must do something before there is another Rizana Nafeek who will pay the supreme sacrifice.


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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