Saudi Arabia: Challenges for Housemaids


The governments of the Philippines and Indonesia have announced they will no longer send women to work as housemaids in Saudi Arabia.  This decision has come after recent executions of housemaids accused of murdering their employer.  Chances are the decision of the two countries is a temporary rather than a permanent decision since too many Philippine and Indonesian nationals count on jobs as housemaids to support extended families.

In the meantime, other countries known for sending housemaids to Saudi Arabia include Sri Lanka, Kenya, Lagos and Nigeria.  The Philippines and Indonesians have been in the highest demand.

Speaking from my own experience in acquiring a housemaid, my spouse and I went to an Agency in Riyadh where we submitted our application and paid a fee.  The fee included a percentage for the Agency, cost to process a visa and air ticket.  The Agency asked us what nationality housemaid we wanted.  We were asked whether we wanted a muslim or non-muslim housemaid, married or single.  Our other requirements were that she speak English and be okay with cats.  We were advised the monthly salary we would pay the housemaid depending on her nationality.  After our application was submitted we waited until we were notified that our housemaid would be arriving.

We received the call about 2.5 months later with notice that she was on her way and which flight she would be on.  As her sponsor, it was our responsibility to collect her from the airport.

Arriving at the airport we did not find the middle aged, married, Muslim housemaid we expected.  In her place was a 20 year old Christian girl who had never been away from home before.  She spoke reasonable English and we learned her fiancé was already living and working in Riyadh.  She arrived with a working cell phone and numbers of fellow Kenyans already in the Kingdom.

I like to think my housemaid had a decent job.  Unlike most housemaids, she had regular working hours.  She also had Sunday’s off.  She had her own room with bath and shower.  We provided a tv.  She was allowed to eat whatever she wanted from the kitchen.

She worked out well for the first four months until my step-daughters came for the summer.  My step-daughters were her age and older.  My housemaid did not like serving and attending to my step-daughters and their friends causing conflicts.  She was told her behavior was unacceptable and given a warning.  Unfortunately she reacted with belligerence to them.  My husband took her back to the Agency where she was placed with a Saudi family.  Eventually I engaged a married Muslim Indonesian housemaid.

In essence neither the employer or the employee know who they are getting or under what circumstances until the arrival of the housemaid.  It is questionable whether she will be trained or know how to cook.  “Madam” must be prepared to train her and lay down the house rules.  Before her arrival in the Kingdom the housemaid already agreed to a set monthly salary and that is stated in her contract.

Many housemaids come to Saudi Arabia with the intention to run away.  They already have a network before they arrive and know they can make more money as an illegal.  There is always a shortage of housemaids.

To prevent a housemaid from running away it’s not unusual for a Saudi family to keep their housemaid isolated and locked in the house.  Some housemaids might be locked in their room when not working.  This may not be right but it is part of the ways of the Kingdom.  With the new regulations preventing housemaids from Philippines and Indonesia there will be even greater shortages of housemaids.

92 Responses

  1. Call it what it really is: the worst form of modern slavery. These poverty stricken and defenseless women serve multiple purposes: cleaning, cooking, shopping and when wives leave homes, many Saudi and expatriate men, including young boys, rape them.

  2. do you think the majority or minority of housemaids are mistreated?

  3. I hate to say it, Carol, but the majority. I don’t mean that all are mistreated in the same way, but I do believe that most are overworked, underpaid, and treated as second or third class citizens by young and old alike. The mistreatment can range from lack of sleep, no personal life, inability to leave the house, not getting paid, and verbal insults to the worst – held against her will for years, torture, and sexual abuse. We all know many instances of at least some of this mistreatment. Why this culture of mistreatment has evolved is beyond understanding, especially since most Saudis think of themselves as God-fearing religious people. This isn’t just a “Saudi” problem, but the entire region is known for it around the world.

  4. I’d like to say that in my circle of friends and family the housemaids are treated well. I’m not denying that there are problems though.

    As it gets closer to Ramadan more families will want to engage extra housemaids for the special Ramadan preparations.

  5. I remember riding to my job with a driver who kept falling asleep at the wheel. This was during Ramadan. I had to wake him several times and felt like I wouldn’t make it alive to work that day. The driver told me that he had been up most of the night taking his sponsors to family parties, then having to wake to start his work day again at 6am. He’d received 2 hours sleep and was expected to DRIVE A CAR! Reasoning with my boss was almost impossible. She just couldn’t understand why the man was tired. Incredible! I had to threaten to quit in order to get her to allow the man at least 5 hours sleep. Of course, this was repeated over and over throughout the month. The problem is that many families do not look at their servants as actual human beings with normal human needs. I see this time and again – maids asleep on their feet during Ramadan – taking care of children while the lady of the house sleeps, despite staying up all night serving guests till 4am. I am surprised that you did not witness this, Carol. You are lucky. I have seen it many, many times in the 15 years I have lived here.

  6. Oh goody..another housemaid thread. The last one turned out so well *sarcasm*…one can only hope this one manages to remain civil.

    Considering your housemaid worked out well for the first 4 months…until step daughters came along..I would venture a guess that they had something to do with her billigerance and new found attitude.

    I agree with everything Ali said and more. 23 years of watching housemaids get treated worse than animals in households where the Bahrainis were otherwise “good people”. I never could understand how, if you call yourself Muslim, you could treat someone so disrespectfully.

  7. From my experience most of them are liars. We had 3 drivers already, in a matter of 1 year. First one we hired in summer, there was no school, but he always complained that he had not enough sleep, because he was going to a 4:30 am prayer. Why is that my problem? I do not care what you do in your free time, but be ready to rerform your job at time uit was designated… Second was a nut case. He would get angry and start hitting the stearing wheel in the middle of the road and shout in arabic. I have no idea what his problem was, since there was big communication problem,He-no English. me- arabic. I got scared for my child and for myself. When I told my husband about his outbursts he fired him right away. Third one was Ok in the beginning, but after 3 month began demanding that we make him work only from 8am to 5 pm, also kept on stealing money… Would go to the gas station and bring bills for 100 SAR, when we know that it is only 37 SAR to fill full tank. At the end he had guts to push my child to the ground and hit him numerous times. Had to get rid of that one fast…Now we have a young guy, for a month… he is OK for now. Yes, and salary we were paying to them is 2800 SAR.
    My Saudi neighbours are paying only 1500SAR and the guy is working like crazy: they have 5 children and constantly go somewhere. I guess more you give less work you get.
    With housenmaid I had no luck either. The one I had did more damage than work. Burnt vacuums, defreezed refrigerators, washed shirts with Montblanc Agatha Cristie fountain pen, as a result destroyed pen, shirts and washing mashine, dead fish and bunnies… List can go on and on…
    How can you treat them with respect after this? You simply can not… What is worse – you can not treat any of next ones with respect, they have to gain it.
    About them owerworking: that makes me laugh… Women in US and EU do it all by themselves, plus work regular jobs at office hours.

  8. @Lada,
    Many of the imported maids are completely unfamiliar with a modern lifestyle and equipment. You have to properly train them in everything. It is unrealistic to think they know what to do- or only be shown or told once. People can only absorb so much info at a time. So yes, they deserve respect. As well as a certain minimal respect that all humans do.

    I’ll grant you have had bad luck with drivers. Which of course is why women should be allowed to drive. As I recall you were more into the being chauffered thing. Maybe you’ve changed your mind?

  9. There must have been a reason your otherwise good maid didn’t want to work with your stepdaughters. Maybe they were uncivil and demanding. It has been known to happen. Or made her work for extended hours. My children understand that our driver cannot be out all night and then up in the morning as well. And sometimes they have to forego something and it isn’t just about doing whatever they want whenever. Some households don’t consider this with maids or drivers- and maybe your stepdaughters didn’t.

  10. Sandy…

    You sound like the most reasonable and responsible of employers…I always find your thoughts on most subjects totally rational, thoughtful and respectful of others no matter who they are. I respect the way you have struck a balance and maintained yourself in such a very different world.

  11. This all sounds so gross.!!! Many of these maids come from third world countries where they do things differently. Patience and training and better communication would probably help a great deal.
    I respect and acknowledge Ali and Coolred’s comments.

    With all that is reported about the terrible treatment of housemaids during Ramadan Carol it would be comforting to know that you would be an advocate for change to see servants at this time be afforded dignity and respect. That you would speak out about the inhumane number of hours that house staff are expected to work. It is disappointing to read of your “pass the buck” attitude by writing on the side of your step-daughters. Why should the step-daughters be waited on by the servant. What do they teach their kids in KSA?
    ” Part of the ways of the kingdom.” Indeed.!!!

  12. “How can you treat them with respect after this? You simply can not… What is worse – you can not treat any of next ones with respect, they have to gain it.”

    Did you try doing some of that work yourself and earn your own respect.

    Sorry Lada, but you sound like a spoiled person, that is if we even believe your wild stories that you always throw around here. Please, read Sandy’s comments to understand what a mature balanced person has to say about the entire issues.

  13. “To prevent a housemaid from running away it’s not unusual for a Saudi family to keep their housemaid isolated and locked in the house. Some housemaids might be locked in their room when not working. This may not be right but it is part of the ways of the Kingdom.

    These were exactly the reasons given by the slave owners to justify slavery in the US, not too long ago. Especially the bit about “part of the ways”. How sad and ironic!

    Yes indeed. Islam is such a beautiful culture! What sick and demented some of these owners of these housemaids/drivers are. These wronged slave-servants will sit in judgment one day over those who were so cruel to them. They have suffered greatly because of the unrighteousness of others.

    @ali alyami: “Call it what it really is: the worst form of modern slavery”.

    As always, Dr. Alyami has gotten it just right! Slavery of foreign housemaids, drivers, etc and their rape and abuse are modern day sick realities for Saudi Arabia and other middle-east countries.

    The Guardian’s Jason Burke has an inquiry on the ongoing outrage of the treatment of foreign domestic workers—mainly from the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia—in Saudi Arabia. Also in the Gulf States, Lebanon, Jordan, and elsewhere in the region. It’s near slavery. Much has been written on the subject, including by humans rights NGOs, but it’s not enough. A real international campaign needs to be launched.

  14. our experience with housemaids was thankfully good, we had a srilankan maid, i requested si she could speak a bit of tamil and i can manage sinhalese. so no communication issues. Also we got a non-muslim maid the only issue i had was that she was live-in and F preferred someone who would leave inthe evenings… but she didn’t do parttime, we barely had work for the whole day, morning was a bit hectic and then we’d had work only inthe even, plus F didn’t want her working when he was home so , it was plenty of free time for her, she was really upset when we left.. i still miss her and her excellent sambal prep 🙂

  15. There’s been misinterpretation on the part of my housemaid and my stepdaughters. My housemaid did an exemplary job for my husband and I. Now remember, she was a young girl, first time out of her country. She could be a little stubborn too. When my stepdaughters came, who were around her age, my housemaid had a problem cleaning their rooms. It had nothing to do with waiting on them for that was not necessary. She was expected to clean their rooms just the same as my own room and do their laundry just the same as my own. She made a mistake of saying young women should be cleaning their own rooms (some truth but not HER place to say) and she was very good at damaging their laundry. It seemed like seeing young women around her age in the house not doing the kind of work she was engaged to do bothered her and gave her an attitude. That is not acceptable.

  16. Based on news reports, it is the Saudi government that stopped issuing domestic helper visas for workers from the Philippines and Indonesia. This has been in effect for several months now in the Kingdom. People I know who were looking to hire maids from the Philippines have been unable to for the last few months. The Philippines government wants certain minimum standards met in the maid’s labor contract such as a monthly pay of 400 USD, the setting up of a bank account for the maid, and information about the household that the maid will be hired to work for. The Saudi government would not accept any of these terms and decided to end issuing visas to Filipino domestic workers rather than negotiate with the Philippine government. There has also been a block by Saudi authorities on visas for Indonesian maids for many months. The recent maid beheading has been the proverbial straw for the Indonesian government.

    I don’t have a maid in the Kingdom but have hired cleaners from an agency on occasion. They have been nothing but professional, work hard, and do a great job. I am glad the Philippine government is taking a stand in demanding reasonable working conditions for their maids, and I hope they don’t back down. The requests they have made are very basic as far as labor standards go.

  17. Did she get paid extra when the step daughters came and more work was expected of her?

  18. Lynn…better yet…did the step daughters offer to pay her more for the extra work she was doing for them?

    I realize it is her job to clean…but feel total sympathy for her in regards to watching those girls sit and do nothing. I find keeping our bedrooms clean should always be a personal chore…at the very least.

  19. @MoQ I was doing this kind of work myself for 15 years while in US, and I continue doing it here. It seems like my house is much cleaner without housemaid around. As for your comment about my”wild stories”, I am commenting here not to gain your particular trust or to hear your pathetic attempts to accuse me of something… I do not wish to engage in arguments with you… Please, keep your thoughts and suspicions to yourself…
    Peace out and be simplier. People just might like you a little then…

  20. When we went to India and my MIL housekeeper had to work extra, my husband and I insisted on giving him a nice tip as a thanks for the extra work. For us it was a relatively small amount but for him he truly appreciated the extra money which for India was a nice sum. And we felt better that he had been compensated for any extra work we may have cased him. Of course we weren’t living there full time which would change the dynamics a bit.

  21. I have witnessed close up and personal the treatment of maids in KSA. Even in ‘good houses’ life is hard. Days off … no! Rest during the afternoon siesta time … no! On call 24/7 … yes! Locked in the house … yes!!!! And regards to that what happens if there is a fire? I guess nobody cares about a maid. I’ve seen these poor girls treated like beasts of burden on trains and other transport having to carry way more than their own weight in luggage as well as chase after brats who’ve never been reprimanded in their lives. ME countries have a deservedly bad reputation about how they treat people in their employ. Well, if you are a repressed and ‘abused’ person yourself I guess it is common knowledge that you will abuse someone else if you can.

  22. @Lada,

    Great work a little. It is good for you. Better than whining about the hypothetical help.

    All of your fantasies are fine really, except they always come with an oppressive position. In this case the discussion is about how maids are abused in Saudi. You come up with one of your fantasies and turn the victims of the system into villains.

  23. In Brazil we had a maid (several), often live-in, as is common for even middle-class families. Even so, in spite of the help provided, I think this is not good for a family. A non-family person in a family is one too many, in most circumstances.

  24. PS: That was over 20 years ago. We have been doing fine without the domestic help since then. Everybody pitches in.

  25. My maid was told on arrival that there would be times when my stepchildren were with us and it would mean extra work being more people in the house. But when it was my husband and I she had a lot of down time.

  26. I had a few maids but unfortunately had problems with most of them. I think we need to always keep in mind where they are coming from, namely their country, their education, etc and also their previous experiences with employers. Some of these maids have obvious mental health issues that were never dealt with because of the poor manner in which they were treated. Having said that, after what I’ve gone through with them I would never trust them again.

    I gave them only house work, nothing more.
    I gave them nap times.
    We are early risers and are early sleepers in my house, so no late nights for them.
    I gave them pocket money.
    If I bought clothes for myself I’d often times feel guilty and buy some clothes for them.
    They were never responsible for my children.
    I never locked them in the house, they went out with us and sometimes would even let them choose what they wanted to do: stay in or go.
    We always paid them their wages, in full and on time.
    They had their own private room and bath.
    I let them choose their own food while grocery shopping.
    If they ever needed anything at all, they need only to ask.

    We gave and gave…and according to my husband were taken advantage of.

    In spite of us treating them kindly, which is what you’d think they would be happy to have, they still caused us problems.

    They stole our things. (money,clothes, jewelry)
    They hit my children when they came around them. (some didn’t like children)
    They spoke of our private family matters to others.
    They spread lies against my family.
    And according to some, possibly put magic on us (however that is done) because of my Saudi neighbor telling me it was strange when I told her one maid kept asking me for my mother’s name. (I thought this odd because my mother is dead) And how I noticed a few times that she would put my hair in a tissue. (I asked her why she did that in which she replied that is how they disposed of hair in her country.)

    I’m not sold on this magic business but my neighbors however warned me I should be concerned to have a maid do these things. I may not believe in magic but I do know I got a bout of food poisoning when all my family members came down with serious vomiting for one week. This happened to be the one week I delivered a child and I asked the maid to help me a bit more in the kitchen. (That was the first and last time she was asked to do such work in the kitchen.)

    So we did try but still in the end we had issues with maids here and I will never again allow them in my house.

    I found the cleaning services in the UK and US to be much better but then again you are not dealing with the same caliber of people are you?

    @Lada, I found your comment about not respecting your maids to be very sad. Perhaps you chose the wrong words? In spite of all the above problems I had, I still showed respect to my maids because they are human beings. No one said you must be best friends with them but you should maintain a level of respect at the very least from a professional viewpoint.

  27. I would also like to add that we sat down with all of our maids before we signed a contract. They were informed up front from the very beginning of what to expect in my home. Once that was agreed upon then we discussed the salary. Everything was done in person at this agency. We did not bring maids from their countries, they were already here in Riyadh. I took into consideration that many of them were from poor backgrounds and encouraged them to take notes (yes all of them could write) about the work they were expected to do in my home in order for them to remember their duties. I feel like we were as fair as we could have been and as I said above the maids still didn’t appreciate it. We had both Indonesians and Sri Lankans, Muslims and non-Muslims. All disappointing.

    A good friend of mine said she had a maid from Kenya who was much easier to work with. That particular maid was also more educated which speaks volumes really.

  28. I’ve never had full time house help but instead took on a once-a-week arrangement with someone who was looking to earn a little extra cash. The problem I found is that often the first few weeks would be great and they would give 110% to clean up the house but as the weeks rolled on the less work would be done and only the ‘visible cleaning’ would occur (ie, wiping around things on a table, not under). I don’t expect 110% all the time but did offer the incentive of more pay if a better job was done over the month.

    I’ve also moved to ban the cleaning of dishes in the kitchen because I find the level of cleanliness to be far below my standards (ie, food stuck on plates, glasses with cola stains in the bottom). I ended up having to clean everything again anyway, which made me super cranky so it was better I do it the first time. The kitchen was really the area for me where the culture difference showed the most.

    Having played a very active role in house cleaning while growing up I have never had to rely on a house keeper. I like the help, especially with dusting and vacuuming, but I feel really uncomfortable with the idea of a foreign person living in my house. If I choose to go that way I definitely wouldn’t like the agency option of a lucky dip cleaner. That is just far too risky to me and by the sounds of it is more likely to fail.

  29. @Oby,
    Thank you very much.

  30. interesting post and comments!

  31. I believe when you acquire a maid locally in Saudi through an Agency she is usually a housemaid who for whatever reason did not work out with a previous employer.

    While my husband and I had sponsored our housemaid from abroad, when she arrived we did the same thing as far as sit down and discuss duties which were also written down.

    I did the same and provide clothing for my housemaid and gave her several of my own abayas. If we went out to eat, she accompanied us and chose what she wanted.

    I always preferred to do my own cooking but I would have her assist in preparing and cleaning.

    I liked how in Southeast Asia the housing for the housemaid was outside of the main home. In Pakistan at one home a small apartment with its own door was at the back of my house but you could not enter the main house from the apartment. At another home in Pakistan the house had a finished basement with an outside entrance which was the apartment for domestic help. In India my housemaid had an apartment above my garage. However I doubt these arrangements would work in Saudi for fear either a maid would try to run away, have a man over, or fear of a maid getting raped living in more isolated conditions.

  32. Well, as a Saudi who has been having a housemaid throughout my life. I can tell there is a remarkable number of housemaids in Saudi being mistreated. Fortunately, I personally don’t remember having a major issue or a conflict between my family and any housemaid we have had. However, I remember seeing others hurting their housemaids, deprive them from their salaries and assaulting them. I also remember one day when I was like 11 opening the door after the bell was continuously ringing to find my neighbor’s housemaid crying and asking us to protect her from her employer (my neighbor) she showed me her feet and hands with remarks of hurting. Unfortunately, I could not do anything thing to help that poor lady, when I told her I am sorry to hear that but there is nothing I can do she left and went to another neighbor’s home. On the other hand, there have been many housemaids who committed crimes against their sponsors such as: stealing, hurting kids, escaping and joining groups as a prostitute or have helped others stealing her sponsor’s house etc ….

    In my opinion, I think the government of Indonesia and Philippines have absolutely the right to demand laws that protect their worker citizens in Saudi. If Saudis are working somewhere else and are being mistreated I am pretty sure the government and the people of Saudi would demand laws to protect their citizens. Let’s not forget Humaidan Alturki, the Saudi inmate in Colorado. Many Saudis have asked and demanded on the internet to do whatever it takes to release that inmate, some people even suggested to pend the diplomatic relationship between Saudi and the US until Alturki is released. Alturki example shows us that Saudis would react the same way Indonesians reacted toward mistreatment.

    In conclusion, I think the government should find strict laws to protect both sides as sometimes if the housemaid commits a crime the authorities ask the sponsor to deport the housemaid and buy her ticket on his own expenses !

  33. Khalid – how right you are!!!

  34. Khalid, if a man came to your door asking for help because he had been attacked what would you do? Would you call the police? Why was it different with the woman?

  35. May God help the Saudi Arabia with the Nigerian and the Kenyans women,they are so stubborn.For your information they are always ready to fight.

  36. Lynn, it would be very hard to explain this to you if you have never lived in Saudi. Yes, there is a difference between men and women in Saudi. I am very ashamed of that but this is the truth. When my neighbor’s housemaid came to me to ask me for protection I could call the police but that would put me and my family in danger as there will be a chance of being targeted by our neighbor and unfortunately I don’t think the police would be able to protect us. If I called the police and took the maid to the hospital I can be 100% sure that they would put the blame on the housemaid not on my neighbor. Hearing many stories similar to this incident made me 100% sure about that. Again let’s not forget the Indonesian housemaid who was tortured by her sponsor, her story was on all papers but what the police did they said her sponsor innocent ! again it is very hard to explain this if I called the police at that time I might have be accused of hurting her or trying to help her to escape or to disobey her sponsor. Unfortunately, people there always look at housemaids as wicked

  37. Khalid, I realize it’s a cultural thing, but it’s amazingly sad and anti-god that you cannot help someone who is hurt. Where is that famous Islamic justice? Saudis often brag about living in the land of the prophet as if that makes them ten steps closer to sainthood, but I see nothing at all good about turning your back on someone who is hurt. You are more concerned with what the neighbors will say than what God Almighty thinks of you. Very shameful!

    And I’m speaking of “you” in the general sense of all Saudis who turn their backs on people. Not picking on you…you were 11 and only a product of your culture. Where is your sense of goodness? Where is your example of Islamic mercy and compassion? Why is there more concern for what the neighbors will say than what God will say when you failed to help someone He created? How maddening that you cannot help out a maid simply because she is not a fellow Saudi.

    Who needs that?

  38. Khalid,most of the housemaids are mean and greedy.I used to feel so bad for them when I first arrived in Riyadh,but no more.I’m in one of the Western Compound in Riyadh and the whole compound is full of illegal,mean maids.Most of them are liars as well.

  39. Khalid, ponder the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984). I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing his quote about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

    First they came for the Shias,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Shia.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the housemaids,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a housemaid.

    Then they came for me ……..
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.

  40. susanne430, it is not because she is not Saudi believe me if I helped her i would put her in more trouble. My neighbor will hurt her for asking others for help. I was only 11 but i knew i could do nothing for her. I personally have been abandoned many times when i needed help. i missed the bus once when i was 6 (first grade) i had to go to an assembly point to take the bus. when i got there the bus was gone. i went back home. i rang the bell no one was at my home except the housemaid who could not open the door for me because my parents looked the doors and took the keys with them so i waited in front of my house from 7 until 1:30 until my mom came back from the school she teaches at. on that day at around 10 am someone drove by and i told him the story he said to me sorry i might get into trouble if i help i might be accused of kidnapping you then he left me alone. as i said you will never understand if you have never lived in Saudi. and never think just because Saudi is the land of the prophet everyone practices his teachings, most of them don’t

    Suse, yes there are mean housemaids but we can’t make a generalization of all housemaids. i personally know many nice housemaids.

  41. Harry Guggen, let me tell something happened to me when I was 15. I was leaving school. and I saw punch of boys harassing and mocking at a Shia boy and a few of them physically hurt him. I went there and I told them to leave the boy. They said it is none of your business to defend this Shia boy (I am Sunni). I said if you were him you would not want to be treated the way you are treating him. if that boy did something to you then tell the teachers about it. After that, they started to throw stones to me and were calling me get out from here “Shia defender”. I ran away. the next day I told the principal about what happened. he told me you should have never stood for that Shia boy and did nothing to the boys who hurt me and the Shia boy ! if the principle did nothing toward that. what would you expect me to do ? as i said NONE of you will understand unless you live for years in Saudi.

  42. actually american bedu, i get a strong impression that your step daughters are spoiled brats and self conceited lasses. They must have said or did something to your maid that caused her to react negatively. I know you may not like this, but i have seen quite a number of westerners living in saudi for some time, who get effected with the “saudi syndrome”; arrogant and self conceited.
    i lived in saudi and dubai as well as pakistan, so i have extensive experience with young maids. Even here in miami, i have had experience with mexican maids and really encountered no problem at all as long as you treat them with respect and fairness rather than giving a hard time and treating them as sub humans and unnecessarily pushing them around here and there.

  43. Khalid-UNC Charlotte, I find your experiences heart breaking… 😦

  44. Khalid was 11 when it happened, people. He recognizes/recognized that a wrong had taken place. He and his family would have/could have been in serious trouble by trying to help. Kalid couldn’t have let the woman into the house if he was alone. If there were a husband and wife answering the door perhaps they could have helped but in KSA there is no help. The police might have done worse to the girl and in fact that is a threat used by many Saudis to their employees, especially women. “Please behave here because you do not want to be taken to the police station.” KSA is not in the free world where there are human rights, employee rights, women’s resource centers, safe houses, etc. etc. etc.. I only wish these maids – in fact all expat workers brought in for construction, drivers, etc. – knew exactly what they might be getting into when they go to work in ME countries and I also understand that Malaysia is notorious for servant abuse.

  45. ” KSA is not in the free world where there are human rights, employee rights, women’s resource centers, safe houses, etc. etc. etc..”

    And YET, it is the center of the Islamic world, with the history of Islam, the life of the prophet, and the two holy mosques as proof of its superiority in all things islam. The fact that it can make such a claim and yet fail miserably in regards to human rights, civility, and equality tells me that religion has no place among us if we want true empathy and sympathy to be extended to all of us.

  46. Wendy, I realize Khalid was only 11. In fact I mentioned it in my initial comment to him.

    I think he probably has a good heart. It’s evident by the fact he helped the Shia boy when bullies were attacking him. In fact he seems sad that Saudi is this shameful way. I was more saddened by the fact his *culture* made it such that he was not able to help out someone in need. Also why was a little child of six made to left outside for hours simply because someone might think a person would kidnap him? Was this before telephones were invented? Could his mother or an aunt or a father be called to help him? It’s sad when people are so concerned about themselves that they won’t help out those in need. I cannot imagine watching my neighbor’s child sit outside his house all day and not do something.

    Sorry if I sounded as if I were scolding Khalid. It was more of my gut reaction to a culture that turns its back on the hurting and urges its people to do the same. I just don’t see God approving that one bit.

  47. . And that, CoolRed, is the reason I want no part of organized religion. More harm has been done in this world in the name of religion.

  48. Susanne,
    I will share something similar that happened in the US. When I was younger, some of my friends were abused by their mother. Although they were relatively large teenage boys, their mother was bigger than them. She would abuse them when she was drunk (not sure if she did anything else). They told their guidance counselor about it, but the guidance counselor couldn’t do anything. Their mother wanted nothing to do with them, but if she turned them in, she’d also have to turn in her newborn infant and she didn’t want to give up custody of her infant. So instead, she neglected and beat them.

    Although my family did what we could to help, there really was nothing we could do because there was no “hard evidence” that abuse had really taken place. It was basically the boys’ word against their mothers’. Guess who would have won in court? The only thing to be done was to offer to become the boys’ legal guardian without going through the court system, which would mean the mother’s approval would have to be gained. That is about it. Unfortunately, this wasn’t able to happen in this situation. So before we point fingers at what’s going on in other countries and judge their “cultural” issues, maybe we need to deal the injustices in our own country first.

    On the other hand, I also know of other children that were abused and eventually taken into social services. There were quite a few other children where I grew up who were left at home (sometimes they couldn’t get inside if they lost their key) after school got out until their parents got home from work because their parents couldn’t afford childcare. It’s not as uncommon as you may think. And yes, this all happened in the US.

  49. StrangeOne, at least your family tried to help. It sounds like in Saudi you could not have done that due to it being dishonorable in the neighbors’ eyes. That was my point. I am perfectly aware that there are many wrong things about life in the US. If I express my shock that people in the land of the prophet where 99.9% are Muslims who supposedly believe in justice and compassion turn their backs on hurting people **for the sake of looking good to others** doesn’t mean I don’t recognize there are bad things in ALL countries including my own. Believe me, I speak out about my own country quite often. You just aren’t around me to hear it. 🙂

  50. Susanne 430, it looks like you did not understand me. One of the reasons I did not report about that incident was not because I did not want to look dishonorable to my neighbor’s eyes. That neighbor was alcoholic, trouble maker and hated by the whole neighborhood including me before even that incident. Being afraid to be hurt or one of my family members by him or vandalizing my family’s properties by him was one of the reasons I did not report about his crime to the police. Please don’t interrupt it the way you like I think it was clear I mentioned that in my initial comment.

  51. Khalid, I am sorry for misunderstanding if I did. Too bad your neighbor was such a bully that everyone feared helping others because of what he could do. I can understand fearing his revenge especially if the police would do nothing about him. Scary neighbors are…well, scary! Thanks for explaining more.

    I apologize if I misinterpreted your initial comment. Thank you!

  52. “That neighbor was alcoholic …. ”

    Well, you could have reported him to the “vice squad” or the feared mutaawa. That would have took care of the problem with at least hundred lashes or more????

  53. That reminds me of the time when the next door maid knocked on our door begging us to help her. She asked us to hide her from her sponsor who was beating her. His sons were doing the same, she said. She asked if she could stay with us. Could we take her in? Pleeese. She did not look beaten up but knowing that we had good relations with that neighbor and it being illegal to take in runaway maids and employ them, we asked some more questions, gave her clothes and money and then called the Center which helps runaway maids. They said they will send someone to take her away.

    When the car from the Center arrived, we put the distressed maid in an abaya and face veil and we all went out to the car acting natural so as not to raise any suspicion. The neighbors’ boys were out and about looking the maid. We bundled the maid into the car and took off. The maid had told us repeatedly that she did not want to go back to that house ever again and I made sure the Center understood her request.

    After a few days, we find the maid back in the house working away as if nothing had happened! Huh? We called the Center to find out about her and they told us that the maid wanted to go back to her sponsor’s house and so they returned her. She was just trying for another job! I see …

  54. The maid would say what she had to say. That’s the way I understand it. She wouldn’t have much choice.

  55. Khalid, Let me see if I am understanding you correctly. From what I am reading I understand that you want to make it clear that people in Saudi Arabia are more concerned about themselves than about others. Did I get that right?

  56. Lynn, do you remember the woman in New York who was being attacked and screaming and NOBODY helped her? Not one person even called the police. Police would not help a domestic in KSA. They might take her in have their own fun with her. Not an uncommon thing apparently. It’s not a good country. The people are oppressed and women have no standing. You know that. KSA is NOT the poster boy for Islam or humanity.

  57. I lost count of the number of times my friend, the guidance councellor, would discover that girl was being molested, raped etc by a family member and when she called the parents to the school (usually along with whomever was doing the abuse in order to investigate the matter), not one parent would go to the girl and offer a hug, a smile, a show of support or enquire into her wellbeing etc…it was straight too…how could you expose this…how could you shame your family…how could you disappoint us like this…etc etc. Always always an attack on the girl herself…never against the crime committed against her or the person who did it. (ok I shouldnt say never as there are always exceptions but they are extremely rare according to my friend)….one father, upon hearing of his daughters sexual abuse, left he school and came back with a butcher knife and went after MY FRIEND, for exposing the abuse in the first place. That was a very scary day for her but she says it hardly compares to what she deals with when facing families whose daughters have been caught up in sex scandals, either willingly or not.

    As for the boys, she now works in a primary boy school, parents there dont even want to know…dont want to deal with it, no reactions, no calls for an investigation, nothing. They just take their boys and leave…then the boys return to school as if nothing happened.

    The saddest part about her job is that discovering a student has been sexually abused is not something that is rare and is shocking when it comes to light…Ive known her over 6 years and she has been a councellor longer than that…and she is disgusted and saddened by the fact that discovering sexual abuse among her students is a daily, a DAILY thing….she said hands down when there is something wrong with a student, 9 times out of 10 it will be because of sexual abuse.

    So you have this culture in which sexual abuse, scandals etc are not spoken about, family honor and family shame are the priority…and yet sexual abuse is rampant and widespread. Very few familys appear to escape it’s devastating affects. It is the perfect set up for sexual abuse. Children in the Arab world are candy for the adults, they are more likely to be abused than not…yet THEY are the ones that get the full brunt of judegment, blackmailing, ostracizing when the scandal is exposed…because nobody wants to help, acknowledge, or put the real culprits under the spotlight and shame THEM, prosecute THEM, or simply just kick their f**king asses for daring to harm a child at all.

    I do not care if any person gets on this post and tries to tell me I am generalizing…I lived there for 23 years…I KNOW that children are more likely to be sexually abused than not…it is rampant, it is a national disgrace…and it will never change until the Arab adults in those countries decide their children mean more to them than their families reputations.

    My friend’s husband, uncles, nephews etc have never laid a hand on her children (her two daughters) why…because she has never left them alone with any of them. Ever. One is 8 and the other is 4…the most she will allow is a trip to the store to buy icecream etc…she knows what lurks in the heart of Arab men….she is from that culture, she sees it every day…and she does not trust even her own husband, brothers, nephews etc around her own daughters…and she has plainly said it to them many times. What a freakin shame.


    This is a step in the right direction…now to get the rest of the world that practices honor killing to follow through along these lines.

  59. Abuse happens in all societies but when you have societies where men and women are segregated, etc. etc. etc. and where women are more or less chattels then we see a huge increase.

  60. ‘Lynn, do you remember the woman in New York who was being attacked and screaming and NOBODY helped her? Not one person even called the police’

    And that made the news why? Because it is NOT the norm. Even in this f***ed up country that is something considered newsworthy. You’d find way more stories of strangers risking their own lives helping strangers than stories of people turning away from those in obvious need.

  61. @coolred – That is good news, I guess. But does that change the attitude that those people had that caused them to shun their own family just because their child ‘ran away’. That poor woman was grieving the loss of her daughter (when they didn’t know where she was) and and those sick bitches can’t find the heart to comfort her but rather they shun her. I’m sorry, I just can’t see any hope for a society like that.

  62. That is why it’s so important to educate and empower women. That is why so many countries do not want to educate their girls. It’s a vicious cycle but one that can change. There is always hope.

  63. ‘In Surif, Yasmine Alheeh, 29, minding a clothes shop, says she approves of the legal change. “There are a lot of things that are hard for a woman to do [in Palestinian society]. A woman has no personal freedom. It’s OK to work, but you can’t make personal choices.”

    Nearby, in a vegetable shop, Jalal Danah, 25, says women’s actions are limited by Islam. “Our religion does not allow a woman to go out and practise her life without restriction. This would lead to corruption,” he says’

    So, Wendy, when they get educated they will throw out their religion?

  64. I understand your anger but one can only hope. Yes, a good education (not just a religious based ME education, coupled with information from the outside world will have an effect I think.
    Remember, Lynn … I do NOT like any organized religions and would like to see only secular governments. Having spent time in Islamic countries I see and understand what goes on.

  65. Abuse is gaining more public awareness in Saudi where some men and women are speaking up about it. The society as a whole needs to learn that it is not acceptable and okay to reach out for help without tarnishing honor.

    Remember the young woman in Makkah who was distressed and walking out without an abaya? The Muttawa were called. While a western mind would think it to be natural to go out and help the woman, in the segregated and mahrem/guardian based society of Saudi Arabia, the good samaritan would end up the one in the wrong.

    It is similar for Khalid’s situation. Helping the housemaid would have resulted in greater damages and especially if Khalid had taken any different action at his young age.

    Now at least there is more awareness. There is not something similar to what one might think of as US Social Services where you could call with privacy and then have an investigator or social worker look into allegations of abuse. But I hope that with discussing the topic it does help create further awareness.

    People who have intervened in some manner or another to stop abuse or help someone who is being abused will probably not identify themselves so they can help others if need be and not fear retributions.

  66. What a great post. We have had very similar experiences. I thought our agency was bad. Do you have any recommendations for agencies in Riyadh that speak English? Being American with not much help to in Arabic this has been so difficult. Any help you could provide would be a life saver 🙂

  67. IMO the only reason it is so prevalent is that men can get away with it. If they shed the family honor attitude and replace it with a personal responsibility attitude I think this will go a long way to controlling it. When the man knows he can be exposed and have consequences…he will think twice.

  68. Didn’t Islam take away the idea that people had to be held accountable for the actions of their ancestors or family members? If that is correct then why would this idea of ‘family honor’ survive?

  69. it’s a really sad state of affairs that trying to help someone out will get you and your family into a lot of trouble…

  70. ‘Being afraid to be hurt or one of my family members by him or vandalizing my family’s properties by him was one of the reasons I did not report about his crime to the police.’

    And if the neighbor DID do something in retaliation would the police not help your family?

    ‘While a western mind would think it to be natural to go out and help the woman, in the segregated and mahrem/guardian based society of Saudi Arabia, the good samaritan would end up the one in the wrong’

    Please explain to me how someone taking a sheet out to that distressed woman and offering her a phone to call someone would cause the good samaritan problems. Remember, we are talking about a society where everyone has housemaids so it is very unlikely that there wasn’t a female around that could have taken her the sheet.

  71. Lynn, It’s hard to explain or I think understand unless you have lived there for a period. What I can say is that there are huge cultural differences between East and West. What would be a no-brainer and natural in the Western society is not accepted yet in the Eastern society. Privacy is very much ingrained and involvement with ‘outsiders’ and unknown individuals in distress is not common. It will remain that way until mindsets and culture change.

  72. “What I can say is that there are huge cultural differences between East and West. What would be a no-brainer and natural in the Western society is not accepted yet in the Eastern society. Privacy is very much ingrained and involvement with ‘outsiders’ and unknown individuals in distress is not common. It will remain that way until mindsets and culture change.”

    Reading that makes me appreciate Jesus – or the stories recorded about him – all the more! He was an “Easterner” yet helped “outsiders” and “unknown individuals in distress” throughout his adult life. He even helped women. Prostitutes…I know, shocking. Knowing all this about Arab culture and “the East” makes me so grateful not all people have been this way.

    Heck, the whole Good Samaritan story came from him…living in the Middle East. Why so backward now?

  73. ‘It will remain that way until mindsets and culture change’

    I don’t see that happening. Especially when those behaviors get accepted and excused even by people who DO know better.

  74. Lynn – I understand what you are saying and your feelings but I do wonder what you would say or do if you could be there for just one month.

    Susanne – you are correct – the stories about Jesus and how he welcomed all, even the lepers, are very inspiring.

  75. So Lynn, what do you see as the solution then?

  76. Carol, seriously? Do you really think that I would just accept certain behaviors that I have a disdain for just because I’m living among it? LOL I think you probably know that I would have been driving my car, going abaya-less, slapping faces and/or kicking the balls of leerers/molesters and if I saw a person in distress I would help them or at the very least encourage someone else to help them and I would endlessly lecture anyone that told me that ‘it’s not our business’.

    Wendy, the only solution is for people to be brave and stand up for what they believe in even if they don’t think it will be accepted. I can’t forget all the horror stories of what was going to happen to any women that got caught driving yet look how smoothly that went.

  77. “yet look how smoothly that went.”…ask Manal how smooth spending 10 days in jail went for her.

    Lynn…you listen to the horror stories of women in the middle east and then brush it all aside with a few blase words like “do you think I would stand for that?” as if you, Lynn, are somehow above it all and able to stand up single handedly to any and all men who dare confront you with the same bullshit women of that culture have to face everyday. If only they knew there was a Lynn in the world that would come set their menfolk straight and teach them a thing or two about how to deal with women? We should do a hashtag…a Facebook page…a twitter account…bombard them with emails and text messages and let them know that Lynn is coming to slap some faces, kick some balls and drag those barbarian arab men kicking and screaming into this century.

    I dare you to put your money where your very big mouth is and give it a try.

  78. Coolred, That was Manal not all the other women who drove. And it wasn’t for driving, it was for posting about it. Also, 10 days in jail is nothing compared to the horror stories that I heard that would happen if women were caught.

    ‘then brush it all aside with a few blase words like “do you think I would stand for that?’

    What the hell are you talking about? How is that ‘brushing it aside?

    ‘If only they knew there was a Lynn in the world that would come set their menfolk straight and teach them a thing or two about how to deal with women?’

    Don’t be ridiculous Red you know damned well that it would take a whole lot more Lynn’s than just me to change a society like that. But that does not mean that just because there aren’t more of me that I wouldn’t still stand up for myself when confronted with piggery or efforts to control me.

    ‘I dare you to put your money where your very big mouth is and give it a try.’

    Why would I willingly put myself in that position when I don’t have to? I don’t give a shit what other women in other societies want to put up with. That is THEIR problem but I and every person that has ever tried to control me knows that I do not stand for it. What’s with all the attitude? Are you feeling a little ridiculous that you put yourself in that position and put up with it for so long?

  79. Yeah, Lynn…”rediculous” is exactly how I felt when all was said and done.

  80. Understandable 😉

  81. Lynn, you have no idea and your suggestion is not a solution. You complain and show anger at what happens continually and seem to think it’s easy for people just to stand up and fix the problem.
    How is that to happen? What is your solution and plan for that to happen? Don’t you think that if it were that easy some people would do it already? Look at Bahrain if you will. Look at the doctors and nurses who are jailed and worse just for a wee example.
    So tell me an honest solution apart from some ‘smart’ answer.I can tell you this much … you will NEVER know how you will react in any situation until the moment is upon you.

  82. Wendy, come on, do YOU have a solution? Then why do you think I should have one? One thing I DO know and that is that change needs bravery, commitment (stubbornness) and sacrifice and concern for their fellow man. If the religion is the problem (which I highly suspect) then they need a Martin Luther.

    I don’t complain or get angry about what does not concern me but I have a hard time finding respect for people who DO complain but are unwilling to make the sacrifice that it takes to effectuate change in their own lives.

  83. I don’t have a solution so I’m not going to go on and on about what is happening and it’s not just restricted to KSA either. Have you visited any of these countries. I don’t believe you have so when you have gone and experienced life in one of them for awhile come back with a solution and not just ‘what people should do’.

  84. ‘What people should do’ IS the solution. Duh! LOL

    I don’t need to have lived as a slave to know what the solution for it is. People can learn a lot from history, isn’t that why they teach it to us?

  85. ‘I don’t have a solution so I’m not going to go on and on about what is happening and it’s not just restricted to KSA either’

    Yet above you said that there WAS a solution ‘the education and empowerment of women’ and you also said that there IS hope. So what the heck are you going on about?

  86. That’s part of the solution for sure and especially when it comes to women but for the overall problems in KSA … they’ll probably never be solved unless common sense can overtake religious rule and that will probably never happen. My point, Lynn, is that if you tell the people to smarten up in Saudi then you need to have a solution as to how they can do so.

  87. Ok. You guys need to relax! American Bedu, I need your help!

    What a great post. We have had very similar experiences. I thought our agency was bad. Do you have any recommendations for agencies in Riyadh that speak English? Being American with not much help to in Arabic this has been so difficult. Any help you could provide would be a life saver

  88. Wendy, They need to have laws that protect people’s human rights. Women used to get sexually harassed in the workplace in this country too but now there are laws that protect and prosecute those that would do that. My husband and his co-workers, male AND female would have mandatory meetings where they were informed of the law and explained what it meant and what was and was not acceptable. After the law was passed and people became aware of how sexual harassment violated people’s human rights then things fell together after that (over time and still not 100% perfect all the time). Now people are raised to understand that it is not acceptable behavior.THAT is how cultures and mindsets can change. Not that one law solves every problem but more laws could be made. If religion is the problem then they can say so and we can have every right to criticize that religion.

  89. Really Lynn??? I had no idea that is what was required. I’ve been on this earth a lot longer than you and was around when major changes for women were taking place in Canada and the USA. Of course I understand how it works. It will take a miracle for it to happen that way in the ME countries so all the critical comments in the world will not change it. Blame the culture and tribalism because that’s what is really behind the stupidity.

  90. Yep, I know that but laws could pave the way, no?

  91. […] in the Kingdom there have been issues among both Indonesian and Phillipine housemaids.  The issues have been due to wage disputes and abuse.  As a result there is presently […]

  92. Hi all. As an Indonesian I heard and read lots about Indonesian maid abuses in ME, which in many cases are as a result of lack of skills and experiences from the maids. It’s true, most of them are inexperienced and unskilled. In case you wonder why these maids took the job they don’t master and yet expect respect from the employer, maybe my information could help you to understand little bit.

    They are desperate people who want to lift their family from poverty. When I mentioned ‘poverty’, I can be sure it is beyond westerners imagination. I used to live in UK and now live in Germany, so I think I know how different our definition about poverty is. Most of these maids are corruption victims right from the start. They are the balls who were kicked around just because they are uneducated and desperate. Don’t be surprise if many of them cannot even afford electricity in their house back home. So naturally that would make washing machine or vacuum cleaner are some kind of alien robots to them. Not only that, they’re also clueless about lifestyles outside their world. The only knowledge about ME is the promises they heard from the labor brokers in Indonesia. The broker can be a friend, a neighbor or even a ‘successful’ maid who demand payment in advance to hand them to the higher broker and to help them to process paper work e.t.c. Many of these maid candidates had to sell a piece of land belongs to the family, borrowed money from relatives or friends or even got ‘loan’ from the broker with first couple months salaries as payback. The broker sometimes even encouraged young girls to drop their school to join the others to ‘save’ their family by visiting their homes and tried to convince their parent to let the girls go (to be frankly, high school diploma doesn’t help much in our country to get a better future).

    And then these women had to attend a training to learn about household work. This is part of our government program to provide skills for the maids before they leave the country. The maid will get a certificate after training completion. If I am not wrong the training should be free, but many had to travel long way to attend it and find accommodation during the training. This is not cheap for them. As a result the corruptors ‘sell’ the certificates for the people who cannot afford to attend the training. It is still cheaper than to pay transportation and accommodation. And then (if they go in group), they were put in a camp before departure. Again, while waiting, the evil brokers could do whatever they want to these women as they were penny less and afraid to be sent back home. Many sexual abuses started already during this waiting. And then, at the airport, they were herded like a flock of sheep, gathered in special corner in their uniform, targeted for ‘cigaret money’ by security staffs or shouted by the officers as they queued on the wrong line. Do you know that some of them don’t speak Bahasa Indonesia or even can read? (There are more than 700 languages in Indonesia, and Bahasa Indonesia is our national language). They were already objects of humiliation in their own country just because they were poor and uneducated. As soon as they were on the plane they were like a flock without a shepherd. They could only hope their dream country is really like in their dream, which in many cases are not.

    However, there are also many bad maids. They came to the kingdom with the intention of working illegally or getting quick money by prostituting themselves. I guess good and bed people are everywhere, regardless poverty.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: