Migrant domestic workers demand protection from sexual harassment in Lebanon
The campaign, 'Traumatised for Life,' was launched by a local NGO Egna Legna Besidet and features testimonials from migrant domestic workers who experienced sexual violence, including rape, in Lebanon.
"Whenever madam is not around, he's gonna come to sleep with [me]. I wasn't allowed to talk to anyone he didn't know, and I wasn't allowed to go out. At that time, I was only 17 or 18," one migrant domestic worker who participated in the campaign, said of her experience being sexually harassed.
Other harrowing accounts describe being assaulted by taxi drivers, the son of their employers, and other acquaintances of their sponsors.
In 2021, Lebanon’s parliament passed law 205, which criminalised sexual harassment and created a fund at the Ministry of Social Affairs for support and rehabilitation for survivors of abuse. The law was called "one of the best of its kind in the region" due to its broad definition of sexual harassment.
The law, however, does not include migrant domestic workers, and civil society advocates say that obtaining justice for abuse, sexual and otherwise, is often impossible for migrant domestic workers.
"Unfortunately, there are no [protections]. Since migrant domestic workers are excluded from the Lebanese code of Labor, they are left with almost no legal safeguard in cases of sexual harassment," Kareem Nofal, the communications officer for Beirut-based Anti-Racism Movement, told The New Arab.
The situation is even more precarious for undocumented workers, a situation many find themselves in after fleeing households where abuse occurs.
"With migrant domestic workers that are undocumented, it is even worse. They cannot report because the police will not take their complaint seriously, but will say: 'Hey, you're undocumented,'" a volunteer from Egna Legna Besidet said to TNA.
Lebanon hosts at least 250,000 foreign migrant domestic workers. The country uses the Kafala, or sponsorship system, a legal regime which ties a migrant's residency to their employment status, leaving the migrant highly vulnerable to abuse.
According to research conducted by Egna Legna, 68% of migrant domestic workers said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their time in Lebanon, including sexual assault.
The assault left lasting physical and mental trauma on survivors, such as suicidal thoughts, insomnia and sexually transmitted diseases.
None of the survey respondents had received any sort of recourse for their harassment, as "access to justice or protection … were a distant reality" under the sponsorship system in Lebanon.
"There are so many cases of horror stories. You have this kind of Molotov cocktail of intersectionality between the body of the woman and the sexual abuse, and because there's no accountability," the volunteer said.
A board member of the syndicate for recruitment agencies told TNA that while he believed sexual harassment was present, he doubted the high frequency reported by Egna Legna.
"Of course, there will be in every workplace, some harassment. Things happen. But how can a man in the house approach her and [sexually harass] her while other family members are in the house?" Ali al-Amin, a board member of the syndicate and its former president, said.
Egna Legna's research, relying on a survey of over 900 migrant workers in Lebanon, showed that abuse predominately happened in the household in which the migrant worker lived and worked.
Though migrant domestic workers are not included in Lebanese labour law, al-Amin insisted that courts would be fair when dealing with their cases.
Lebanon is currently without a government or president, so it is unlikely an amendment to law 205 would be passed until these vacancies are filled.