One of the main criticisms of feminism across time is that it is not inclusive. In fact, it has been criticized of representing middle-classed white women and neglecting women of other races and classes. Similarly, Arab feminists have been criticized for placing the emphasis of the feminist movement in the Arab world on Arab women. The last few decades have seen a huge rise in the feminist consciousness of women in the Arab world. The Arab feminist movement managed to represent the women that are Arab by ethnicity, but failed to encompass those living in Arab societies.
British- Palestinian journalist Diana Al Ghoul recently published an article on Middle East Monitor in which she highlighted the hypocrisy presented by some Arab feminists. She argued that while feminism should be inclusive, it seems that feminism in the Arab world displaces non-Arab women, therefore helping in their exploitation and hindering the Arab women’s liberation project. The aforementioned exploited non-Arab women are usually those with the least power such as foreign domestic workers.
A large number of women and girls around the world leave their households and migrate to countries they have never been to, or sometimes, never heard of, in order to make a living. Forced by economic circumstances, they leave their lives behind to integrate in new cultures and life settings in search for a better life. Those women and girls usually perform tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for children and the elderly among other daily tasks. In essence, they are hired to help with daily household chores. This group of people is categorized as foreign domestic workers, or the most common term used in the Gulf, maids.
Taking the Gulf as a primary example, maids live with their employers. As such, there seems to be a lack of understanding when it comes to their working hours. Maids work for long periods of time reaching 100 hours per week, and are rarely given a day off. That alone is considered as exploitation of helpless women as they are overworked. Being away from their homeland and surrounding, maids subordinate to such cruel working conditions, as they do not have the resources or power to protest.
Neglecting the rights of maids became normalized to the extent where that they are treated as objects. An example of that is the way modern day social media users are presenting their maids. Some women are actually posted pictures of maids online asking followers to pick one for them. Another case is where friends are boosting online on how they got maids as gifts for one another. On the other hand, some manpower agencies are conducting competitions in which the winner gets a free maid delivered to one’s household! Unfortunately, the ill treatment does not stop there where an element of colorism come into play as the darker the skin of the maid is, the cheaper her price gets. Interestingly, those cases presented above almost always don’t believe that they did anything wrong. They get shocked by backlash received from the public and accuse them of exaggerating. This showcases that classism and racism became internalized where actual human beings are stripped from their humanity and are viewed as commodity.
Regardless of the context, when women ask for equal rights, they should be inclusive. Renowned social activist Bell Hooks stated that, women can only band together in the fight against sexism and create a sense of powerful global sisterhood by confronting the ways women through class and race exploit other women. While the efforts of Arab feminist movement should be celebrated, one cannot claim that it is perfect. Foreign women in Arab societies should not be viewed as the other, but as women who also need to have their rights acknowledged. Thus, when Arab women are fighting for liberation from oppression, they should liberate their maids from the oppression Arab women enforce.