Their faces shone with joy, and the forest of colorful flags they carried with them was worthy of a UN delegation. Judging from the width of their smiles, it would be hard to guess that these workers dancing through Mar Mikhael had ever been confined to narrow isolation.
In fact, lonely invisibility is the everyday trap suffered by an unknown number of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. So for the three days of this year’s fourth annual Workers Day Celebration, hundreds of current and former workers and their supporters called for its repeal through the reform of labor laws.
“I am not a slave, I am not a girl, I am not stupid, I am not a servant, I am a domestic worker,” participants chanted during Sunday’s parade. Organized by Fi Shi Ghalat, Kafa, Caritas, and the Anti-Racism movement, the event called for the replacement of the sponsorship system with one that gives laborers basic rights such as the right to quit, change jobs, and have a day off outside the house.
A new book released by KAFA on Friday, “If Not For The System“, opened a window on what life is like without these bare protections through five workers’ stories. At the launch, workers recalled their own and friends’ experiences; with her hands shaking, one woman told of being shown to her room, a bare nook under a stairway that lacked even a door.
But, Myrtle Witbooi, president of the International Domestic Workers’ Federation, declared at the opening panel, “we are women, strong women!“—who dream like everyone “to lead decent lives and work decent jobs.” Smiles echoed her closing vow: “We will not give up! We will not grow tired! We will make a difference, because together, we can!”
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