South Asian Women Working as Maids in Saudi Arabia are Tortured Regularly & Dying

Photo credits: Flikr/D-Stanley

More heartbreaking cases of severe human rights abuses have been going on in Saudi Arabia and once again, women are being victimized.

For a better part of the past year, a number of credible news sources (including the Al-Jazeera Media Network) have made reports about women being brutalized in Saudi Arabia. The women come from the South Asian nation of Bangladesh. For decades, Bangladeshi women have been migrating to the oil-rich Persian Gulf kingdom to look for work as maids.

According to Al-Jazeera, roughly 50,000 Bangladeshi women have migrated to Saudi Arabia to perform domestic work this year alone. Most of the women come from the most impoverished regions of Bangladesh. Many of them are misled on their job-seeking journeys under false pretenses about pay and job descriptions.

When the migrant Bangladeshi women arrive at their assigned houses ready to perform domestic work, far too many off of them are encountering unspeakable horror. The cases of abuse have been so severe, Bangladesh’s national government recently confessed that calls were flooding its Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment.

These calls are from the Bangladeshi women or are made on their behalf. The terrified Bangladeshi women are begging government workers back home to help them return to their country. The women disclosed that they received daily beatings and were terribly malnourished.

In other tear-jerking testimonials, Bangladeshi women said that they were denied food all together. They were given no sick leave. The women claimed they were essentially working as slaves because the money they earned was never paid to them. The women even testified about being subjected to torture, deprived of sleep, and repeatedly raped.

The physical and sexual abuse got so bad and was so widespread, the Bangladeshi government had no choice but to admit this human rights crisis recently.

“In a report submitted by Bangladesh’s Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment to the parliamentary standing committee, the department admitted women had come back because of sexual and physical abuse,” wrote Areeb Ullah, a reporter for the Middle East Eye newspaper.

In an exclusive interview, Al-Jazeera spoke with a brave young Bangladeshi woman named  Shirina Begum. Begum, 29, told her story to the Qatari news agency last month. She was one of approximately 20 other Bangladeshi women who were able gain their freedom.

In late October 2019, Begum and her fellow Bangladeshi women were liberated at Bangladesh’s embassy in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Begum arrived in the Gulf kingdom this past May with hopes of making $235 dollars per month as a household cook.

When she arrived at her assigned house in the Saudi city of Al-Kharj, her phone was confiscated. Begum soon learned that she would be  ordered to do much more than cook. It was also obvious to her that more people were living in the house than she had previously expected.

“It was a tough job for $235 a month. I needed to work for 14-15 hours straight. It was hard for me to understand their language. I also couldn’t cook to their taste. I didn’t have any access to a phone, so I couldn’t talk to my family back home,” Begum said.

The young Bangladeshi maid struggled with her workload. She was very tired most of the time. When Begum moved too slow as a result of being lethargic, she was severely beaten with a stick. Begum told Al-Jazeera that she finally fled the house after being raped.

“I was sleeping in the kitchen. Suddenly I realized [the eldest son who lived in the house] was trying to get on the top of me. I screamed loud but he shut my mouth with his hand. Then he [raped] me. At one point, I applied all my force and he was compelled to leave me,” Begum said in her interview.

When Begum went to the nearest Saudi police station to report the crime, she was dealt with like an animal. The Saudi jailers treated Begum like she was the criminal instead of apprehending the real criminal and investigating her police report. After being held in police custody for almost a month, Begum was finally able to go home.

According to Al-Jazeera, 66 Bangladeshi women have died in Saudi Arabia over the past four years. Even worse, 52 of those 66 deaths resulted from suicide. There must be an strong international course of action taken against Saudi Arabia for these horrific crimes.

The government of Saudi Arabia cannot continue to deny the torment of these women and the international community must not allow the Saudis to find comfort after their denials. The women of Bangladesh deserve the same level of justice that any woman would get in an industrialized country if she were victimized this way.

Human Rights Watch is raising awareness about these tragedies. However, after awareness is raised action must be taken. If the UN can approve resolutions, which authorize force against nations or groups that sponsor terrorism, it can do the very same thing against entities that allow the beating, rape, and killing of these women from Bangladesh.

Committing indiscriminate violence against the givers of life in mass is an act of terrorism. The world will be a better place when the so-called “freedom-loving” nations of the world realize this.