Minister of Manpower and Immigration, Aisha Abdel Hadi insists on poking at a wound we thought had healed. Abdel Hadi surprised us one day by saying she was in the process of contracting with the Ministry of Education in Kuwait to dispatch Egyptian women to work as maids at schools there. Calls were issued to stop this project and to stem the flow of Egyptian women sent to do menial jobs overseas. It seemed like the ministry had heeded the calls.
But Al-Ahram published statements by the minister affirming that agreements had been concluded, though guarantees were provided to protect the rights of Egyptian servants who have recently contracted with Kuwaiti authorities. The servants aren’t going to work for individuals, but rather government entities represented in the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education, she added. The contracting workers will be given private accommodation and their financial rights are clearly stated in the contract, she said.
But the issue can’t be summed up in lodging, petty financial rights, and contracts. That would be a gross underestimation. Is that how the minister sees such deals which rob Egyptians of their dignity? And let’s call things as they are, for those aren’t "workers" as the minister says, but "maids" or "servants." Worker is used to describe physicians, engineers, lawyers, judges, or teachers, with all due respect given to servants. Are we preserving the value of Egypt by sending its women to work outside its borders? What’s more, these deals are made by a supreme official entity, and not some employment office.
To push thousands of women to do such menial work is to subject them to the ultimate humiliation. The fact that Kuwait proposed the idea at all means that it knew in advance it would be met with approval. Kuwait used to contract with other countries to fill those positions, but why would it do that now if Egypt is an option? Egypt has agreed to supply those servants, not the Ministry of Manpower. This is how they see it in Kuwait. Egypt has agreed to send thousands of servants to Kuwaiti schools and later on to homes, while Indonesia made a decision not to send poor Indonesian women to work in Kuwait where they are often ill-treated.
Astonishingly, the minister doesn’t seem to be alarmed by the kind of image she is gradually feeding people. Egyptian women will invariably be seen by Kuwaitis as servants. Kuwaiti children will be raised by Egyptian servants who sweep, get tips, and are told off by their employers whom they have to brown-nose in order not to return to Egypt where they have no work to do. What kind of image will that child have of Egyptian women when he grows up?
In fact any image other than that of the servant will be the exception to Kuwaitis. Egyptian women will then serve at homes, palaces, and resorts as well. Besides, any one woman who travels will encourage large numbers of girls from her village to follow suit. They will travel in search of a livelihood, whether through the ministry or another way.
It’s not enough that the minister said she wouldn’t accept that Egyptians do "unfitting" jobs, for that word is indeed flexible and relative. Furthermore, this decision isn’t the ministry’s alone– all Egyptians are concerned. Such sudden, unilateral decisions that don’t consider the long-term implications, in fact, compromise our own dignity and image.
Translated from the Arabic Edition.