Women, children remain vulnerable


TWO years ago, women’s dissent in connection with their lowly status in society did not go unnoticed -- from the upper political echelons to the household level. During the year women demanded a 50-50 representation in the National Assembly and got the nod. Their request was granted but they still have a fight on their hands -- they must win in the constituency polls to make it to the Debating Chamber.

The women also demanded more chances in the Cabinet and other prestigious decisionmaking positions in government. Their voices found listening ears but even here, positions do not come on a silver platter.

Those who contend for top positions in the world of white-collar workers must have requisite qualifications to flaunt. Those who qualify must fight to fight to the top. Well, those are some of the women who hold white collar jobs.

Now let is look at some of the women workers who hold blue collar jobs, some of which are widely despised. Until last year the situation had not changed. At the lowest rung are domestic workers and barmaids.

These too complained bitterly, demanding better standards of living. Perhaps the hardest hit were the domestic workers, some of whom do not get any remuneration at all.

The press railed at the miserable working conditions of domestic workers, some of whom are children. But its coverage did not dig deep enough to expose the extreme situations of nearslavery rather than situation of servitude and exploitation.

Perhaps this year (2017) which has just taken off will see women make progressive inroads in their fight for prosperity. While it is imperative that such cases be condemned, the press did not provide a comprehensive scenario of the working conditions and status of domestic workers.

Therefore, it did not help to improve the welfare of vulnerable domestic workers. The domestic workers’ job is an elusive category that is difficult to be defined. It is even more difficult to protect this kind of worker who is, invariably, invisible at the workplace itself — the private household.

It is near-impossible for labour inspectors, where these are available, to wander into private homes in a quest to speak to domestic workers. The situation is equally difficult for workers’ organisations for collective action.

So, in the case of clandestine situations, which can occur more easily in this type of workplace, workers are even more vulnerable and virtually voiceless. It is common knowledge that domestic work is mainly performed by women, especially the young, naïve girls, some of whom are shunted in from rural villages.

In Tanzania, domestic workers include young boys who are often roped in to mind cattle, pigs or chicken. Domestic workers often include housekeepers, cattle minders, shamba boys, drivers, shop attendants, child minders and others.

Some live-in domestic workers earn as little as 30,000/- a month. The ruse for this anomaly is that the workers eat at their master’s table. It is difficult to give a rough estimate of the number of domestic workers in Tanzania due to the presence of unregulated or clandestine relationships.

Even domestic workers who are the most exploited may not be ready to report their predicament to authorities. Unregistered workers do not appear in official statistics and child domestic workers are ignored by household surveys.

They are not supposed to work and are counted as children of the household. This assumption, unknown to the surveyors, hurts the vulnerable. Given its social and economic invisibility and the accompanying low social status, domestic work is often exploitative.

Most domestic workers encounter exploitative, inhumane working conditions. Many slog it out for a living in long hours of work; others lug heavy loads and there are those who lack privacy.

Nearly all domestic workers get low salaries, inadequate accommodation and too little food (especially the live-in workers). There is also the problem of job insecurity, absence of benefits normally granted to other categories of workers, and exposure to violence and abuse.

Most domestic workers have limited time for rest and rarely enjoy leisure. In Tanzania, most domestic workers hail from less affluent regions such as Dodoma, Singida and Iringa.

Employers’ eyes often scout for poor, jobless boys and girls who fail their Standard Seven examinations in rural Tanzania. This sorry spectacle appears to have come to the attention of the government apparently because domestic workers do not have an association that speaks out for them.

So, they remain sufferers in silence. As they come from the most disadvantaged parts of the population and work at tasks that are highly useful but invariably seen as degrading, domestic workers are almost always subjected to insults and humiliation by their employers.

Safe in their own home employers can easily terrorize an employee by threatening him or her with all sorts of punishments if he or she does not work as they want and at the speed that they want.

Threats of beatings, threats to her family, threats to kick him or her out are frequent in most homes. Whether these threats are carried out or not, they build up a climate of stress around the employee, particularly if he or she is living in the employer’s house.

This undesirable situation exists in Tanzania, albeit at a smaller scale. Most victims of abuse, humiliation and exploitation never report the matter to legal authorities.

They opt to suffer in silence, often in fear of losing their jobs or falling into greater suffering. The domestic hands look after children and contribute to their upbringing, take care of the elderly, scrub the floors, cook, clean the windows, do the dusting and wash and iron clothes.

They also discard the rubbish and so on. In doing so, they enable their employers to work away from home while still having enough time for leisure and family life. Despite their crucial role in society, household hands’ lives can often be summed up in one word - exploitation.

Some employers rape their naïve female servants with complete impunity. This situation prevails in Tanzania as well. In most countries the law does not regard domestic workers as employees.

They are actually excluded from scope of labour legislation. A direct effect of this is that they are very vulnerable. They can be sacked at any moment - for instance, if they ask for their rights.

Live-in domestic workers should have a separate room where they can rest and get some privacy. Some workers sleep on the living room floor. Others live in a tin or wooden shack behind the main house. Yet, in some cases, these are the lucky few.

Some disadvantaged hands, who are not allowed to live in the employer’s home sleep in abandoned kiosks, smelly shacks or on cold verandas. Others sleep in junked boats, dilapidated vehicles or on the beach.

Most look and behave like wild cats and do not trust anyone. They are security sensitive and always carry knives for self-defence. Some domestic hands end up stealing property and even young babies.

So, it is these needy household workers who usually engage in criminal activities at night for reasons of sheer survival behind the knowledge of their employers. Some livein workers crawl into kernels when the dogs have been eased out for the night.

Last year it was determined that despite concerted efforts to curtail gender violence in families and other communal settings the canker remained a diehard mainly in Shinyanga, Mara, Morogoro, Mbeya regions.

In these regions, it was reported, gender desks at police stations received one or two complaints a day. The number of these unfortunate social misdemeanors often climbed to five in some stations in a single day.

Elderly men (and women) in regions such as Mara and Shinyanga still believe that wife bashing is allowed among communities such as the Wasukuma or Wakurya. It is seen as a “social right” that is reflected in behavioral tenets and is “allowed by some holy books.”

So, wives here are lashed with canes apart from taking an angry dressing down. They are humiliated, sometimes in the presence of their children, and dehumanized. It should be expressly understood that wife bashing is a criminal offence that is punishable by law.

In these regions some innocent wives were bashed by husbands in a sheer show of macho toughness and dominance. Others took harsh punishments from drunken husbands who lost capacity to reason after taking alcohol.

So, for some wives, married life remained hell-on-earth. Some conservative elders imputed that husbands may batter their wives with impunity and that even male partners who are not husbands may beat their girlfriends without fear of legal retribution.

Not many people in rural Tanzania are aware that any act of gender-based violence that results in physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty is rated as a punishable crime.

Some women have experienced severe physical violence (being hit with a fist or something else, kicked, dragged, beaten up, choked, burnt on purpose, threatened with a weapon or had a weapon used against them

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