Do You Respect Your Househelp?

Domestic workers who double up as Nannies are referred to as House Helps in most Kenyan homes
Domestic workers who double up as Nannies are referred to as House Helps in most Kenyan homes

Consider the Merriam-Webster definition of a professional: Engaged in a learned profession; Conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession; exhibiting a courteous, conscientious and generally businesslike manner in the workplace.

They feed us, clean our houses, take care of our children and keep our secrets. When we welcome one into our homes we hope they come well trained so that they can dive fully into the work of making our daily living easier. We hope that they’ll keep to a certain code of ethics and that they’ll keep our secrets safe from our prying neighbors and keep our kids alive even at a cost to themselves. We hope that they’re kind, respectful, quick and hard working because without these qualities they can make our lives a living hell.

We’ve all had and heard horror tales of evil house helps; those that run away in the dead of night; those that sleep with her boss’ husband and steal him away; those that wear Madam’s clothes and post the picture evidence on Facebook. We’ve also seen the gory videos, nannies terrorizing their little charges, beating them up, neglecting their basic needs, and basically being extremely unprofessional.

I love to watch Facebook when nanny cam videos start doing the rounds. Undoubtedly the hub for all housies on all matters social media, just like for most other professions out there, here you find all kinds of stories and comments. Crazy accounts of employers mistreating young girls and boys, torturing them and denying them their right to the dignity afforded them by virtue of their humanity. Many households treat their help like indentured slaves and the rest of society ignores this behavior, stating clearly that it’s no one’s business the goings on in other people’s homes.

We turn a blind eye to an alarming amount of employee abuse in our estates and flats, excusing friends and family that mistreat their girls, thinking that they must have done something horrible to deserve such treatment. It may also be that we see such cruelty to those we think of as the lower classes, as a necessary evil in the maintenance of the status quo.

A lot of the aggression existing between house holders and their help is due to the existence of a social gap between them. The employer thinks they own and can control their maid, expecting them to adhere to rules as ridiculous as,

“No sex as long as you’re working for me. No getting pregnant either.”

as though they have any right to police and control anyone else’s body. Their employees sense this disrespect and know it’s as a direct result of classism. The dehumanization causes them to lash out because the truth is they do not feel safe in a lot of homes. It is a lot of times a desperate act to take back their dignity when they clash continuously with the madam over the running of day to day matters.

Without these women, many of us wouldn’t have professions of our own to work hard on. Yet we continue to treat them like manure, expecting the best from them without reciprocating in kind. We in fact create unhealthy, unsafe working environments on purpose just to keep them beneath our heel. Even the most selfish and unfeeling should never forget that these are humans and that their suffering in our homes creates in them psychological conditions like PTSD that directly affect their quality of work. We cannot live without help, but we continue to treat them like disposable tools, forgetting that it is a symbiotic system and you’re as dependent on them as they are you.

How long will we ignore the abuse helps endure at the hands of their employers? Can the middle class afford to be dismissive of the girl that claims to understand why her colleague in Uganda resorted to child abuse,

“Saa zingine madam hukukasirisha mpaka unajipata ukichapa tu mtoto hiyo hasira itoke.”

Victim blaming? Maybe. But then we cause uproar when the victim’s in the middle class and pretend we can’t hear the neighbor beating up an 18 year old pregnant girl that was raped by her husband. How long before this one’s trauma is turned against an innocent child somewhere?

 

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