They say, the most important conversation is often the most difficult one to have.

I’ll argue the most important stories are often the most difficult ones to write.

The journey of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) and racialized people born in Lebanon resembles the one of Theseus and the minotaur Greek mythology tale.

It is the epitome of navigating a wild labyrinth while attempting self-protection and preservation from systematic and systemic racism.

The idea that we are not affected by racism equally holds partial truth!

In our case, as children of MDWs (Migrant Domestic Workers) born in Lebanon, we certainly share in common a dualistic experience of anger against our parents’ malevolent years of oppression within the Kafala system, and in contrast the benevolent reaction of few liberal citizens who admire our hybrid identity.

Our mastery of Arabic and other spoken languages intrigues…

Locals ponder about our deemed mysterious identity: we are labeled as African, Asian, American or coming from a remote island, but rarely the optionality of being born in Lebanon occurs.

Our livelihood is embedded on a constant steady walk in between edges: a blossoming interpersonal activism while fighting racism, inequity and stereotypes.

The fight to exist and coexist drains our spirit! We dream to enjoy the freedom of being human, holding equal rights, striving, not worrying about residential permits or our parent’s legal statuses, precarity, fighting sexual harassers, being followed around in the streets, bullies at school, university, the lack of job opportunities, being in the sideline while we are aware of our richness, capabilities, and high potential.

The fighting loop may at times drain our spirit, however we resist, and continue to resist! Children of migrant domestic workers resist compliance, systemic racism, generalization, biases experienced from locals.

We opt for intentional dissociation from a generalized one-size-fits all mentality through finding solace within our safe community and the what we call “good ones”; they are our childhood Lebanese friends, and many uplifting souls we’ve encountered through the years. However, the retreat is short-lived, because we are born front fighters – being in between many worlds: the migrant domestic workers community and “our not our country” reality!

As we mature, we relinquish power and settle for belonging to humanity as a whole. The soul search culminates once we unlock self-appropriation, acceptance and embrace being us – BIPOC born in Lebanon!

It is not a secret that migrant domestic workers in Lebanon suffer from discriminatory labels – a trendy curse within a country practicing and endorsing modern-day slavery.

I remember my first encounter with racism; I was 5 years old, and seriously questioned why my bullies would scream: “Sri Lankiye”, it was irrelevant, I’m not from Sri Lanka.

The bullies made sure to emote their intentions: the nationality; “Sri Lankiye” was stripped from it meaning, it was transformed into a racial slur.

To add context, in the nineties a high number of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon were Sri Lankan, currently the majority of MDWs migrate from Ethiopia and the Philippines.

BIPOC witness how racial slurs mirror the racial origin of each migration waves! A common verbal racial slur we experience is being called “Habashiye” referring to Habesha, the people of Ethiopian and Eritrean heritage. “Habashiye” replaced “Sri Lankiye” as a mean of inducing disdain through altering the true etymology of a beautiful word.

The question is how to find a place when there’s no space for children of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon?  

The hard truth is you carve your own space within a feeble system. We tap into our unrecognized potential. We are given agencies and capabilities to change policies, fight against systemic racism, societal practices and attitudes embedded in discrimination.

Education and constant self-actualization are one crucial weapon. This will depend certainly on a multitude of external factors like the oppressive system shift, access to education, one’s upbringing, level of administrative challenges, undocumented or documented parents, life experiences, environments, outside influences, beliefs, and numerous other metrics.

On International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we children of migrant domestic workers dream of visibility, respect, and holding mutual rights as any other individual. We have names and multiple identities that produce, if allowed positive diversity.

We love Fairouz and Tems, we want to live in peace and not be shattered in pieces by the Kafala system!

B.K. – Child of a Migrant Domestic Worker in Lebanon

A Call for Intersectionality & Inclusion

The Kafala system is an oppressive, racist, patriarchal structure that exploits and abuses migrant workers that disproportionately affects women of colour. The system relies heavily on human trafficking and other organised crimes, exposing migrant domestic workers to severe human rights violations. Women of colour from South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have been lured and trapped by the system for several decades now without any real attempts towards  sustainable change . Migrant Workers’ Action believes that unless a new movement of solidarity and support emerges to amplify and include Migrant Domestic Workers in all human rights conversations happening in Lebanon, the status quo of abuse and exploitation under the Kafala system will continue unchallenged.

Throughout the years, Lebanon has developed an active and engaging civil society space advocating for women’s rights among many other issues. However, within the shadows of this flourishing civil society work, exists the persistent and problematic normalisation of racism and exploitation of migrant domestic workers through the Kafala system, which remains condoned and unaddressed. The Lebanese feminist movement has many challenges and barriers to tackle.  It is in this effort towards equity and liberation that the movement should adopt   an intersectional and inclusive approach including refugees, members of the LGBTQIA community as well as migrant domestic workers. 

The adversities women in Lebanon experience are harsh, unforgiving and cruel. For migrant domestic workers this reality is even more harsh. Their predicament is one of forced labour, racial, sexual and physical abuse in a legal system sanctioned by the government and normalised by the local population perpetuating a culture of impunity. Failing to take into consideration the intersections of migrant domestic workers may lead to the Lebanese Women’s Rights movement to be exclusionary thus capitulating to elements of the patriarchy. Migrant Domestic Workers are women of colour, who are marginalised by multiple systems of oppression, both in their country of origin as well as Lebanon. Addressing their needs and challenges requires the Lebanese civil society as well as international actors to adopt an intersectional approach to women’s rights, as it allows the movements to take into account the Migrant Domestic Workers’ multiple intersecting experiences and identities.

It is important to note that focusing on an intersectional feminist approach does not negate the existence of Lebanese women’s struggles but instead offers a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to the struggle for women’s rights within the country that include the migrant and refugee population. 

Migrant Workers’ Actions invites the  women’s rights movement to reach out to the  extensive networks of migrant domestic workers communities in Lebanon  and to build  bridges working  together towards achieving equity and freedom.