FAIRWAY collaboration with the International Domestic Workers’ Federation leads to strengthened domestic workers’ association in Kuwait

Since 2017, the FAIRWAY Programme has been supporting the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) to empower domestic workers in Kuwait through organizing, and has led to the establishment of the Sandigan Kuwait Domestic Workers Association (SKDWA) in the Philippines community, as well as outreach to African communities.

News | Arab States | 26 February 2020
Contact(s): Sophia Kagan, FAIRWAY Middle East Chief Technical Adviser, (e):kagan@ilo.org
There are an estimated 1.6 million women working as domestic workers in the Arab States region. While the largest employer of domestic workers is Saudi Arabia (with more than 1.2 million domestic workers in 2014); Kuwait is the second highest with an estimated 648,346 workers in 2018 (both men and women). Despite legislation in 2015 regulating the employment relationship between the employer, recruiter and domestic workers, and the change of responsibility for domestic work from Ministry of Interior to the Public Authority for Manpower (effective 1 April 2019), domestic workers continue to face the risk of mistreatment and challenges in accessing justice in Kuwait.

Across the Gulf, such issues remain a challenge, and are exacerbated by the near-absence of genuinely representative migrant domestic worker groups, whether within or outside of the formal labour movement. ‘Building the capacities of domestic workers to represent themselves, through associations, cooperatives or committees, and supporting grassroots MDWs’ groups is essential for the IDWF’ says May Abi Samra, IDWF’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Coordinator.

With the support of the FAIRWAY Project, the IDWF was able to establish the Sandigan Kuwait Domestic Workers Association (SKDWA), a Filipinno group of domestic workers which held its first congress in 2019. The SKDWA has been active in outreaching to the community, bringing together more than 300 migrants from the Philippines and Sri Lanka, as well as domestic worker employers, to celebrate the International Domestic Workers’ Day in June 2020. Organizing the Domestic Workers’ Day, gave the Association’s new leaders ‘hope and inspiration’, said one of SKDWA Executive Committee, and the IDWF’s extensive training programme has provided leaders with the skills and confidence to independently implement their first workplan.

With an increasing number of migrant domestic workers coming from Africa, and given the unique vulnerability faced by these workers, FAIRWAY and the IDWF also partnered to reach out to African community leaders in Kuwait. According to official statistics in Kuwait (administrative data from 2018) there were 47,227 African workers in Kuwait including 32,500 domestic workers of which 92% were female (as opposed to 43% of domestic workers from Asia). Online research with 245 African workers, carried out by Sandigan Kuwait, revealed that African workers faced a number of challenges in Kuwait - more than 60  percent did not have a weekly day off, 70 percent did not have access to their passport, and more than half had experienced racism since their arrival. A learning and exchange workshop with community leaders helped to form valuable connections between the different migrant communities, and to discuss some of the key challenges and ideas for supporting African domestic workers, which will be further explored in 2020.