World Cup Stadium an island in a sea of misery and abuse
Chants and songs of football fans will ring out later this year during the World Cup in Qatar, but behind the closed doors of villas and apartments, the cries, screams, and sobbing of domestic workers will remain muffled.
Abuse of maids and domestic servants in Qatar is so common that it would be a challenge to find a worker who has not been sexually assaulted, beaten, spat on, threatened, verbally abused, or forced to work well beyond their contractual obligations.
Recent investigations found that just under half of 105 migrant female domestic servants who were interviewed reported being physically assaulted by their Qatari employers. If we extrapolate these figures, that means that on any given day in Doha, roughly 70,000 women are attacked in the homes where they work.
While Qatar pledged to improve conditions and protections for migrant workers after winning its bid to host the World Cup, little has been done to help domestic servants, or indeed, migrant labourers of any kind. Just last month, hundreds of workers were expelled from Qatar for demanding unpaid wages, and inspections of homes employing domestic servants remain largely unheard of. “Maids in Qatar, and the broader Gulf, are virtual slaves,” says Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Doha, “Their passports are confiscated, they have no freedom of movement, they are forced to work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week; often their phones are seized by employers, and even if they had access to complain to the police, their grievances are dismissed by authorities who reliably take the side of locals.”
“I am personally aware of cases in which maids have died trying to escape abuse by climbing out windows of high-rise buildings; maids who have been locked in a room without food or water for days on end; maids who have been scalded with boiling water or whipped with electrical cords. The harrowing stories of vicious abuse are simply endless,” Stirling explains, “They often go unpaid for weeks, even months, and are kept essentially as prisoners in the homes.”
As football fans ride from their expensive hotels to the stadium, or enjoy the festivities and tourist attractions around the World Cup, thousands of women will be suffering unimaginable misery all around them, hidden in plain sight in the shadow of Qatar’s luxury.