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The Problem of the Maids in the Middle East Essay

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Updated: Apr 12th, 2021


Female migration, slavery, and low-paid labor assume ever greater importance in modern Arab Emirates and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. There is evidence that families of these countries give up their own parenting duties and responsibilities, and employ maids to do this job. Pushed by unfavorable conditions, such as social insecurity, economic problems, poverty, etc., these women migrate and work for low wages, doing hard domestic works, and looking for employers’ children. Sometimes, they even become victims of modern slavery. At the same time, working parents shift their parenting responsibilities to maids who may raise Arabic-speaking children in an appropriate way. In its turn, parenting disregard leads to unfavorable consequences. The aim of this speech is to reveal the nature of the mentioned problem to understand why GCC families load maids with parental duties, and why they should not do this.

Main body

In the modern world, women may become victims of exploitation, foreign slavery, and jobs with low wages. According to some researchers, about three millions migrant domestic workers and low-paid maids live in a private house of Arab owners (Russeau, 2011, ¶ 1). There exist special legal organizations and recruitment agencies that provide GCC families with a maid who would perform parental duties and offer domestic services on a legal basis. For example, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, established in 1982, export maids to such high demanded areas as the Arab Emirates, Kuwait, etc. (Gibney, 2005, p. 163). Most of the maids come from non-Arabic-speaking countries – the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Ethiopia, etc. The research shows that

“this widespread use of domestic workers in GCC countries, rarely seen at such high prevalence in other countries, is due to the affordability of foreign domestic workers and the increasing role of GCC women in the workforce” (Grigorenko, 2009, p. 292).

There are certain reasons for employing maids, of course. From a historical perspective, the Arab countries used to have slaves that worked for them. Slavery labor and trade were the essential part of the state economy. Female slaves were exploited in agriculture and at the home of rich householders. Traditionally, women have done domestic and parental jobs. They looked after owners’ children, and raise them as if they were their natural parent. In spite of the English protectorate, slavery was legalized in the United Arabian Emirates (UAE) till the 60s of the XX cent. When slavery was officially abolished, unofficially, it still existed. Many female expatriates of the GCC countries have become maids who work for the local families; in some regions, the expatriates outnumber the locals (Gibney, 2005, p. 330).

Besides, having a maid is very convenient. This low-status job facilitates parental life. Modern Arabian families may consist of a working father and mother who do not have enough time to look after their child. They offer a minimum wage to a maid and may provide her even with an individual bed and free meals. This way, parents are released from headache: there is a woman who puts your child into bad, feeds your offspring, prepares dinner, and looks after your child when you are busy (Walker and Butler, 2010, p. 65). Some researchers believe that having an employed domestic worker has become a popular practice in the GCC countries. It is estimated that domestic workers or live-in maids constitute about 5 % of the total GCC population (Grigorenko, 2009, p. 292). The majority of householders prefer to have one or even two maids who would be able to increase their children’s level of literacy and foreign language skills by means of home education and communication.

According to research made in Kuwait, Kuwaiti families have a positive association with maids that contribute to the family welfare. A housemaid is a demanded worker who provides necessary services; sometimes, she even becomes a surrogate for a child. The presence of a maid is typical even in the case of a non-working mother. The number of maids may increase in a household, if new children appear, or when one maid can not manage her job well (Koch and Long, 2009, p. 263).

Thus, a maid in the Arabian family is a norm, supported by traditions of the GCC countries. GCC parents used to have a maid who would take care of their children for the following reasons: modern GCC parents (mother and father) work, and can not but give up their parenting responsibilities for lack of time; the presence of a maid facilitates a woman’s life, whether she works or not; an English-speaking maid may give a good education to an Arabic-speaking child (Grigorenko, 2009, p. 293). Mostly, when Arabian families leave their parenting duties to maids, they are working. Besides, even if a mother does not work, she may dedicate her free time to housekeeping or looking after her feminine appearance.

Traditionally, the role of women in the UAE used to be narrowed ideologically and culturally. Nevertheless, their essential role in society can not be underestimated. For centuries, the Arabian women were the symbol of a welfare family: they raised and educated their children, were engaged in housekeeping, and worked tirelessly for the economic benefit of the country. Unfortunately, UAE women are more vulnerable to unemployment. For this reason, they have to be encouraged and involved in the labor market. Sheikh Zayed said: “like men, women deserve the right to occupy high positions, according to their capabilities and qualifications” (Abed et al., 2006, p. 236). Today, women constitute 66 % of the total workforce in the government sector; 30 % are in a decision-making position. They are highly appreciated in IT, finance, medicine, arts, engineering, and even the army and police forces (Abed et al., 2006, p. 243). Thus, a modern Arab woman is an active participant in economic, social, and political life.

Sometimes, modern Arab mothers do not have enough time to look after their children, because they may work. However, a mother who leaves everything for a maid may be unemployed, as well. In this case, she dedicates herself to her children sometimes and cares about them to some extent. Of course, both employed and unemployed mothers do not leave their motherhood job at all. Nevertheless, the presence of a maid in a house set an Arab woman free from routine domestic and parenting jobs. Sometimes, mothers may share parenting responsibilities with a maid: for example, a maid launders, prepares food for a child, and teach him English, and mother may eat and play with a child, or even go somewhere with him. Naturally, social life, friends, and old grandparents may take away mother’s time. All dirty and routine jobs are used to be left for maids. A maid serves as the main helper in housekeeping and raising a child, when a mother, a matron of a household, can not do it for certain reasons (Walker & Butler, 2010, p. 527).

However, there is another side of the coin in the phenomenon of maids in the GCC countries. First, owing to a maid, parents may face a new problem in raising their child. Most of these maids do not speak English. Moreover, they speak Pidgin Gulf Arabic. For this reason, Arabian-speaking children experience the negative influence of this pidginized form of Arabic. As a result, children may have communication disorders or low-level communicative skills in their native Arabic language (Grigorenko, 2009, p. 292). Besides, many maids are low-skilled, with a poor level of literacy that inevitably influences GCC children. Their level of education is low; they are ignorant of the local language and culture (Dresch, 2005, p. 124).

Second, a maid can not replace a child’s mother or father. It is wrong to give up one’s parenting duties and responsibilities for the sake of work or traditions that should be reconsidered in a modern context and employ a stranger who would look after a child. A child should be raised only by natural parents. Only parents reap the fruit of their labor through their children. A maid never transforms a child into the sort of person he is supposed to be within the context of Arabian culture (Walker & Butler, 2010, p. 45). It is necessary for GCC parents to reconsider their genuine roles as caregivers for their children. If parents truly love their children and want to see them as well-educated, professionally successful, and intelligible people in the future, they will not leave them to maids. Combination of work with parenting duties proves to be an effective practice for working families of modern GCC countries.

Third, there are some disadvantages of those families that leave their parental job for the maid. First, children lack proximity with their parents (or one of the parents). Second, the maid may be a more authoritative figure for a child than a native father or mother. Third, the absence of interactions with parents infuses a sense of disappointment and insult regarding parents. In its turn, it may negatively influence child-parents relationships. Parents experience side-effects of their negligence and disregard: emotional distance, disrespect, constant disagreements, conflicts, etc. This way, children may transform into vulnerable, disadvantaged, and even dangerous members of society that should be protected by the government and special committees (Abed et al., 2006, p. 64).

In this context, the following counter-argument may appear. One may think that a maid should perform both domestic and parental work, but it is not true. GCC families should remember that an employed worker is not a mother for their child, but a housemaid who facilitates family in housekeeping, not rising of a child. For this reason, each maid should be aware of her duties to prevent possible undesirable consequences owing to misunderstanding (Gibney, 2005, p. 259). Parental duties and responsibilities are only parental concerns. Maid’s concern is to do domestic work for a wage.


Taking everything mentioned into consideration, one can not but agrees with the idea that the GCC families should not have maids who do parental work. Naturally, nobody can replace a native mother for a child. Arabian-speaking children should be raised by their parents, not a foreign female migrate. Domestic workers should be demanded only in case if they do only domestic work, not a parental one. The modern status of an Arab woman should not influence her motherhood job. Although the GCC countries used to have maids as their slaves who do both domestic and parental work, the needs of the modern world should dictate other rules. Nevertheless, maid services are welcomed in these countries, as they meet the needs of GCC working families who need a person who would look after their child, doing domestic work. Obviously, there is a need for a fair division of labor in society: parents should do parental responsibilities, while housemaids should do only domestic work.


Abed, I. et al. (2006). United Arab Emirates Yearbook 2006. London, UK: Trident Press Ltd. Web.

Dresch, P. (2005). Monarchies and Nations: Globalization and Identity in the Arab States of the Gulf. London, UK: I.B.Tauris.

Gibney, M. (2005). Immigration and Asylum: from 1900 to the Present. Entries A to I (vol.1). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Grigorenko, E. (2009). Multicultural Psychoeducational Assessment. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

Koch, C., & Long, D. (2003). Gulf Security in the Twenty-First Century. London, UK: I.B.Tauris.

Russeau, S. (2011). Web.

United Nations. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. (2007). International Migration and Development in the Arab Region. Washington, DC: United Nations Publications.

Walker, J., & Butler, S. (2010). Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsular. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet.

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