UN Women - United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

Mona Saad: An Egyptian domestic worker’s journey to leadership

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Date: 15 October 2012

“My dream is that society would change its inferior view towards the profession of domestic work, and that all domestic workers would gain their social and legal rights equally as any other worker in any other sector, said Mona, Executive Director of “Helpers.

Across Egypt, as in many countries, domestic workers are subjected to numerous health hazards, poor working conditions, long hours and dismal pay. Domestic maids are also vulnerable to non-payment of wages, verbal and physical abuse, and sexual harassment or assault.

Mona Saad is working to change this through awareness-building and lobbying with the government for better laws to protect the mostly women domestic workforce.

She comes from the lower-middle class of Egyptian society, with an intermediate school degree. She married a construction worker at a very young age and then moved to Ezbet el Hagganna, a slum in north-eastern Cairo, the capital of Egypt. Hardship forced Mona to look for a job as a domestic worker to help her husband make a living.

She searched for work with her limited academic qualifications and was disappointed to find high rates of unemployment even among college graduates. She learned about domestic work through her neighbours, and began to work casually. Mona believes that if it was not for the needs of her family, she would not have done this work, which is considered a disgrace in Egyptian society. Mona even kept her work a secret.

Mona learned about the UN Women's Fund for Gender Equality-led Programme on “Improving public policies to protect female domestic workers' rights in Egypt and met field workers. She participated in the awareness-raising sessions conducted by the programme, where she had the chance to meet peers with common challenges and similar hardships and women who shared the same sense of shame because of their profession.

This encouraged her gradually to open up about her work. Consulting with a psychologist has helped Mona to get over her lack of self-esteem and the stigma she suffered by acknowledging the importance and value of the work she does for herself and her family.

As Mona got to know other domestic workers and their problems, she has become more empowered to discuss her own life's circumstances. She became more compelled to stand up for her rights, whether through her work or personal life.

After attending several capacity-building sessions of the Programme, Mona emerged as someone who is confident, articulate and energized about her rights and the rights of her fellow domestic workers. Mona was chosen to be the head of the first domestic Workers' NGO in Egypt called “Helpers, created under the umbrella of the Programme.

Today, “Helpers focuses on advancing one goal: achieving decent working conditions for domestic workers through establishing a syndicate to promote and protect their rights.

The Programme's advocacy efforts to put domestic workers' rights on the agenda of the concerned governmental organizations have gathered momentum at the national level to change the labour law and provide social protection to workers in the informal sector.

Officials at the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration confirmed recently that they are currently studying the possibility of making adjustments in the labour law and they are working to improve the technical skills of house helpers to provide them with a license to practice the profession, which will be the first step for them to obtain social and health insurance.