Sixteen years ago, I read the novel Woman at Point Zero by Egyptian writer, Nawal El Saadawai. It was the true story of an Egyptian girl, a high-class prostitute who ends up being a murderer.
An innocent child, if it is a girl, is not only a child. She is a commodity, which can be sold, rented, and used. No woman in this world is beyond this phenomenon. No matter how much labour she gives, how much education she obtains, how efficient she is, if she is a woman, she will have to pay for being a woman.
Either she has to wear make-up to look good or she has to cover herself up and hide her body. Because, above all, she is a lucrative commodity.
There is no difference between an educated female employee at any renowned organisation and the domestic help. The story of Firdaus, in the novel, depicts it vividly. It depends on the master whether she will be abused or not in case of domestic help, and on the boss or senior colleagues in case of high-profile jobs.
The master of the household does it directly, and the educated boss does it more subtly. There are many ways to cause her pain if she does not respond to his desires. If she does not have any option, if she needs the job to survive, what can she do?
She has to compromise and appease or play tricks and, in the mean time, search for another job. Now, she manages another job and the same problem persists. Now what?
How many times will she have to search for a new job when hundreds of educated and unemployed young people are in queue?
So, the clever women prepare to face it and try to seize the job by appeasing their bosses or senior male colleagues. No male colleagues -- or even female colleagues -- will criticise the male boss for pushing women to act playful to ensure job security. But, what happens to those who cannot swallow these abuses, attitudes, and humiliation and choose to uphold their self-respect?
Or what happens to those who are from ultra-poor families? Around a decade ago, they used to work as domestic help at home, and now they do so abroad. To escape the horrifying poverty, the new destination is the Middle East. Far away from home, where their screams or tears do not reach.
Around a month ago, I, along with my husband, was going to icddr,b in a CNG. It was a boring evening due to the traffic jam.
After some time, I noticed that our CNG driver had also been talking over the phone for a while.
An innocent child, if it is a girl, is not only a child. She is a commodity, which can be sold, rented, and used. No matter how efficient she is, if she is a woman, she will have to pay for being a woman
I came to understand that he was talking to a lady, who works in a Middle Eastern country as domestic help. The lady was asking for his help to return home. After the conversation ended, I asked the driver about the matter.
He told me that the woman, his sister-in-law, went to Saudi Arabia as a domestic help by the reference of a man working there, who is also her relative.
She had to give Tk70,000 to an agency to get the contractual job. She was told that it was a four-member family -- husband, wife, and two children -- and she would have to only look after the child.
But, after going there, she was met with a different scenario. The couple, both of whom were working, has four or five children and she has to do all the work of the family -- cooking, cleaning all the seven rooms, washing dishes, keeping a big house tidy.
Two months into the contract, she is exhausted and terrified by the work and wants to return home at any cost, even incurring the financial loss and debts in the country she made to go abroad. But, the Saudi family is not allowing this, as they had also paid an amount to the broker to get her.
She was telling the driver over the phone: “Bhai, jomay chharay, kamay chharay na” (death perhaps pardon me, but work not).
Through news media we have learned many such stories of these ill-fated women, who are not only overworked like slaves but also often raped and tortured. What measures have we taken to rescue them from this terrifying slavery?
What steps have been taken against such agencies or people who are doing this business? Rather, we are highlighting it as the development our country, as it increases our remittance.
We are pushing our women to such barbaric lives abroad to earn remittance and develop our country, an act akin to poor parents selling their daughters to survive.
Girls and women, it seems, are commodities, they are not human beings. So, why is civil society then screaming at the new marriage law, where a rapist is spared from punishment and allowed to marry the girl if he impregnates her?
Monswita Bulbuli is a Sub-Editor at the Dhaka Tribune.