Lebanon is a country where 90% of the domestic workers are women. They are often trapped inside homes with nothing but the memory of their passports; they are also subjected to brutal violence, made into sexual objects, and exploited like slaves by sadistic individuals. The consequences of being muzzled by the kafala system in a patriarchal society are severe and longstanding.
The patriarchal system is regularly spoken about in parables, but never given a distinct identity with a face, name, and deeds. Hence it may occasionally seem unreal, a myth.
Because of what I experienced in Lebanon under the kafala system, the need to be an activist came to me as a calling. My mouth was shut, my fists were tied, and my eyes were full of tears. I had no other choice but to cry out my suffering.
I thought feminism would provide me with support, refuge, and a remedy for my wounds. But for someone like me, with no papers, someone constantly judged by the color of their skin and their work as a housewife, it was truly very difficult. Many feminists who happen to be migrant domestic workers in the Arab world brood, just like I do. They sustain war wounds, and reserve endless sources of inspiration from their experiences. But before all that, they must reclaim the humanity their employers stole from them. This phase may seem difficult or even impossible for some, because throughout, others will constantly try to remind you that you are less than human.
The status quo in Lebanon elevates men, both in theory and in practice, making it very difficult for domestic workers to assume the role of activists or feminists.
There is constant fear, even during interviews. You are asked, “Would you like to show your face or not?” Even in the media, journalists and other activists set about sinking the blade deeper. Your risk of deportation and your status as an undocumented person sound like a song at a protest.
In Lebanon, being both black and an activist means being twice as much of an activist because your target, which targets you in return, is the kafala system. It is there, you are in contact with it every day. You live its misdeeds in your flesh. But it is difficult to attack head-on, as it is heavily protected by the law, and widely normalized in society.
Even your fellow combatants pull their weight and do not necessarily want it to end. You get in everyone’s way at every turn.
When something bad happens to a sister, no matter how angry you are, you cannot act alone, you need the help of others. Except others never react as you would like them to, they let the time pass. Maybe ease your rage, swallow your ambition, and the situation will calm down. Your desire to act decreases and everyone moves on.
The risk increases when you speak out during a protest. And if you are imprisoned, the mobilization will dwindle until you find yourself with only one visitor, or not none at all.
The police take every opportunity to remind you of your tremendous idiocy and lifelong mistake of coming to Lebanon and being a feminist. They do that either by isolating you, issuing visitation bans, or through beatings and deportation.
But right now, as I write this piece, I realize that this rage will never go away. It will stay there and ache, because I was never able to show my sisters that I hold them deep in my heart, I was never able to honor all these victims like they deserve, for they are martyrs.
I miss the strength Rosa Parks had on that bus, the solidarity of a group of recovered women who are prepared to fight. I miss having people's hands outstretched for me, to pick me up when I fall like a leaf, into some hole.
I miss this solidarity because it is solid and honest, it understands me and I identify with it. It comprehends the meaning of my rage, has the ability to shed light on those daily suicides, and eat at the same table with me.
I miss the media that is able to portray my life, my words, my thoughts, and my sorrows.
I miss it a lot, and when I think about it, I miss myself.
Viany De Marceau wrote "The Dark Passages of Feminism For A Migrant Domestic Worker" as a cry against the kafala system, and a message to other feminists. The writer embraces this rare opportunity to honor all her fellow domestic workers who have sacrificed their lives for their beliefs and freedom.
Viany, 29 years old, from Cameroon, has worked as a migrant domestic worker in Lebanon, under the kafala system, for more than 4 years. She is a stylist, fashion designer, writer, and activist. She enjoys writing and reading, finds contemplative pleasure in sewing, and cleans houses to survive.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.