Saturday, June 2, 2012

"Welcome to Tamkeen"

I was standing at Tamkeen's booth at a massive Sri Lankan cultural celebration, passing out information about the rights domestic workers have in Jordan, and how we provide legal help to migrant workers whose rights have been violated, when an old women approached me. "I do not need help," she told me, "but my sister does. She has been raped by her employer and his three sons. Can you help her?" I assured her that we could help and told her to come by our office as soon as she could. After she left, my co-worker turned to me and said "Welcome to Tamkeen. Rape here is normal." Throughout the rest of the day, I heard of the wide spectrum of problems that migrant workers face in Jordan; while many female domestic workers face sexual harassment from their employers as well as the police (One of my co workers told me of two women who had approached Tamkeen about two of their friends who were arrested by police officers and told that they could be released if they slept with the officers), many workers also have trouble obtaining a visa, have substantial overstay fines, have their passports seized by their employers, are paid lower wages then their contracts guarantee, face poor living and working conditions, and are verbally and physically abused by their employers.

I began my internship with Tamkeen just two days ago. I spent the whole of my first day reading the current project proposals and strategic proposals of the organization so that I could get a better idea of the work that Tamkeen does in Jordanian society. What amazed me was how far reaching Tamkeen's work is. Tamkeen reaches out to the domestic workers themselves, educates them on their rights and how to use their rights, provides them free legal representation, and then also tries to connect migrant workers with one another so that they have a system of social and cultural support. On top of this, Tamkeen reaches out to the employers of domestic workers, public security forces, judiciary, and other government officials in order to educate them about the rights they need to afford to migrant workers, as well as other international human rights standards that Jordan has adopted. Tamkeen likewise tries to bridge the gap between the very extensive, supportive, and protective rights afforded to migrant workers through various pieces of legislation and the actual implementation of this legislation. Essentially, Tamkeen is connecting different sectors of society by fostering an understanding, which ultimately gives marginalized groups the voice that they do not have on their own.

In Jordan there is a stigma against domestic workers. Even though there are families and factory owners that treat migrant workers with respect, more often than not, migrant workers are seen as objects, as things that can be used, that can be traded. Many employers do not recognize the fact that these migrant workers have lives of their own, have family, have friends, and have their own desires, goals and dreams. For example, even though it is required by law in Jordan that domestic workers receive Friday off, many employers do not give their domestic worker a day off because they do not believe that the worker has anything to do in their free time.  Domestic workers are especially seen by many Jordanians as simply liars and thieves that should not be afforded any respect what so ever.

I spent yesterday with my co-workers trying to spread awareness to Sri Lankan migrant workers about their rights and how we can help them exercise those rights. The cultural festival that we attended was truly enlightening. There was traditional food, dance, and tons and tons of various activities for all to participate in (I tried Sri Lankan food for the first time...It was fantastic, but very spicy! It was quite different from Jordanian food, which is barely spicy at all). This event created an opportunity for Sri Lankans to strengthen their community, to connect with others, to know that they are not alone. When I had interacted with domestic workers in the past, I had just seen them in the capacity of their work - I had seen them clearing dishes, tending to children - seeing them laughing, smiling, and celebrating their culture was both wonderful and humanizing. The idea that the loving people I saw at the Sri Lankan cultural event were being treated as objects by their employers, the police, and members of the government, broke my heart - the idea that these Sri Lankans were only a few of the objectified Phillipinos, Indonesians, Egyptians, Syrians, and other nationalities that travel to Amman to work breaks my heart even more.

By trying to empower migrant workers, Tamkeen sheds a very interesting light on the changing nature of legitimacy within modern political systems. A government's legitimacy is not only dependent on the trust of the individuals over which it governs, but also on the trust of foreigners who reside within the country's borders. This trust between the government and foreigners is becoming increasingly important in our globalizing world, a world in which all citizens and government are becoming closer and more interconnected. This global integration demands that all people receive basic human rights even within countries that are not their own, especially as migration between countries becomes easier and easier. Because of Jordan's strategic placement in the region, it is a magnet for not only migrant workers, but for refugees as well. Jordan has always had difficulties handling large influxes of people moving across and residing within its borders. The country has made leaps and bounds in addressing these issues through comprehensive legislation as well as through signing onto many set international human rights standards, but the actual implementation of this legislation in society is greatly lacking.

If anything, these past two days have inflamed by desire to help these marginalized groups of people. These past two days have shown me the great importance of making sure that everyone not only understands the basic rights they have, but also knows how to use them to protect themselves and improve their lives. It is also so important for civil society organizations to help build the infrastructure within society that supports and empowers these marginalized groups. I look forward to helping Tamkeen spread awareness about the rights of domestic workers, as well as help domestic workers exercise their basic human rights.

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