Thursday, March 17, 2011

Looking Hard at Maids – Are They Slaves?

This story is harrowing but not out of this world. Domestic servants (or maids, in Ghana) have been with us since time immemorial. African children have always been taken to live and work with their aunts and uncles and parents’ friends. After independence and the rise of the African elite, maids in rural Ghana would go and live with stranger-families in the cities without pay with the expectation that she would grow up into an Awuraba (or Gentlewoman). It is now difficult to find a girl who would travel to the city to live with and work for a family without pay, work from dawn until midnight or not insist on days off. I once got into an impassioned argument with a Ghanaian boy whose girlfriend was a temporary student girl from America. I barracked him because I thought he was selling out for calling it modern-day slavery. Now, I am ready to change my position.


  1. I will be the first person to call what the UK doctor did a form of slavery. And this same thing happens in many of our households in Ghana. But to paint it black and white is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just as there are many who treat their helps abominably, there are many who treat their helps wonderfully, and a whole host in-between. I will most definitely not call that slavery. In addition, I find that since many helps live in-house, it seems their work is round-the-clock, but it is not always the case. I could list a whole list of other reasons why it would seem helps work for a lot without enough remuinerations (and i could also list a whole bunch of other reasons why they do work as slaves).... I'm going to stop here because I could go on and on and on...

    but yes, it is most def not black and white.
    (As for Americans don't get me started on THEIR modern day slavery - waiters and waitresses anyone?) Mtchew.

  2. I don't support the idea of helps. Are they paid the minimum wage? Do they have insurance? These are what we are talking about. If you take a girl/boy into your home and give him food and she/he works all-day and give him paltry amount at the end of the month, what is that called? Most of us work 8-hrs a day and still cry for more money to be paid to us. Besides, under what conditions are these helps kept?

  3. @nana - minimum wage in Ghana is what - 3 cedis a day? no. for most people, it is not enough to keep a roof over our head, clothes on your back, eat a meal, or buy "insurance."

  4. I've always felt very uncomfortable with the whole 'maid' thing no matter which country. Or 'servant'. Growing up so egalitarian, I think it's nonsense to hire someone do to things you can do yourself. I think rich people ought to get up off their butt and wash their own dishes. What I can understand is that if someone is very busy, they HIRE someone to help around certain times, that's perfectly fine. As for the situation in Ghana/Naija or similar countries, of course there are some families/bosses who treat their workers fine, but others treat the as slaves. For instance among the igbos in the east theres a tradition for apprenticeship for young boys, they live with their boss for years, learn the craft, then get 'freed' and although this can be helpful for poor families etc it's also a lot of times just pure slavery and abuse. I don't main feeling is that I just don't feel comfortable with having a maid, it reminds me of the US during slavery and after, how every maid and nanny was a black woman...

  5. The maid situation in my opinion is not a problem, let us not underestimate the power of putting a roof over one's head and giving them food kto eat. When the West come to find and display poverty they come to find those without a roof over their head or food to eat, young girls raped and on the street, some young mother's children looking after children. You know when we sit there thinking about equality and all the negatives, let us also realise the positives and the fact that this is also part of our culture. For me, having house helps isn't about rich people having maids cos they can't be bothered to do things themselves... even some considered not rich have house helps.. the maid system in my opinion is a display of our culture's respect for looking after people. A mutual relationship. That some people abuse this doesn't make the system wrong, it makes the abusers wrong. The majority have really saved lives. I would only say that henceforth, one must registered someone if they are to be living with them in that capacity... and a system should be set up to protect the maids whereby they get representation against an over touchy 'uncle' or aggressive 'aunty'.


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