Kuwait City: A Kuwaiti social media star remained unapologetic on Monday over comments she made against new laws aimed at improving conditions for Filipino domestic workers, despite a backlash on the internet.
Sondos Al Qattan faces criticism for a video posted on July 10 to Instagram, where she has 2.3 million followers, in which she attacked measures introduced in May that grant Filipinas working in the Gulf state one day off per week and prevent employers from keeping their passports.
Qattan, known for her internet make-up tutorials, told AFP by phone that the outcry was "unjustified" and did not require an apology.
"All I said was that the employer was entitled to keep the servant's passport, and that many Kuwaitis and Gulf nationals agree with me," said Qattan.
"I have the right as a kafil (sponsor) to keep my employee's passport, and I am responsible for paying a deposit of up to 1,500 dinars (around Dh17,998)," she said.
Qattan insisted the practises are not an "insult to the employee, and do not concern humanity or human rights because I did not deprive the employee of her salary or beat her".
"The servant lives in the house just like the owners, he eats the same food, sleeps, rests and goes out shopping... this is a natural right. He's not like a waiter who works fixed hours, so we give him a weekly leave," she added.
Qattan's comments in the now deleted clip sparked outrage on social media, with many Twitter and Instagram users calling on brands that work with the makeup artist to sever ties.
Migrante International, an advocacy outfit for Filipinos working overseas, called on Qattan to apologise and likened her comments to those of "a slave owner".
On May 11, Kuwait and Manila signed an agreement regulating domestic labour, following a diplomatic crisis that led to a ban on Filipino workers going to work in the Gulf country.
In February, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte imposed a partial ban on workers travelling to Kuwait after a Filipina maid was murdered and her body found in a freezer.
The crisis deepened after Kuwaiti authorities in April expelled Manila's ambassador over video footage of Philippine embassy staff helping workers escape employers accused of mistreatment.
Comment: Trial by social media
By Sara Al Shurafa, Web News Editor
In this age of social media, debate has turned into harassment and bullying. This is done most often by those who are ignorant of the issue or are intolerant.
They resort to name calling and labelling. It is trial and sentencing by social media without evidence.
Sondos Al Qattan in her video used the term Filipino maids. She was called racist instantly. And then the entire Gulf region was labelled as racist.
Racism is a word used lightly these days. Al Qattan used the word Filipino because the law governs Filipino maids and not any other nationality.
Calling them domestic help, maids, or nannies is not a crime. These are terms in English, but in Arabic there is one word, which is known as khadimah. When Al Qattan used the term khadimah, she meant domestic help. She did not mean slave or servant as people on social media said.
A khadimah or khadim translates to a person who provides a service, and to be more precise, a person who provides me a favour. It comes from the word khidmah.
Arabic has always been described as a beautiful and respectful language. Arabs at no point in history needed to change their terminology to sound politically correct. Slavery at no point in modern history was found in this region. Slavery was abolished with Islam. Arabs are famous for saying: “How do you enslave people, when they were born free.” Humans of all nationalities, race and colour were free in this part of the world.
According to Arab norms and traditions, those who live under my roof are my responsibility, not just financially but also physically and morally. Be it a maid, a driver, a cook or any person who is in my household.
They will be fed my food and from my table, taken care of when sick, married off under my expense when they want, their families when under distress I will take care of. And that’s why you find in our households helpers who have been with us for more than 20 and 30 years.
Once one understands the traditions and norms of this region one will understand the sponsorship system. The Gulf visa sponsorship system is a simple system to regulate the status of an expatriate. The system welcomes all nationalities of all sects and class, gives them legal status and safety to obtain any job they desire with a wage controlled by the government to ensure basic human rights are met.
Al Qattan was attacked personally for denying a person her rights, she was mauled for being racist. And soon the attack on social media labelled everyone from the Gulf as offenders of human rights and racist. This trial and sentencing on social media is barbaric because the insults become personal and most often, people are ignorant of the facts.
Al Qattan voiced her opinion. Understand what she said. Understand the laws of the land. Understand the traditions and norms of the land. Then perhaps, we all can guarantee human beings their rights.