Resistance and Collective Action
Using the lens of spatial discipline, Pande reveals how MDWs are disciplined by spatial structures – from delineation of appropriate spaces in the employer’s house to racist restriction and surveillance in public spaces. However, she contends that MDWs do not accept this passively and are able to reclaim these very spaces for resistance and freedom. Pande highlights how balconies have become a space of resistance for restricted live-in MDWs, where they are able to escape their employer’s surveillance and also forge alliances with other nearby MDWs. For those with less restrictive employers, their time off on Sunday to attend church services becomes a way to reclaim their freedom. These ‘ethnic’ churches become spaces of refuge, compassion, sanctuary and most importantly foster a community of MDWs where collective action can be facilitated.
In these churches, MDWs can learn about their rights and seek advice on their grievances and ways of negotiating with their employers. In the absence of recognised trade unions, churches transform into a powerful network for MDWs that provide sanctuary to MDWs escaping abuse through providing a multitude of resources. Some MDWs are sometimes able to run away from their employers and operate as irregular freelancers. The MDWs usually live in shared rented apartments that, like church networks, can serve as an avenue to meet other MDWs, organise material and legal support for each other and as refuge spaces from abusive employers. Crucially, these communal spaces are a site of politicisation for MDWs, ultimately providing grounds for the emergence of new political subjects/activists organising to change their position.
Activist MDWs go on to engage in advocacy work across ethnic communities and collaborate with NGOs to demand changes in national and international laws. For example, as a result of community organizing by MDWs, a group of activists were able to establish the first Domestic workers Union in 2015. Despite Lebanon’s refusal of its recognition, this was a symbolic illustration of how individual and communal acts of resistance can be transformed into powerful political actions for those whose human rights are denied. Similarly, when a group of Kenyan Migrant domestic workers organized a protest outside the Kenyan consulate in Beirut following the devastating explosion and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a powerful illustration of the power of collective action. Their voices were heard and consequently the conversation around the plight of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon was resparked.