Special offer

Le Monde Diplomatique on maids in Lebanon: “Special offer. A good Sri Lankan for $1,111 instead of two thousand.” What is this cut-price offer for February, Lebanon’s month of sales? Does it refer to men, women, animals or objects?
The advertisement, which appears in Lebanon’s most public places, has certainly shocked some people. The major Arabic daily
An Nahar (1) ran an article called “The Sri Lankans, our Domestic Animals” on the subject of domestic servants in Lebanon. (…) Many families, even those with modest incomes (teachers, tradesmen, etc.), have “their” Sri Lankan. It is considered good form to have a servant at home. Some of them have relative freedom and some degree of respect from their employers. But the majority of the 170,000 female Sri Lankans (2) who are currently working in Lebanon are shamefully exploited. What is almost starting to look like a real slave trade began in the early 1980s when, faced with the civil war, Lebanese families had more or less stopped employing Syrians, Palestinians and Egyptians, as they had done before. But, instead of drying up with the end of the troubles, the phenomenon carried on into the 1990s. In 1989 there were 2,818 Sri Lankans registered for work; in 1994 the number had leapt to 13,274.’

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