Prudence Nandawula before MPs. Photo by Kennedy Oryema
KAMPALA - A section of Ugandan women who served as domestic workers in the Middle East have narrated their harrowing experiences before Parliament's committee on foreign affairs.
Patience Namara was promised a monthly pay cheque of US $300 (about sh1m) for her services as a housemaid in Kuwait. But after a month, she said she was paid half the earlier agreed amount.
The conditions under which she worked did not make things any better.
"I was made to sleep on the balcony and forced to work on a hungry stomach. The children could punish me whenever and in whichever way they felt like.
"The man of the house, the teenage boys, the shamba [garden] boy and the driver all wanted to have sex with me," narrated Namara.
But what finally forced her to look for a way of escaping was when her employer's wife asked her to remove a blood-filled sanitary pad from her [wife's] knicker and dress it with a new pad.
"When I told my sponsors that I wanted to go back home, they told me to refund their sh4m that was paid to get me," she told MPs.
She used her off-day and went to church to pray. There, she met an Eritrean who accepted to give her the money such that she could buy her freedom. She did and was later released – but reluctantly.
But before she could savour her newly acquired freedom, Namara was arrested and detained over tramped up charges of theft of gold. She spent three weeks in detention and was later released.
'I was excited to board a plane'
Prudence Nandawula, a university graduate with a degree in education, was told she was going to work as a teacher but ended up in a dungeon in Kuwait where she was later sold to a family to work as a maid.
"At first I was excited to board a plane to the Middle East. I thought it was a bed of roses, a heaven on earth, but before applying for that visa to work in the Middle East countries, think twice: not all that glitters is gold," she cautioned.
Nandawula said she was made to work from 5am to 2am without resting yet she was denied food. She said was physically and psychologically tortured on a daily basis and paid only sh500, 000 at the end of the month.
Although they did the same job with her Philippine counterparts there, Nandawula said the latter earned sh2m monthly because of the policies and mechanisms their government had put in place to safeguard them against exploitation.
"Unlike the Philippines government which has laws that protect their people serving as house maids in Kuwait, the Ugandan government has none to protect its people," she said.
Ugandan women who try to fight the injustice either end up killed, going into prostitution or going to prisons on forged charges, she added.
According to Nandawula, even when Okello Oryema, the state minister for foreign affairs and the Ugandan ambassador visited them, they only bought them foodstuffs and listened to their grievances but never took a step to find solutions.
They were appearing before the foreign affairs committee of parliament.
In 2005, Uganda initiated the externalization of labour through the Employment (Recruitment of Ugandan Migrant Workers abroad) Regulation, 2005.
After receiving several harrowing tales of Ugandan women working abroad, government on January 22, 2016, banned domestic labor export to the Middle East countries. However, it was lifted on March 10, 2017 and became effective on April 1.
'They need to focus'
Ali Bashir Nsubuga, the president general of the Association of Ugandans in the Asia, said that these women are to blame for what befell them because when they get to the Middle East, they forget what took them there and instead start seducing men.
"Girls have weaknesses; they go there and try to seduce the men instead of focusing on work. They need to focus and understand the laws of the country," he said.
Nsubuga said that government needs to have embassies in those countries where Ugandans can run to for help.
He denied allegations that Ugandan men and women have been sodomised, saying that it cannot happen without their consent.