Unjust prejudices have affected thousands of domestic workers who travel to the region to work in people's homes. They are exposed to racist attitudes from the moment they land in our airports and don't end once they end up in their place of work.
Speaking to StepFeed, five domestic workers based in the region recounted the worst racist incidents they've encountered and their stories are as harrowing as they are powerful.
"I was forced to wear a uniform the moment I arrived at my madam's house"
In a statement to StepFeed, Kibret, an Ethiopian domestic worker who has been based in Lebanon since 2017, spoke of the racism she deals with on a daily basis.
"I was forced to wear a uniform the moment I arrived at my madam's house. I wear it everyday and I am only allowed to take it off when I sleep. It's like someone constantly telling me I am inferior to them, not like them. I've got to wear this all day because I am their slave. I asked madam if I can wear regular clothes while working and she said all maids have to wear uniforms. It's so frustrating. I could do all the household chores wearing leggings and a t-shirt. Maybe they think I don’t know what those are," she added.
"I am not allowed to leave the house alone except if it's to pick up something from a close grocery store. My passport is with my employers. They told me they will keep it with them because they don't trust 'my kind of people,' in other words they don't trust maids," she added.
When asked what she'd want to tell those who continue to be racist towards domestic helpers, Kibret said:
"I want them to realize that we're human. Sometimes I feel they've forgotten that and they treat us like we don't have feelings. We work in this profession because we can't find a job back home but that doesn't mean we're OK with being mistreated."
"They stop to have lunch at a restaurant, they leave me in the car"
Speaking to StepFeed, Kuwait-based Indian domestic worker, Rita, spoke out about the racism she encounters working for an Arab family.
"My madam and sir treat me well at home, they're good to me and pay my salary. But they always make sure I know my place, they want me to always remember that I am just a maid. If I am with them during an outing and they stop to have lunch at a restaurant, they leave me in the car. They bring me something back with them when they're done, but they never let me sit with them. It makes me so sad, but I don't say anything because they're better than the families my friends work for," she said.
During our interview, the 35-year-old mother of two spoke of the one upsetting incident she'll never forget.
"Madam took me to her daughter's engagement dinner and I was so happy to be there. When we got to the dinner hall, she sat me alone on a table for four. It was in a far corner so I could barely see anything. I was served food and everything but I felt so isolated and alone. I felt less of a human. I wish she'd have left me home, it would've been so much better. That was even worse than staying in the car," she added.
"People tell me I am lucky because my employers don't beat me or mistreat me. But doesn't all the humiliation I am subjected to every single day count as mistreatment? Isn't it a form of abuse? It is," she explained.
"Madam told me to use a separate sink for my dishes from day one"
Ethiopian domestic worker, Kamali, has been working for a Lebanese family for a year. Speaking to StepFeed, she told us about the most racist things she has experienced so far.
"Madam told me to use a separate sink for my dishes from day one, my plate and utensils aren't allowed to mix with the ones they use. They find me disgusting, they think I am filthy even though I am just like them," she said.
When asked what she'd tell her employers if she ever got the chance to confront them, the 26-year-old explained:
"The family I work for think they treat me so well, they tell everyone how good they are to me. They give me food and a mattress to sleep on, they give me their old clothes. If that's what good treatment is to them, then they're good. But if I ever get the chance to stand up to them, I'll tell them that good treatment includes letting me sit with them on a restaurant table when we go out. It means asking me what I'd like to eat instead of ordering the cheapest thing on the menu for me because I am a maid. It means asking me for once, how I am feeling. It means seeing me as a human being. That's what I'd tell them."
"I once heard madam tell someone she taught me how to bathe"
Ezter, a 21-year-old Ethiopian domestic worker who works with a family in the UAE, has had to deal with her share of racists during her two years in the region.
"Madam and sir always make fun of me in front of their friends. When I am serving food or coffee, they tell people they had to teach me everything and explain how I'd never seen a plate before I came to their house, even though that's not true. I just smile and pretend it's all a joke. I once heard madam tell someone she taught me how to bathe and use the toilet. She said I didn't know what soap was. They just feel like it makes them look better to put me down and say they taught me everything," she said.
When asked to share the worst experience she had, the young worker said:
"To me the worst incident happened when I needed to get a hair cut. I asked madam if I could go to a salon. She laughed in my face and told me no hairdresser would accept to wash or touch my hair. She then asked me to cut my own hair if I wanted to. At that moment, I felt like I just wanted to go back home. If I didn't have to work, I would've left so long ago," she added.
"The entire system we're governed by is racist"
Speaking to StepFeed, Analyn, a Filipino domestic worker based in Saudi Arabia, also spoke out about dealing with racist employers.
"From the moment I arrived here I've been made to feel like I am inferior. One time, a relative of the family I work for was visiting them and saw me reading a book in the kitchen. She was so shocked and made fun of that for an hour. She couldn't understand how a domestic worker was reading a book. I am a literature graduate but I couldn't find work back home. My family was in dire need of financial support so I resorted to working in the Gulf," she said.
When asked what she'd tell her employers if she had the chance, Analyn said:
"I'd want them to know that if I didn't desperately need this job I wouldn't have accepted their disregard of my basic human rights and dignity. I don't say anything because I need to work not because I fear or respect them. If anything, I pity them."
"I'd also want the world to know that the system our employers hire us through is racist. The entire system we're governed by is racist. So it's not a surprise that they feel so superior and entitled. If anything is to change, we need to end the kafala system and refuse to work under it," she added.
Migrant workers in the Arab world live under the unjust kafala system
The kafala system exists in different forms in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon.
According to Human Rights Watch, it's a "system that gives sponsoring employers substantial control over workers and leaves workers vulnerable to situations of trafficking and forced labor."
The sponsorship system, which has been called "modern-day slavery" by rights groups, legally binds domestic workers to their employers, giving them very limited legal protection.
Under it, domestic workers across the region are left exposed to human rights violations. Rendered helpless and desperate to escape dire situations, many often try to escape or resort to suicide.
In recent months, there have been calls to abolish the kafala system in several Gulf countries. However, it continues to be implemented across the region and is yet to be reformed or completely abolished.