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Ads implore Saudis to show mercy

Ads implore Saudis to show mercy

Six ads, one campaign: the ‘mercy’ PSA highlights a pressing issue faced in many Saudi households.

December 15, 2008 6:20 by

Since the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report titled “As If I Am Not Human” was published in July 2008, Saudi Arabia has had a dilemma concerning the abuse of domestic helpers: either it admits to a growing problem of abuse within Saudi homes, or it buries its head in the sand until the next report scathes the nation’s image again.

As the local government mulls over its next move, Saudi-based Fullstop advertising has released a number of public service announcements (PSA) about the issue. Three print ads and three television commercials address the hypocrisies of Saudi society, highlighting the importance of treating all workers with respect and dignity.

Kaswara Al Khatib, managing director of FullStop, said the PSAs is the first of a three phase campaign. “This campaign is sponsored by a man who doesn’t want to be named right now. He doesn’t want to associate himself with the negative ads only. He wants to wait until the second and third phases are out before he reveals himself,” explains Al Khatib.

Although the subject is openly discussed in the world media, it is considered a controversial issue in Saudi Arabia. But to Al Khatib, producing the PSAs was not a matter of controversy: “If I see something bad, then I talk about it. That’s what Islam teaches us to do. “

According to Al Khatib, the ads have received only a handful of negative responses from the Saudi public, although he admits that if he weren’t a Saudi national, the message would have been perceived as a criticism rather than an awareness campaign: “If someone else produced the ads, someone who isn’t Saudi, then people would worry that the person is trying to harm Saudi Arabia and its reputation.”

This may explain the response to the HRW report. “I’m sure there are abuses,” said Turki Al Sudairy, president of the government-appointed Human Rights Commission in a phone interview. “But a neutral person would think that all Saudis are doing this…We want a fair judgment…They [Human Rights Watch] never thought that there are cases where the girls are hurting their employers.”

The report claims that workers are beaten, raped, confined to the home, denied their wages, murdered, and verbally and psychologically abused. According to HRW, the kingdom’s judiciary system has yet to tackle abuse of domestic violence, and expose abused workers to further victimization:

“In May 2008, a Riyadh court dropped charges against a Saudi employer who abused Nour Miyati, an Indonesian domestic worker, ignoring both the employer’s confession and compelling physical evidence. Nour Miyati suffered daily beatings and was abused so badly that her toes and fingers were amputated after developing gangrene. During the three years of legal proceedings, she remained stuck in an overcrowded embassy shelter unable to work or return to her family in Indonesia. At one point, she also was sentenced 79 lashes for changing her testimony, though the sentence was later reversed.”

According to the CIA World Factbook, out of the 28.1 million inhabitants of Saudi Arabia, 5.6 million are expatriates. The HRW report refers to the 1.5 million domestic staff in the kingdom.

The PSAs, dubbed the Mercy Ads, appeal to the Saudi pubic to treat domestic helpers with understanding, kindness and respect. It’s a message long overdue.

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  1. Ghazanfar Hyderi on December 16, 2008 4:26 am

    A brilliant and well-needed effort. But the problem is very deep and sadly there are many employees of the government who enforce such racist attitude within the Saudi society. I was myself a victim of severe verbal abuse by a Saudi who claimed to be part of the Saudi Intelligence apparatus, why did he do it, because he wanted to avoid paying damages to all the drivers who were in front of his car. The chain reaction was caused by him due to his overspeeding and he blamed me and my friend for putting the brakes. He explicitly said to me “You f***ing foreigner, you have no rights.” When our case was taken to the police, he insisted that I be thrown into jail for verbally abusing him (which wasn’t the case since he was the one who started it) and then he allegated against me that I disreputed the Kingdom which is why he was treating me in a harsh manner. Had not been for a very nice Saudi friend of mine (with good links, ofcourse). I would had been in the slammer.

  2. Diana on December 16, 2008 5:33 am

    I’m glad this article appears.

    As an Indonesian, I’m sad to see how many Indonesian domestic helper became victim of abusive employer. The term abusive may not be sufficient to picture the brutality toward them, since many of the victim had been deformed, literally, for suffering so many tortures. Many of them facing the death sentence for self-defense attempt from being raped by their employer or the family.

    I hope the the Saudi government protect the foreign worker that work there, no matter what is their job: in the management level or a humble servant.

    (Tessa, thank you for your comment)

  3. Jayan Nair on December 16, 2008 10:57 am

    Though Islam is supposed to treat all humans equally, why is this happening in the home of Islam? What failed? Racism reeks in the streets of Arab world. Why is white Westerners never sentenced to death in Saudi, where are Asians and Africans are killed off for even relatively minor crimes. I dont have anything against the Whites, who are in general non-racist. But it irks me to see open racism followed by the Governments in the region, though most Arabs are non-racist.


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