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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 Dana El Baltaji
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.