Maid in Hell Influences Legislative Change in Burundi

January 4, 2023

Still from
Maid in Hell
Rachel Sheary

2022 was a big year for ‘Maid in Hell’. 

A screening of the documentary by Burundian partner Centre for Development and Great Lakes has inspired the countries’ leaders to implement a new law, ensuring the safety and security of women who want to work in the Middle East as maids. 

‘Maid in Hell’ gives unprecedented access into a frightening and brutal form of modern slavery. Directed by Søren Klovborg, the film follows the story of Mary Kibwana, who is just one of the thousands of migrant women working as domestic helpers in Jordan with the hope of creating a better life for their families. Following an incident at her employer’s residence, Mary is flown back to her home in Kenya, where she arrives wheelchair-bound and with burns covering 70 percent of her body. Two months later, Mary dies as a result of her injuries. 

This documentary offers a glimpse into the commonplace reality of harassment, abuse, rape and 18-hour work days that migrant domestic workers face in the Middle East - many of whom are subjected to physical and verbal abuse at the hands of their employers, stripped of their rights and forced to hand over their passports.

These working conditions are legal under the Kafala system, a slavery-like practice that gives the employer total control over his or her employee. Kafala is active in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Lebanon. Millions of women travel from Burundi, the Phillippines, Uganda, Ghana, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nepal and Sudan to the middle east every year to work as maids, completely unaware of the dangers and ill treatment they may face when they arrive.

In 2022, Maid in Hell was viewed 1.8 million times on our YouTube channel in seven different languages - English, Swahili, Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. Among these were 90,000 viewers from countries that use the Kafala system and 187,000 viewers from maid-origin countries.

Spokesperson for CDE Monia Wakana commented on how influential the film has been in implementing positive change in Burundi:

''This film helped a lot. Leaders attended our screening and as a result there has been a decree that helps women who want to travel to work in the Middle East.''

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