Felistine Nyirasafari, 22 cannot fight back the tears as she narrates her painful past. She is a victim of rape, a misfortune that befell her as she attended to her daily chores as a domestic worker. This left her emotionally scarred and physically unwell for out of this violation, she contracted HIV.
“It was early in the morning when people have left for work. I was busy with the breakfast utensils as my co-worker mopped the floor. ‘He’ sneaked up on us and locked the door. We screamed but no one came to our rescue,”
The rapist, she only remembers as, Mapenzi, was arrested but while awaiting prosecution, he died. Her story was told at a workshop in Rwesamenyo in Nyarugenge district held by PREFED and HAGURUKA intended to present a 24 months programme to counter the increasing abuse inflicted on domestic workers.
The workshop was convened for society leaders to inform them of the domestic workers’ plight and the concerted effort towards the pending sensitisation and training by the organisation.
PREFED and HAGURUKA are non governmental organisations engaged in supporting the welfare of vulnerable people. The operations are funded in partnership with the European Union (EU).
Rwanda recently joined the rest of the world in celebrating the International Labour day. These celebrations were marked countrywide as workers advocated for respect of their rights at their work places.
Unfortunately, many workers, especially domestic and those in the informal sector are ignorant of their rights. Many of these are women and children. According to Uhorakeyeye Emma a woman’s representative in Rwesamenyo women were more adversely affected than men.
“I receive complaints of abuse almost everyday from a domestic worker. It is usually women who bring these complaints.”
Dismas Kaboyi Director of PREFED Rwanda, reveals that child labour is still high making children, who are already vulnerable, exposed to abuse.
‘A large percentage of domestic workers come from upcountry from impoverished conditions and move to urban areas in search of a better life.’
Upon arrival in towns and their suburbs, they are taken in and mistreated by the employers who sometimes batter them and even fire them without pay.
Unfortunately, many domestic workers do not know their rights or that they have any. For this reason, a countrywide programme to educate domestic workers on their rights will be carried out.
The media has also been identified as an important source of information and will be used to sensitise the public in general and domestic workers in particular on these rights.
A document released by organisers of the workshop reads in part, “We shall hold a discussion on radio for those two years and the main topics will be on the domestic workers rights, listening to the testimonies of those that have been abused, we shall write books on their rights and responsibilities distribute.”
While commenting on people’s attitude towards the situation, Kaboyi says “we found that the abuse of domestic workers is viewed as a minor issue. We will be in position to listen to the domestic workers. We also hope to develop respect between the domestic workers and employers.” This situation is somewhat ironic as Uhorakeyeye expounds.
“A domestic worker cooks and cleans for you (the employer) and then you come and abuse them, yet eat food prepared by them. Then they remain behind and take care of their employer’s children.”
Unfortunately the exact statistics of domestic workers being abused by their employers cannot be established. However statistics from the police gender desk reveal that domestic workers also commit abuses against their employers.
According to these statistics, of the 145 rape cases reported last year, 12 of them were committed by domestic workers.
Vivian, Umulisa, Assitant Inspector of police for Rwesamenyo elaborates that other abuses committed by the domestic workers constitute, “stealing, beating infants, dumping children and kidnap.”
Umulisa added that workers should be treated humanely but that they should also be taught how to behave instead of only teaching them how to deal with abuses by their employers.