High in the Hierarchy, Rich in Diversity

Asian Domestic Workers, Their Networks, and Employers' Preferences in Yemen

Author: Marina de Regt


The Republic of Yemen, situated on the southwestern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, is the least economically developed country in West Asia. While it is well known that migrant domestic workers are employed in neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, there is little awareness that most domestic work in Yemen is also done by migrant women. The majority of migrant domestic workers come from Somalia and Ethiopia, but women from Asian countries, such as the Philippines, Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka also fill this role. These Asian women are positioned at the top of Yemeni employers’ hierarchy of domestic workers: they have a high status, are employed by the upper classes, and receive the highest salaries. Ethiopian and Somali women have a lower status: they are employed by the middle and upper middle classes and receive lower salaries. Yet, women from Asian countries do not constitute a homogeneous category: important differences are evident among them and, as well, in the preferences of employers for particular categories of Asian women. This article analyzes some of these differences in respect to recruitment, employment, and living conditions, access to social support networks, and contacts with fellow countrywomen. The author argues that the shifting preferences of employers relate to the various recruitment and support networks available to Asian women. This article is based on anthropological fieldwork, interviews with fifteen Asian domestic workers, and interviews with employers in two cities in Yemen from 2003 to 2006.

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December 2008
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