A recent study has found that domestic workers often suffer abuse and sexual harassment at the hands of their bosses. The study also found that this form of abuse only got worse during the lockdown.

High concerns as over 250 000 domestic workers lose jobs due to lockdown:

The study, commissioned by Hlanganisa Institute of Development in Southern Africa and Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance, was conducted in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape. The study covers the period from July to August.

The study also found that domestic workers are often asked to perform sexual favours.

Executive Director at Hlanganisa Institute, Bongiwe Ndondo highlights some of the cases.

“The son of the employer asked her not to wear any knickers around the house as she’s cleaning and going about her duties and then ask for sexual favours from her. That domestic worker in particular had raised that young man. So this is a young man who was born when she was already working for that family. There were others where employers walked around their homes naked. Some of them walked into the rooms of domestic workers during their private time. In the one instance, the employer asked for sexual favours for extra pay and the domestic worker obliged. He then invited his friends over and asked if his friends could also get the same sexual favours.”

Reporting sexual harassment

The study found that domestic workers risk losing their jobs if they report sexual harassment.

Amongst others, it found that domestic workers, many of whom are undocumented migrants, have no recourse for reporting sexual harassment by their employers. It also found that some are forced to perform sexual favours in exchange for money.

Ndondo says there is simply no structure to report abuse.

“With domestic workers, the only people that they can actually turn to are the very employers that they serve and so when your only recourse channel is also the very same people who are perpetuating the violence, many domestic workers find themselves between a rock and a hard place because in most cases, reporting the abuse could actually result in losing their jobs. And we know how vulnerable the group is and how difficult it is to secure employment; especially for domestic workers where the great majority of them are actually undocumented migrants. Many of these domestic workers end up not reporting at all.”