Exploring the links between youth, culture and labour rights in the Arab States


Eliza Marks, Technical Officer, ILO Regional Fair Migration Project in the Middle East (FAIRWAY), ILO, Beirut │ marks@ilo.org

When working to address the exploitation of migrant workers in the Arab States region, our constituents consistently tell us the issue is with the law and its implementation, but also with "the culture and people's mind-sets".


Addressing public mind-sets and behaviours is particularly salient when working to address the exploitation of migrant domestic workers. Research has demonstrated how the experiences of domestic workers are shaped by a complex intersection between race, class, and gender. Further complicating the issue is the fact that regulations pertaining to domestic workers rights are to be implemented in private households by individuals and families who do not see their role as employers in the traditional sense, or recognize their home as a workplace. Therefore, these employers often do not consider typical issues of overtime wages, occupational safety and health, or freedom of association.


When formulating a project response – within the context of the SDC-funded ILO Regional Fair Migration Project in the Middle East (FAIRWAY) – we turned to our attention to the youth of the region.

We theorized that youth were more amenable to attitude change, are able to influence the behaviour of their families and communities, and would one day go on to become employers of domestic workers themselves. We saw youth as an untapped source of innovative, contextualized responses to the issue of exploitation of migrant domestic workers.


In early 2018, FAIRWAY worked to establish volunteer Youth Networks under the framework of the global My Fair Home campaign. My Fair Home is an initiative of the ILO and the International Domestic Workers Federation which calls on employers of domestic workers to pledge to commit to the principles of the ILO Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189) in their own home.


We worked with local civil society organizations to mobilize and train the Youth Networks – comprised of university students and recent graduates from different areas of Lebanon and Jordan. The group members exceeded our expectations in their enthusiasm, commitment and innovative approach to campaigning and advocacy.


Throughout 2018, the Youth Networks adopted a strategy of peer-to-peer campaigning with the goal of stimulating a generational shift in treatment of migrant domestic workers. To achieve this, the networks focused on hosting public outreach events at universities and on developing creative social media videos – including a rap video, student pledge videos, a social experiment video; and videos with Jordanian and Lebanese celebrities.


In devising the campaign strategy and messages, the Youth Networks emphasised the importance of tapping into specific elements of their national culture to find creative channels for behaviour change. For example, some of the initiatives pursued included shaping activities around Ramadan, drawing on Islamic edicts and their relationship to respect for workers' rights and principles of equality and generosity.


The Youth Networks continue to develop their ideas and strategy, and have expressed their desire to start working with an even younger generation – highlighting the potential to work with students at the primary school level.


In our work with the media – training and supporting journalists to report on labour migration in a rights-based and ethical manner – we saw journalists tap into aspects of 'migration and culture' too. Journalists sought to bring a diversity of stories to the media landscape, including those that seek to highlight migrants' home cultures and promote the values and benefits of multiculturalism. For example in Dubai, a journalist produced a series called "My Ramadan Routine" – interviewing migrants from many different countries and cultures about what Ramadan means to them and their unique way of celebrating it.


The Youth Network initiative has however not been without its challenges. For example in the second phase of the project we are exploring how to overcome issues of sustainability and leadership structures within a volunteer network; and ensuring that we have the ability to expand and remain flexible, while adhering to the scheduling constraints associated with working with university and school students.


Ultimately, this experience points to the need for more research into behaviour interventions and more pilot testing of initiatives which can draw on localised solutions to this global and regional issue.

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