Guinea-Bissau’s Domestic Workers Seek Protection

By Nellie Peyton

Arminda Sa was working 15-hour days for half the pay she had been promised when her boss’ brother tried to rape her.

Like most domestic workers in the small West African country of Guinea-Bissau, she had no contract, and after refusing him she lost the job. It was a situation familiar to most of the women she knew, she said.

“In Guinea-Bissau it’s like that. If you want to work you have to give in,” said Sa, a 39-year-old single mother, sitting outside her home in the outskirts of the rundown capital Bissau.

“Most of my friends have submitted (to rape)… because they needed work,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Guinea-Bissau, one of Africa’s poorest states, excludes domestic workers from its national labour law, giving them little protection against exploitation and abuse, activists say.


But a handful of lawyers, policemen and volunteers are pushing to secure their rights – a tough task with the government crippled by political crisis and abuse of housekeepers a social norm.

The ministry of public service and labour declined a request for comment.

Survey data shows nine in 10 domestic workers in Guinea-Bissau are victims of sexual abuse, with other forms of violence common. In a recent case that made local headlines, a 14-year-old girl’s employer doused her with boiling water.

“It’s the culture here,” said policeman Malam Cassama. “We want to turn the page, change the mentality,” he said, sitting in a shabby roadside bar where the National Association for the Protection of Domestic Workers holds its meetings.

Established five years ago by a local activist, the association has no funding or even a computer. But since it started campaigning some employers have begun to pay attention, said Cassama, who volunteers for the organisation.


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