Laboring Margins: Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon

Authors: Gabriella Nassif*,
Topics: Gender, Middle East
Keywords: social reproduction, reproductive labor, Lebano
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Today, more than 250,000 migrant domestic workers (MDWs) live and work in Lebanon, representing nearly 7% of the total population. Collectively, MDWs are non-Arabs representing more than five different nationalities, nearly 10 different spoken languages, and range in education status and age (Amnesty International, 2019). As part of the kafala, or visa sponsorship system, MDWs enter the country legally-bound to their visa sponsors that double as their employers; the system strips them of their right to retain any legal identificatory paperwork, such as their passports, and requires that they live with their sponsors. This situation, at first glance, reflects the general precarity experienced by MDWs globally, who, as members of the care economy, are often devalued, underpaid, and overworked. However, the complexities of Lebanon – the growing economic crisis; the political uprising that occurred in October 2019; and the sectarian sociopolitical system – make the empirical realities of MDWs an important case study for feminist theorists hoping to understand how, and why MDWs continue to be (re)produced as globally-recognizable gendered and racialized subjects (Parreñas, 2001; Raghuram, 2012).

This paper presents a “horizontal” reading of MDWs across different spaces in Lebanon as a way of highlighting their expansive contributions to the societal reproduction of Lebanon. This variegated labor puts pressure on the binary between productive and reproductive labor within social reproduction theory in a way that demands a reevaluation of what such a distinction elides in relation to complex post-colonial histories of gender, race, and labor in Lebanon.

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