Kuwaiti Instagram beauty blogger Sondos Alqattan has come under intense fire since she posted an inflammatory video for her 2.3 million followers to see.
In it, she complains about a new agreement between Kuwait and the Philippines to give Filipino migrant domestic workers basic labor protections, including the right to keep their passport and a day off each week.
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“How can you have a servant in your house who gets to keep their passport with them? If they ran away and went back to their country, who’ll refund me? I disagree with the law. And what’s worse is they even have a day off every week!” said Alqattan.
In the backlash, major international beauty companies — Anastasia Beverly Hills, Chelsea Beautique, MAC, Max Factor Arabia, and a number of other Western brands – distanced themselves from Alqattan, essentially terminating her role as a brand ambassador.
Filipino migrant workers and activists have also strongly condemned Alqattan’s comments, but the social media star continues to stand her ground.
Mint Press News reports that Alqattan now sees herself as the victim:
MIGRANTE International, a Philippines-based advocacy organization with chapters across the Filipino diaspora, quickly condemned the social media star’s derogatory rant and denounced her “slave-owner” style and what they described as a clear “intoxication in her overinflated ego and false sense of superiority.”
Along with fellow Filipina group the Association of Domestic Helpers in the Middle East – known by its Tagalog acronym SANDIGAN – MIGRANTE called on her to apologize and invited her to visit the Philippines so she could see first-hand “the appalling poverty that grips many Filipino families and find out what hardships OFWs [Overseas Filipino Workers] had to go through in government agencies before they can finally be deployed abroad.” Failing that, the group demanded that she be “blacklisted” and permanently barred from hiring domestic workers.
Yet Alqattan was unmoved. Rather that attempting to defuse the outrage, she tried to deflect it by casting the backlash as Islamophobic hysteria. “After seeing all this, I felt there’s an attack on Islam, saying ‘look, she is wearing the hijab, look at the Muslims, of course [it’s] the Kuwaitis in particular, and similarly the people of the Gulf region, look at the Arabs,’” she reasoned. Her logic was especially bizarre considering the Muslim plurality among migrant workers in Kuwait and across the Gulf, where Muslims comprise about 70 percent of the migrant population, according to Pew Research Center.
MIGRANTE International spokesman Arman Hernando added that Alqattan’s attitude reflects a pervasive Gulf culture of entitlement and treatment of migrant workers as property.
“The video of Sondos Alqattan is an attestation of the miserable state of the domestic workers not only in Kuwait, but all over the Middle East and the whole world,” he explained.
Under the kafala system in many Gulf countries, migrant workers are unable to change employers or leave the country without express permission from their current employer, making it nearly impossible for exploited domestic workers to escape an abusive employer.
Filipino domestic workers number around 250,000 in Kuwait, but the country is home to about 600,000 migrant domestic workers, most from Asia and Africa.