‘Modern day slavery’? : the Kafala system in Lebanon, from its beginnings to present day. Feminist perspectives

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Barra, Stephanie : de la
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In Lebanon domestic work is organized through the so-called Kafala System. A system based on sponsorship, where one party (Kafil) provides legal assurance on behalf on another (Makful). Within this relation migrant labor power is bound to a sponsor, who is legally liable for the employee. Hence, Kafala creates a work relation based on dependency, which facilitates abusive behavior by the employer. Non-governmental organizations and media often refer to Kafala as ‘modern day slavery’. In Lebanon this practice overwhelmingly concerns women from Southeast Asian and African descent, often facing multi-layered discriminations and abuses based on their sex, race, and class. In Lebanon Kafala is a genuinely female topic. This research examines the history of the Kafala System in Lebanon from its beginnings to present day, focusing on feminist perspectives. Three phases are identified and presented: First, the history and emergence of the Kafala System, second, the involvement of civil society and NGOs advocating for women migrant domestic worker’s rights, and third, the impacts of the three major crises on Kafala are shown, the economic meltdown, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Beirut Blast. This study explores how a system of structural inequality is established, permitting discrimination and abusive behavior, the role of an active civil society is addressed, as well as detecting momenta of alteration through crises, discussing possible future change.
Second semester University: Ca' Foscari University of Venice
slavery, Lebanon, migrant workers, women, feminism, domestic workers