This is Lebanon (TIL), a project of Domestic Workers Unite (DWU), is a project run by a coalition of former domestic workers and activists demanding the protection of migrant domestic workers, and an end to labour exploitation and abuse, with the aim to effectively end government-sanctioned, modern-day slavery in Lebanon. We aim to empower domestic workers, informing them of their rights and supporting their access to justice. Our work combines campaigning and advocating through national and international media to bring this issue to the forefront and raise awareness among both the host population and the affected communities. We also provide legal and medical referrals, as well as emergency protective support.
TIL’s mission has expanded from simply exposing abuses to one of campaign and advocacy. Without setting out to become such, TIL’s Facebook page is now the ‘hotline’ for abused domestic workers who have no one else to turn to. When the families of domestic workers write to the Facebook page to ask for help, we contact employers asking them to pay their worker and in cases of forced labor, ask them to send her home. This has resulted in many women receiving their salaries and being repatriated. One such case was Marcela who was owed $10,000.
TIL aims to raise international awareness about the kafala system, which is essentially modern-day slavery, by exposing the abuses and those who perpetrate them with impunity. Only in cases where the employers refuse to pay salaries or have committed abuses which amount to torture, sexual violence, slavery and slave-like conditions are they exposed on the Facebook page. Most cases are resolved peaceably and never make it onto our Facebook page or website.
The goal is to keep adding to the weight of evidence until the Lebanese government abolishes the Kafala system and reforms labour laws so that migrant domestic workers enjoy rights as workers and as people. From humble beginnings, TIL is now supported by a number of women who were formerly domestic workers in Lebanon with a combined experience of more than 96 years there. They speak the victims’ languages and are intimately acquainted with their problems. They are supported in their mission by numerous Lebanese volunteers both inside and outside Lebanon who help with rescues, translation and other on-the-ground support.
This Is Lebanon (TIL) was founded on Labor Day (1 May) 2017 by Dipendra Uprety and Priya Subedi, former migrant workers in Lebanon. Dipendra worked in Lebanon for 15 years and served as an honorary representative of the Nepali Consulate helping many abused domestic workers. In just a few years, he saw 42 domestic worker corpses shipped home; in only one instance was the murderer brought to justice – a non-Lebanese. In 2014, after many years of committed, voluntary activism, Dipendra and Priya immigrated to Canada determined to help domestic workers in Lebanon from a place of safety. The Facebook page was begun with the goal of exposing the exploitation and gross abuse of domestic workers and to give them a voice.
This is Lebanon is the first organisation to expose and name the abusers; it was thought that if the abusers were named and shamed, it would act as a deterrent to others. Our first post was the story of Joe Semaan, a Lebanese man who impersonated a policeman to sexually harass and rob domestic workers. There were multiple complaints against him but no legal action had been taken against him. That first post received 20,000 views and led to Joe being apprehended by the police. Our second story was about Halima Ubpah who had been kept in conditions that amount to slavery by Ibtissam Saade, a Lebanese politician and advocate for women’s rights, for 10 years. Due to pressure from the page, Halima was sent home and we followed her to make a documentary of her story. That video quickly spread online, and This Is Lebanon’s efforts to expose abuses were lauded by many. Interest grew in this small movement, our followers increased, and many volunteers signed up to become involved. In 2019, This is Lebanon became a registered non-profit organisation in Canada under the name Domestic Workers Unite.