The Breadwinner

The Breadwinner shares true untold stories of impoverished Sri Lankan women who have been exploited. This unique book includes the experiences gathered of over 200 struggling women, through focus groups, surveys and in-depth interviews. Women showcased in this book had either spent years working as housemaids in the Middle East or were preparing to leave their families for such employment

Some housemaids employed in the Middle East have returned home with no complaints. But for the women who were subjected to abysmal, inhumane working conditions, sexual violence and human rights abuses, their experience represents an ever-continuing personal nightmare for every one of these women. Their grievances were never heard, and they never received any kind of justice. The mistreatment of female migrant workers happens both in the workplace and in the prisons, as the housemaid industry in the Middle East is not regulated and domestic workers are not protected under labor law or any other laws.

Most of these migrant mothers are uneducated, unskilled and have never worked a day in their life as a housemaid. They don’t know a word of the language they will be speaking in the new country of employment. They have never saved money or know anything about managing their finances. They are mostly warm, caring and knee-deep in financial debt. They have simple but real aspirations for their children, ones that were never theirs; like good education, a successful future, not having debts, a happy marriage and a nice roof over their head. However, when the financially-strapped, Sri Lankan mother leaves the family for sometimes just two years, there is a huge negative impact on the family, as children live without their mothers. When she returns things are much worse than when she left. Often, she re-migrates, this time to escape her family issues.

As a voice for these abused, migrant women, I am providing a window into the lives of the Sri Lankan women; whose elected politicians chose to increase the economy of the country by selling her poverty-stricken mothers to work in the Middle East as housemaids. The stories in this book illustrate why so many migrant workers, return to Sri Lanka deeply hurt and traumatized by the unscrupulous behavior of private employers, employment agents, the Middle Eastern authorities and Sharia court judges. They carry on without respect for basic human rights law or the inherent dignity of women, especially housemaids, irrespective of race or religion.

Some women interviewed were still traumatized from rape and sexual abuse they received at the hands of their male employers, and could not share their stories with me, without breaking down with deep hurt, trauma, anger and tears. The criminal justice system in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, is so flawed when it comes to justice for non-residents, especially migrant housemaids. Some were executed following unfair Sharia trials that lacked any form of transparency. Their still-grieving families have had a tough time with closure due to the lack of information provided to them. Secondary trauma infests most of these families. If these unskilled, uneducated women returned intact, they often carried with them painful memories of harassment and abuse including tales of abortion, forced prostitution, trafficking, torture, rape, arrests, deportation and murder