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Atoke: Give Your Domestic Staff Condoms

Your domestic helps are having sex – whether with air conditioning or squeaky standing fans as ventilation; whether they’re doing it in the master bedroom, in the pool or in the shago behind the apartment… they’re having sex.

Atoke

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AtokeAt the beginning of every year, there is a common trend among upper and middle-class households in Nigeria: the house-girl goes for Christmas and does not return. This sudden change in the family dynamics causes an unexpected imbalance in how the household is run. The responsibility of getting the family operations running smoothly falls solely on Oga & Madam. In some cases, it’s really just the Madam that is running around packing school lunches, and getting the children ready for the day; but, we’re not going to get into the finer details of the balance of burden within Nigerian households. Stay focused, Atoke. This article is about the domestic staff and why they should have access to condoms and contraceptives in general.

Anyway, so usually, when these house-helps go away for the holidays, they never return. Sometimes, it’s because of unfair work policies or hazardous work environments. Other times, it’s because they’re seeking higher wages and trying to re-negotiate higher contracts with another employer. And many times, it is because they’ve gone to start a family. They’ve been married off, as young women from economically disadvantaged families usually are. Sometimes, the women ‘fall’ pregnant, and when they feel helpless and without options, they run away – or go back home. They go through the difficulty of pregnancy, alone, poor, disadvantaged, and with no prospect of a job to return to. The cycle of poverty continues.

The subject of the welfare of domestic staff is something that has been highlighted multiple times on BellaNaija. To a large extent, our readers and contributors have discussed the pros and cons of working with domestic staff in their homes. The good, the bad and the ugly – it’s all been laid bare on BN. However, addressing the sexual/reproductive health rights of domestic workers is not one that has been covered (to the best of my knowledge). And no, this isn’t about Oga Mike sleeping with Eliza the maid.

Upon bringing young girls (not the nine-year-olds that some child slavers traffic) from the recruitment agents or directly from the village, suburban women often carry out STD/HIV/ HepB/C tests on these young women. These tests are a condition to employment, and they’re generally carried out on maids/nannies, because, well … “I don’t want someone who will be taking care of my child to have hepatitis C.” Right or wrong, the sentiment is understandable (somewhat).

Alongside these medical checks for diseases are also pregnancy tests. Upper/middle class women ensure that they test their domestic staff for pregnancy – because they don’t want to hire pregnant house girls. Imagine if one company refused to hire you because you’re pregnant … the uproar would be out of this world. But, we do it to others. Privilege is a real thing.

Anyway, moving on swiftly: how can you help improve the efficiency of service of your domestic staff? How can you eliminate the risk of your house-girl running away after Christmas because she got pregnant? How do you ensure that your maid/nanny does not ‘fall’ pregnant and disrupt your regular family programming? How do you ensure that your driver is not impregnating all the women within his sex register?

Provide your domestic staff with sexual health education. Provide a wholesome welfare package for them that includes their sexual and reproductive healthcare.

Listen, your house-girl is having sex; heck, she’s probably shagging your driver, your gateman and or your husband (sex positivity), but only one person will most likely lose their job when they get caught: the house-girl. Because God forbid someone whose salary you’re paying, is having sex. Your gateman is having sex; your driver is working through his hoe-tation right now. So how about you provide them with condoms? Teach them how to use it (don’t assume everyone knows how to have safe sex); and have an open, candid conversation about the importance of practicing safe sex.

In addition, consider taking your domestic staff to the clinic for contraceptives. Now, before you roll your eyes at this, and gasp at what you think is an absurd suggestion, here’s where my mind is at: people will always have sex. Sex is enjoyable and pleasurable and it is not within the exclusive purview of people who earn a certain income. The enjoyment of sexual activities cuts across economic and social lines. Your domestic helps are having sex – whether with air conditioning or squeaky standing fans as ventilation; whether they’re doing it in the master bedroom, in the pool or in the shago behind the apartment … they’re having sex.

I believe that it is in the interest of all parties involved that sexual/reproductive health education is provided for domestic staff. They’re able to remain safe while having sex, and there’s no need for hiding or pretending like they’re not having sex. As long as they’re not having sex while they’re supposed to be watching 2-year-old Toluwanimi (even though some of you are having oral sex at your Zenith bank cubicles; remember, this is a no-judgement zone) ensure that your adult domestic staff are well equipped to handle their sexual and reproductive health affairs.

Finally, while we’re on the subject of being decent employers and all of that jazz, take time to speak to your female domestic staff about their menstrual health hygiene. Talk to them about how much access they have to sanitary pads/towels. If they need education on how to use pads, teach them. Don’t just buy a pack of Always and give them, assuming that they know how to use it. Sometimes, these women are coming from backgrounds where they only used washcloths. This is the reality of indigent women; please resist the urge to assume that they know or should know. Teach them how often they should change their underwear. Don’t just complain that your maid smells, and laugh at her with your friends during book club. That’s not nice. Take time to show them. The fact that someone came to your house at 28 does not mean that they’ve had the same exposure to menstrual health care, as you.

Provide condoms for your drivers and gatemen. If possible, find out where the primary health care centre in your neighbourhood is. Direct them to make regular checks at the clinics. You can even make it a fun activity; invite your friend who is a doctor to come to the house and talk about sexual, reproductive health rights with your staff. Someone taught you, pay it forward by teaching others. It is very easy to overlook these things, because of the shroud of secrecy that we have placed over sex. We act like it’s this big issue that nobody should talk about, when in reality … kini big deal? Two adults having consensual sex … kini big deal?

Remember, kindness is so important; please don’t violate their trust or privacy by talking about whatever they tell you. Also, don’t insist on being there when the doctor is talking to them. There’s an episode of Jenifa’s Diary that irks me to no end every time I think about it. Jenifa took her staff to the clinic to get HIV tests, and right there in the waiting room she asked them to disclose their results to her. In true, loud Jenifa fashion, she continued to violate their rights to privacy by screaming their test results at the loudest octave.

That episode was probably written to advocate for regular testing for HIV/AIDs, but the execution was piss poor.

Let us all do better.

Peace, love & cucumber slices.

You probably wanna read a fancy bio? But first things first! Atoke published a book titled, +234 - An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. It's available on Amazon. ;)  Also available at Roving Heights bookstore.Okay, let's go on to the bio: With a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Swansea University, Atoke hopes to be known as more than just a retired foodie and a FitFam adherent. She can be reached for speechwriting, copywriting, letter writing, script writing, ghost writing  and book reviews by email – [email protected]. She tweets with the handle @atoke_ | Check out her Instagram page @atoke_ and visit her website atoke.com for more information.

16 Comments

  1. Francis

    June 9, 2019 at 7:35 pm

    If person pikin is experimenting with the maid (within age of consent oh) at least they are protected against belle and STDs

  2. Jummy

    June 9, 2019 at 8:06 pm

    I vehemently disagree with most of the tone this article takes. First of all what do you mean by “Alongside these medical checks for diseases are also pregnancy tests. Upper/Middle class women ensure that they test their domestic staff for pregnancy – because they don’t want to hire pregnant house girls. Imagine if one company refused to hire you because you’re pregnant… the uproar would be out of this world. But, we do it to others. Privilege is a real thing.”

    What do mean by “privilege”? Is it privilege to prefer that the person who will be taking care of your kids is not pregnant because pregnancy comes with all the hormonal changes and complications that may come from a physically daunting job, which by the way child-caring is? Do you think all a nanny does is sit behind a computer all day and answer emails? Please miss me with the “privilege” talk abeg? You have evidently failed to take into cognizance the many nuances that surround child care, pregnancies, and domestic care in Nigeria.

    Second of all this article is INCREDIBLY naive. You automatically assume that teaching them sex education and giving them condoms will make them practice safe sex. LOL. All the sex education they’ve been providing to low-income households nko? What has that yielded? Aren’t they still having kids by the dozen? Also, the same way it has worked for America abi? The same way teaching teenagers sex education has led to less unwanted pregnancies and single-mother households in the US abi? I would understand if this article was written by a teenager or a young adult, but from a grown woman like Atoke, this is TRULY laughable.

    10
    • Ajala & Foodie

      June 10, 2019 at 4:00 pm

      So are you insinuating that all jobs require people sitting behind computers and responding to Emails?. ALL JOBS Uhn? So all medical professionals would have to be checked for pregnancy since in your own words they are taking care of you and your entire family, even a larger population. THAT IS THE DISCRIMINATION Atoke is alluding to here.

      Are you saying as a pregnant individual one is unable to do one’s job unless it involves sitting behind a computer and responding to EMails? No if anyone needs to miss us with anything it is with your self righteousness! It is obvious you either buy or practice this. Instead of thinking deeply about what the author wrote you just really want to defend wrong practices we continue to embarrass in our community. If we are all to sign up to your school of thought over 1/2 the population will be without jobs. Think Engineers designing cars you have to drive in, Architects and civil engineers designing and building bridges and houses you live in. Pharmacists filling your prescription and know their feet for hours, Scientists working on research tirelessly in labs all day, I will not even go into nursing or teaching.

      So really who should be missing us here? Yea priveldge is really a thing. You talk like not teaching sex ed as stopped people in developing countries from the same issues you accuse the Western world of having i.e unwanted pregnancies or should I say teenage pregnancies. Or as teaching abstinence made the rise of teenage and unwanted pregnancies changed things in Nigeria?

      No! And you think the writer is the one coming across as naive? The difference is 1) Is the rate of STD’s in both worlds. Look at statistics of the countries with of HIV i.e top 16 only are African Countries. This is as of 2018. In fact, top 20 are majorly African countries with the exception of the Bahamas at 17. Nigeria? 21. Why? We keep making the mistake of thinking safe sex is all about “belle”. No, there is more to it. More at stake! Lives at stake 2) The difference between teenage pregnancies in Nigeria and America. Many young girls in the US yea choose to practice unsafe sex many times with the rainbow idea of having a baby. I know I have spoken to many. Because government care is free. An unemployed pregnant woman in my opinion is better off than an employed one in America why? You get FREE health care and food, even child care and accomodation if need be. A Nigerian domestic help many times is out of lack of choices. Unlike the average American teenager, this people are more likely to choose alternatives if offered cos no government is taking care of you or your child. Yea, they have urges and in an ideal situation we should all learn to control our urges and not the other way around. That, however,is “an ideal world” we do not live in. (It is why some of us are over weight, it is why married men philandering in our society, why some gossip). Harm all people with education and information (it is called leveling the playing field) and see if things will not improve/change.

      I personally never thought of this (not that I have domestic help) but I think it is a great idea. I am a proponent of abstinence but I am not going to bury my head in the sand and pretend I live in a perfect world.

      2
    • TosinT

      June 10, 2019 at 5:00 pm

      Actually to answer a few of your points, yes it is a privilege to insist that someone who comes to work for you be tested for pregnancy. As a professional woman, even if your company does not want you to get pregnant because it would impact your work, they cannot insist that you do so. That is the ‘privilege’- that you belong to a socioeconomic class where you cannot be forced (usually against your will to take a pregnancy test just because you want to work)

      #2 To your point about education working’The same way it has worked in America’ yes the same way! Actually the data shows that people from low income households ( who may have poorer quality education and access to things like contraceptives and condoms and information) and areas of the country where absence only education is more or less enforced have higher rates of teen preganancy versus their peers AND in America, teen pregnancy is down by 6% overall (https://www.cdc.gov/teenpregnancy/about/index.htm) so yes whatever they are doing is working. The goal is progress not perfection.

      I see nothing wrong in having frank discussions with domestic staff and equipping them if you must, just because it hasn’t been done, does not mean it cant. I understand that there are nuances in Nigeria that will require a different way of implementing these things

      1
  3. Californiabawlar

    June 9, 2019 at 8:45 pm

    Atoke! Long time no comment. I miss the days of high engagement on BN. I have finally realized that despite the anonymity, BN comment section was my main way of getting social media interaction…. hence it was easy for me to stay off Twitter, instagram and the rest.
    Anyways to the topic at hand… this hit a little too close to home! My Aunty’s gateman of 20 years who had practically become family had to leave for his village in January because he’s now dying of AIDS at age 51. Very sad! I literally cried when I got the news. Everyone feels like they could have done something to prevent it but really he was a grown adult and whatever he was doing after his daytime shift was his business. The best my Aunt and grandma did was harassing him to get married but he refused.

    2
    • 2CENTS

      June 11, 2019 at 8:06 am

      HIV can be contacted through other means such as roadside pedicure and barbing services offered by mallams on the streets. Sharp objects such as sharing a razor to shave, even needles at drug dens scattered all over nigeria. HIV is not a one way street. Just saying.

    • Californiabawlarisback!!!!! Yaayyy

      June 11, 2019 at 10:16 am

      All I am here to say is welcome back. You were missed and indeed it’s sad that the days of engagement on BN has passed…

  4. omomo

    June 10, 2019 at 10:07 am

    i agree with jummy . in some organisations if the job entails a lot of rigour and field work your pregnancy will be a factor they use to select someone else ..so i should call my gateman or driver who are both married and bring out cucumber and start demonstrating ..your name will go round the neighbourhood domestic gang ..lol….i think some might see it as a form of harassment or at least a form of meddlesomeness..you need to understand the mindset of whomever you are dealing with first that being said its a good idea to at least mention it to them or arrange with a nurse to do so …..have a good week y’all …P:S so sorry about the gatemen @california our gardener of over about 20 years was lost to aids few years ago we tried to arranged for him to take meds but he insisted at a point on native treatment

    1
    • Ajala & Foodie

      June 10, 2019 at 4:24 pm

      I don’t know what kind of organizations una be working for. I was a field Engineer and companies are expected to make accommodations for us as women. It is what we are fighting for. There is no reason a woman should give up or be denied a position she is good at and totally qualified for, for not only temporary situation but one many times can be accommodated. It is like making accommodations for someone with disability. A company that tells you, you are being denied a role because of your pregnancy can and should be sued. The most in my experience is pushing start date until after delivery not completely going with somebody else solely because of pregnancy.

      Are you trying to insinuate taking care of your child is so rigorous that it will not be “healthy” for a pregnant woman? Then God help those of us that take our children to daycares or as creche, we should go there asking for the pregnancy status of all the employees since it is too rigorous a job. You just should just own your prejudice and call it a day!

      N.B: No one should be taught sex ed with cucumber. If you cannot figure how to teach sex ed in a professional and safe way, then like the author said bring in a professional and leave the room. State your intention, introduce the professional after ensuring you let him/her know your goal and purpose for said ed and promptly leave the room.

      1
  5. allshadesfemale

    June 10, 2019 at 11:49 am

    I would only agree if you can do the same with your daughter. Capish

  6. Wow! Domestic help health are grey areas that sometimes are’nt taken into consideration. Nice one Atoke, When next we have an intervention program, we shall streamline to these grey areas. Carlifonia and Omomo thanks for sharing, we shall extend our research

  7. Tamuno

    June 10, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    So true. I cannot agree less

  8. Akara Pancake

    June 10, 2019 at 4:55 pm

    Insightful article as usual Atoke!

    My missus was throwing out the trash one day, when she peeped a pink box. She did not recognize that package, so dug it out and lo and behold it was an empty box of the biggest vibrator you could ever imagine. Our nanny was apparently using sex toy, and doing toy sex.

    If you see the girth of this vibrator, as described by the dimensions stated on the box, it was as big as those plantains you buy from roadside hawkers when returning from Ondo State. Our nanny is slight and slender framed lass with the face of an angel. She is a damn good nanny too, so good on her! Everyone need prick na.

    As I explained to my missus when she approached me with her discovery, the nanny had a right to masturbate as long as it is done err safely and discreetly. I will probably be burning the bedsheets she uses after her tenure is up, but that is for hygiene purposes.

    1
    • californiabawlar

      June 11, 2019 at 6:09 am

      Lmaoooo! Please leave Ondo State plantains out of this mess!

  9. @Theindulgenceplace

    June 10, 2019 at 9:51 pm

    Honestly just provide employee insurance or an HMO plan for them and let sexual health be included in the plan(even if it’s extra cost).sometimes the delivery of this message might be off and privilege might come in too, plus as a woman you don’t want to give sexual advice to a man and vice versa…then some of this people might think otherwise ‘o madam wan use me for ritual, o oga Dey use style toast me’ etc. outsource to a more professional non judgmental person so it doesn’t become awkward.

  10. mzpetite

    June 11, 2019 at 4:11 pm

    Sometimes, it’s good to address/focus on the issue at hand without veering off to the highway of gender discrimination and feminism. Just recently, I read a story about how a nanny was forcing the baby she caters for to lick her privates daily thereby infecting that baby with a STD.
    A privilege or not, running basic medical tests on your help before recruiting them isn’t a bad idea at all.
    All ATOKE is saying is that we should not live under the illusion that domestic helps are sexually active and depending on their exposure they might have limited knowledge on how to protest themselves thereby causing greater harm.

    Selah…

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