At 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.