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Saudi Arabia: Is a housemaid necessary?

For many who live in the Gulf, employing a housemaid is a normal part of life. One Saudi blogger who prefers not to has been facing much criticism.

Ahmed Baaboud describes the situation:

“يا أخي جيب لك شغالة و ريح بالك؟، سيبك من البخل الي إنت فيه.. ريح نفسك و زوجتك.. و جيب شغالة، أمورك راح تتحسن”.

ما سبق هو جزء من حوار تكرر كثيراً في الفترة الأخيرة مع أحد زملائي في العمل، هو يرى أنني مخطئ بعدم جلب “شغالة” حتى تساعد زوجتي و تأخذ بالها من بنتي جوري. تفسيري للموضوع هو أن زوجتي لا تعمل و هذا أمر إتفقنا عليه من البداية.. لا عمل ما دام هناك أطفال صغار.. و هى اليوم حامل بالطفل الثاني.. يعني ستظل بعيده عن العمل على الأقل لمدة أربع سنوات قادمة.. و بالتالي مسؤوليات البيت عليها خصوصاً أن البيت ليس كبير و لا يوجد لنا زوار بصورة مكثفة.

“My brother, just get yourself a housemaid and take it easy. Stop being stingy, and relax and let your wife relax as well. Get a housemaid and all your affairs will improve.”

The conversation above is one which has been recurring with a colleague at work. He believes that I am wrong in not having a housemaid to help my wife and care for my daughter Joori. My explanation is that my wife doesn't work and that we had agreed on this from the beginning. She will not work as long as we have young children. Today, she is pregnant with our second child. This means she will be out of work for at least four years.. and as such running the house will be her responsibility especially since our house is small and we don't have regular guests.

He continues:

جوري تقارب الثلاثة أعوام.. و هى نشيطة تحب اللعب و الأختلاط بالأطفال كثيراً، يلومني صديقي أعلاه لأنني لا أخذ جوري إلى ميدان اللعب الصغير القريب لمنزلنا، و يقول “يا أخي بس لو تجيب الشغالة حتى تودي البنت للبلاي يارد.. كفاية!”. أرد عليه بأننا نأخذ جوري إلى المسبح الصغير و إلى المكتبة عصر الجمعة حيث تشارك أطفالاً أخرين اللعب و التعلم. أعترف بأنني لا أخذ جوري إلى المسبح يومياً و لا حتى إسبوعياً، و أننا نأخذها إلى المكتبة بمعدل مرة كل إسبوعين.
بالتأكيد إنني مقصر، لكنني لا أعتقد أن الشغالة هى البديل
Joori is almost three. She is active and loves to play and mingle with other children. My colleague blames me for not taking Joori to the playground next to our house. He tells me: “If you get a housemaid and she takes the little girl to the playground, it will be enough!” I reply that we take Joori to the swimming pool and to the library on Friday afternoons, where she plays and learns with other children. I admit that I don't take Joori to the swimming pool every day or even every week and that we take her to the library once every two weeks on average. There is no doubt that I am running behind, but I don't think that having a housemaid is the alternative.

Ahmed explains what his reasons are, and offers a solution to the problem:

عمل البيت أعتقد أنه من مسؤوليات المرأة في البيت ما دامت لا تعمل، خصوصاً حينما يكون البيت صغير و “محندق” و وجود الشغالة فيه سيعني إنعدام أي خصوصية لنا.. في بيتنا!.
نفس الشئ ينطبق على جوري .. هل من العقل أو المنطق أو تحمل المسؤولية أن أحضر شغالة حتى تقوم بالنيابة عني بأمور أعتقد أنها من أساسيات مسؤوليات الوالدين!.
قد يكون الحل في تنظيم الوقت بصورة أفضل، مثلاً إغلاق التلفاز في البيت يومياً بين الخامسة و الثامنة مساءً، و عمل جدول للنشاطات العائلية المشتركة، و أن أساهم فعلياً في عمل البيت حتى و لو في أمور بسيطة يمكن لي القيام بها بسهولة .. أو أي شئ أخر.. و لكن لا للشغالة ( على الأقل في الظروف الحالية)!.
أتسأل… هل أنا غلطان؟!
I think that housework is a woman's responsibility as long as she doesn't work and especially if the house is small. Having a housemaid living in this small space will mean that we will have no privacy .. in our own home! The same applies to Joori. Is it logical and responsible of me to get a housemaid to carry out chores which I believe are the basic responsibilities of parents? The solution could be in managing time better such as in switching off the television between 5pm and 8pm, or drawing up a schedule for joint family activities, or for me to actually take part in doing housework, even just carrying out chores that I can do easily .. or anything else.. but I would say no to a housemaid (at least under the current circumstances). My question is: Am I wrong?


  • I don’t think the blogger is wrong at all. While I don’t think having a housemaid is wrong, I also don’t think it’s necessary. My mother too stayed home until I was of school age (in the US, no less, where it’s not quite as common) and we managed. Thinking of a housemaid as NECESSARY is just ridiculous.

  • Masooma

    I think that the question of having a housemaid differs from one household to another. Sometimes, a family does need a housekeeper (I don’t refer to them as ‘maids’, it’s insulting) to help. I have 2 sisters and a huge house. My mother is growing old and she’s starting to have health problems which can’t be solved. The only possible solution is to “relax” but it isn’t something that can be done when you have such a big house. Plus, my mother’s obsessed with cleaning. She loves to have her house polished and tidy. More importantly, my younger sister is ill and she needs someone to look after her every minute of the day (and I’m not joking, trust me!) My point is – there are families who need housekeepers and there are those who don’t. You shouldn’t get a housekeeper because you “want” one, you should get one because you NEED one!


  • “Thinking of a housemaid as NECESSARY is just ridiculous”, that is true as Jillian puts it. I guess it is becoming more of a convenience in many households, and sadly more of a trend in others. There are situations where hiring a housemaid is an necessity no doubt, but in the general and in the Arab region in particular this phenomena is spreading so fast with little awareness to its consequences.

  • I agree with Masooma that the question differs from one household to another. Sadly, however, many people in the region (of different nationalities) have come to consider having a housemaid or other servants as an absolute necessity – and many are not treated with the respect that ‘housekeeper’ implies, so I haven’t used that term deliberately.

  • Pratibha

    The blogger here sets a good example for all !! Kudos !

  • A very refreshing post to read! It does seem to be that in Saudi Arabia generally if you can afford a maid, you have one and people do look at it as a necessity which is ridiculous. I see people with 1 child and it is always the maid out walking the child to the park or the swimming pool; the maid cleans the house, does the preparation for cooking (peeling, chopping etc.) and I wonder what these people actually do for themselves.

    I agree with the blogger that anyone living in a regular sized house would have no privacy in their own home.

    I didn’t have a maid/housekeeper in the UK, I don’t need one here in Saudi Arabia.

  • fofo

    i think it is not rediculuse thing to have a housemaid if you need one

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