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Ethiopia/Lebanon: Online Outrage Over Death of Domestic Worker Turns into Activism

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Citizen Media, Human Rights, Women & Gender

Alem Dechasa, the Ethiopian domestic worker in Lebanon whose abuse video sparked anger amongst Ethiopians, “preferred” to commit suicide [1] by hanging herself [2] using her bed sheets last Wednesday 14 March, 2012.

The graphic nature of the video [3] together with the tragic end of the plot left Ethiopians netizens outraged. Ethiopians have been using Facebook and online petition sites to mourn her death and campaign for justice for domestic workers in the Middle East.

Clip art illustration of a maid mopping a floor. Image source: http://jontambek.wordpress.com/.

Zelalem updates [4] his Facebook status with:

All of we share her plight to be dragged in the floor, all of we roar as a relief for our anger but, sadly and badly none of US can save HER life. Forget our government, we have no such.

Shame on Ws ALL!!!

May Peace be Up on You Alem!

Abiye Teklemariam says [5]:

I have no words. Tragic, tragic, tragic.

Another Facebook user comments [6]:

Last week I watched ETV reporting that Ethiopians in UAE pledged to contribute $22million for the renaissance dam. While our sisters are being abused and killed day in, day out in the Middle East, our ETV is delighted to tell us that these same destitute girls have pledged to contribute. Lord, have mercy!!!

Her controversial death has forced netizens to take the opportunity to put the abuse of many Ethiopians domestic workers in Middle East countries on spotlight.

Concerned Ethiopian netizens have created [7] an online petition to stop the abuse of Ethiopian women in Middle-East and seek justice for abused workers such as Alem and Shewaye.

The petition says:

Due to the lack of prospects of a livelihood, lack of education and wrong perceptions of overseas work, thousands of young Ethiopian women continue to go to the Middle East countries every year to work as domestic workers. These young women are full of hope of bettering their lives and the lives of their families. However, once they arrive in their destination country, the hopes of the majority are shattered by what awaits them. In most cases, their passports are confiscated from them, their salaries withheld, they’re beaten and even prone to rape. In addition to ratifying almost all of the international human rights instruments pertinent to the issue at hand, the Ethiopian government has also put some policy and legislative frameworks for protecting the rights of these women. However, enforcement of these laws are very minimal and weak. Thus, until the Ethiopian government upholds its national and international obligations, issue appropriate policies to ensure the protection of human rights as well as re-integration of these women into the society, Ethiopian migrant and trafficked women will continue to commit suicides, face abuses, and remain trapped on foreign soil.

Another campaign page [8] that seeks to stop the abuse of Ethiopian women in Middle East says:

Alem didn’t committed suicide. But she was abused & murdered. She was seeking for help but help did not arrive. Let us stop this abuse and let the killer and the abuser punished

A candlelight vigil [9] is set to take place at Mesqel Square in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 17 March, to mourn the death of Alem and express solidarity with all abused Ethiopian domestic workers in the Middle East. One of the organizers announced [10] on Facebook:

Dear Friends, because of the absence of a Lebanese Embassy or Consulate in Addis, the initiators of the ‘Candlelight Vigil for Alem Dechasa’ have decided to conduct the Vigil at Meskel Square. Please spread the news and be there on time so that we can remember our sister and say ‘never again’. tomorrow Saturday March 17 @ 5:05pm.

While the campaign is raging online, Saudi Arabia plans [11] is reported to be in need of 45,000 Ethiopian nationals every month in order to meet its requirement for domestic workers.

Ali Mahfouz - the man seen in the video abusing Alem Dechasa. Photo source: http://www.lbcgroup.tv/.

Ali Mahfouz – the man seen in the video abusing Alem Dechasa. Photo source: http://www.lbcgroup.tv/.

On 16 March, Ethiopians gathered [12] in front of the Embassy of Lebanon in Washington DC in a silent protest to mourn Alem Dechasa. First Secretary of the Lebanese embassy, Mr Toni Frangie spoke with the protesters.

Mobile phone video footage [13] that shows Alem Dechasa being beaten and dragged by force into a car under the gaze of bystanders outside the Ethiopian consulate in Beirut, Lebanon, sparked outrage online.

Ethiopians organised a social media campaign [14] for justice last year after a CNN journalist, Dan Rivers, revealed the horrifying abuse of Shweya Mullah who was brutally injured after the wife of Gaddafi’s son poured boiling water on her whole body for allegedly failing to keep a crying child quiet.

The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression. Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable. You can get help from confidential support lines for the suicidal and those in emotional crisis. Visit Befrienders.org [15] to find a suicide prevention helpline in your country.