Lebanese maids scrub up nicely: Beirut shows off migrant cleaners' fashion show

Published May 22nd, 2016 - 19:21 GMT

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A recent fashion show in a trendy Beirut neighborhood veered off the usual catwalk, with a special awareness-raising twist. Sure, there were beautiful models in creative couture from the best of Lebanon's young designers. An excited audience, pulsating music, and photographers were on hand too. But the stars of this show hailed from the ranks of Lebanon's female domestic workers, just a handful of Lebanon's 250,000+ migrant maids.  

Local NGO Insan organized the event. It's the fourth annual edition. The human rights organization wants to mop up misogyny aimed at female migrants with a message that everyone deserves to be seen, and be respected. (Images::AFP)  Continue reading below »

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Sumy Khan (right), a Bangladeshi migrant, and an unidentified colleague check out a few of their test images on their phones as they prepare to take part in a fashion show held in a restaurant in the trendy Beirut neighborhood of Gemmayzeh.
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Image 1 of 8:  1 / 8Sumy Khan (right), a Bangladeshi migrant, and an unidentified colleague check out a few of their test images on their phones as they prepare to take part in a fashion show held in a restaurant in the trendy Beirut neighborhood of Gemmayzeh.

Enlarge
A staffer from human rights group Insan (right) stands next to a Filipina maid-turned-model as she hams it for pictures during the set-up for the show. The show is part of an effort to humanize an estimated 250,000 foreign domestic workers who work in Lebanon. The show aims to give women a chance to be seen as something more than 'the help'.
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Image 2 of 8:  2 / 8A staffer from human rights group Insan (right) stands next to a Filipina maid-turned-model as she hams it for pictures during the set-up for the show. The show is part of an effort to humanize an estimated 250,000 foreign domestic workers who work in Lebanon. The show aims to give women a chance to be seen as something more than 'the help'.

Enlarge
Lebanon and Arab Gulf states are often accused of racist and inhumane treatment of migrant domestic workers. Workers' passports are taken by employers, curtailing their movements.  Living conditions are harsh and wages low.  Insan is Arabic for 'human being'.
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Image 3 of 8:  3 / 8Lebanon and Arab Gulf states are often accused of racist and inhumane treatment of migrant domestic workers. Workers' passports are taken by employers, curtailing their movements. Living conditions are harsh and wages low. Insan is Arabic for 'human being'.

Enlarge
Teenaged Iman Bachir, daughter of Sudanese migrant workers, was one of this year's models. In 2015, the American University of Beirut surveyed 1,200 Lebanese employers on their views of domestic workers, finding that 51% of Lebanese women think their maids can't be trusted, even though they have care over their homes and children.
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Image 4 of 8:  4 / 8Teenaged Iman Bachir, daughter of Sudanese migrant workers, was one of this year's models. In 2015, the American University of Beirut surveyed 1,200 Lebanese employers on their views of domestic workers, finding that 51% of Lebanese women think their maids can't be trusted, even though they have care over their homes and children.

Enlarge
Filipina Marcelita Dominga, works as a maid by day, but ruled the runway at the evening fashion event. The show is just one of several civil society initiatives that seeks to combat exploitation and mistreatment of the nation's migrant domestic workers.
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Image 5 of 8:  5 / 8Filipina Marcelita Dominga, works as a maid by day, but ruled the runway at the evening fashion event. The show is just one of several civil society initiatives that seeks to combat exploitation and mistreatment of the nation's migrant domestic workers.

Enlarge
Imeliza, a Filipina who married a Lebanese man, touches up her makeup before the show. Stereotypes run deep. In Lebanon, maids and nannies are unprotected by national labor laws. The women - regardless of nationality - are commonly called simply 'Sri Lankans'.
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Image 6 of 8:  6 / 8Imeliza, a Filipina who married a Lebanese man, touches up her makeup before the show. Stereotypes run deep. In Lebanon, maids and nannies are unprotected by national labor laws. The women - regardless of nationality - are commonly called simply "Sri Lankans".

Enlarge
Marcelita Dominga gives herself a final face check before starting her strut. The message of the evening was one of mutual respect. Insan emphasizes that everyone is entitled to equal rights, and all women must be respected regardless of what they do to earn a living.
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Image 7 of 8:  7 / 8Marcelita Dominga gives herself a final face check before starting her strut. The message of the evening was one of mutual respect. Insan emphasizes that everyone is entitled to equal rights, and all women must be respected regardless of what they do to earn a living.

Enlarge
The women did not know one another before this year's show. Their invisibility in general society affects how they behave when not on the job, often limiting their circle to other maids from the same homeland. After practices and preparations, new friendships are formed. By the end of the evening, Insan hopes to have opened hearts and minds too.
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Image 8 of 8:  8 / 8The women did not know one another before this year's show. Their invisibility in general society affects how they behave when not on the job, often limiting their circle to other maids from the same homeland. After practices and preparations, new friendships are formed. By the end of the evening, Insan hopes to have opened hearts and minds too.

Enlarge

1

Sumy Khan (right), a Bangladeshi migrant, and an unidentified colleague check out a few of their test images on their phones as they prepare to take part in a fashion show held in a restaurant in the trendy Beirut neighborhood of Gemmayzeh.

Image 1 of 8Sumy Khan (right), a Bangladeshi migrant, and an unidentified colleague check out a few of their test images on their phones as they prepare to take part in a fashion show held in a restaurant in the trendy Beirut neighborhood of Gemmayzeh.

2

A staffer from human rights group Insan (right) stands next to a Filipina maid-turned-model as she hams it for pictures during the set-up for the show. The show is part of an effort to humanize an estimated 250,000 foreign domestic workers who work in Lebanon. The show aims to give women a chance to be seen as something more than 'the help'.

Image 2 of 8A staffer from human rights group Insan (right) stands next to a Filipina maid-turned-model as she hams it for pictures during the set-up for the show. The show is part of an effort to humanize an estimated 250,000 foreign domestic workers who work in Lebanon. The show aims to give women a chance to be seen as something more than 'the help'.

3

Lebanon and Arab Gulf states are often accused of racist and inhumane treatment of migrant domestic workers. Workers' passports are taken by employers, curtailing their movements.  Living conditions are harsh and wages low.  Insan is Arabic for 'human being'.

Image 3 of 8Lebanon and Arab Gulf states are often accused of racist and inhumane treatment of migrant domestic workers. Workers' passports are taken by employers, curtailing their movements. Living conditions are harsh and wages low. Insan is Arabic for 'human being'.

4

Teenaged Iman Bachir, daughter of Sudanese migrant workers, was one of this year's models. In 2015, the American University of Beirut surveyed 1,200 Lebanese employers on their views of domestic workers, finding that 51% of Lebanese women think their maids can't be trusted, even though they have care over their homes and children.

Image 4 of 8Teenaged Iman Bachir, daughter of Sudanese migrant workers, was one of this year's models. In 2015, the American University of Beirut surveyed 1,200 Lebanese employers on their views of domestic workers, finding that 51% of Lebanese women think their maids can't be trusted, even though they have care over their homes and children.

5

Filipina Marcelita Dominga, works as a maid by day, but ruled the runway at the evening fashion event. The show is just one of several civil society initiatives that seeks to combat exploitation and mistreatment of the nation's migrant domestic workers.

Image 5 of 8Filipina Marcelita Dominga, works as a maid by day, but ruled the runway at the evening fashion event. The show is just one of several civil society initiatives that seeks to combat exploitation and mistreatment of the nation's migrant domestic workers.

6

Imeliza, a Filipina who married a Lebanese man, touches up her makeup before the show. Stereotypes run deep. In Lebanon, maids and nannies are unprotected by national labor laws. The women - regardless of nationality - are commonly called simply 'Sri Lankans'.

Image 6 of 8Imeliza, a Filipina who married a Lebanese man, touches up her makeup before the show. Stereotypes run deep. In Lebanon, maids and nannies are unprotected by national labor laws. The women - regardless of nationality - are commonly called simply "Sri Lankans".

7

Marcelita Dominga gives herself a final face check before starting her strut. The message of the evening was one of mutual respect. Insan emphasizes that everyone is entitled to equal rights, and all women must be respected regardless of what they do to earn a living.

Image 7 of 8Marcelita Dominga gives herself a final face check before starting her strut. The message of the evening was one of mutual respect. Insan emphasizes that everyone is entitled to equal rights, and all women must be respected regardless of what they do to earn a living.

8

The women did not know one another before this year's show. Their invisibility in general society affects how they behave when not on the job, often limiting their circle to other maids from the same homeland. After practices and preparations, new friendships are formed. By the end of the evening, Insan hopes to have opened hearts and minds too.

Image 8 of 8The women did not know one another before this year's show. Their invisibility in general society affects how they behave when not on the job, often limiting their circle to other maids from the same homeland. After practices and preparations, new friendships are formed. By the end of the evening, Insan hopes to have opened hearts and minds too.

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