The Kafala System, an employment scheme in the Middle East, has attracted much academic scrutiny and criticism over the decades. Human rights activists align the system with slavery, unfreedom, and human trafficking. In her new book, which she will discuss at this event, Rhacel Salazar Parreñas offers more nuanced accounts of workers relationships with their employers in the United Arab Emirates.
Rhacel's work employs novel methods of researching the Kafala system and its impact on workers and questions concepts such as unfreedom and freedom. Whilst her arguments highlight the dehumanising treatment and lack of recognition of migrant domestic workers, her empirical data crucially illuminates the diversity of work conditions. A key argument is that rather than ‘abuse’ being the main point of reference in Kafala debates, it is the absence of labour standards in the region that leads to unequal and complex employment relationships. A diverse panel of academics, stakeholders and human rights activists will offer their reflections on Parreñas’ book, highlighting their expertise from the Middle East.
Meet our speakers and chair
Rhacel Salazar Parreñas (@rhacel) is Professor of Sociology and Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Southern California. She previously taught at University of Wisconsin, Madison, University of California, Davis, and Brown University. Her areas of research include labour, gender, international migration and human trafficking, the family and economic sociology. She is an ethnographer who has conducted field work in Denmark, Italy, Japan, Philippines, Singapore and United Arab Emirates.
Lina Abou-Habib (@LinaAH1) is the Director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut. She also teaches undergraduate and graduate gender courses at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the American University of Beirut and is the Gender Project Director for the AUB MEPI-TLS Program. She currently serves on the Boards of Haven for Artist and the Collective for Research and Training on Development – Action and is a member of the editorial committee of the Gender and Development Journal published by Oxfam.
Steffen Hertog (@shertog1) is an Associate Professor of Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His research interests include Gulf politics, Middle East political economy, political violence and radicalization. He has been researching the political economy of migrant labour in the GCC and advised the ILO and World Bank. He was lead researcher for an ILO report that provided the analytical backdrop for the liberalization of the Qatari labour sponsorship system in 2020.
Shalini Grover (@ShaliniGrover10) is an anthropologist and Research Fellow at the LSE International Inequalities Institute (III). She has published widely on marriage, love, kinship, legal pluralisms, labour relations and globalized care. Her most recent research focuses on globalized care through an anthropological- historical lens. Before coming to LSE, she was Associate Professor in Anthropology at the Institute of Economic Growth (IEG, University of Delhi) and spent a decade in India.
More about this event
The International Inequalities Institute (@LSEInequalities) at LSE brings together experts from many of the School's departments and centres to lead cutting-edge research focused on understanding why inequalities are escalating in numerous arenas across the world, and to develop critical tools to address these challenges.
The Middle East Centre (@LSEMiddleEast) builds on LSE's long engagement with the Middle East and North Africa and provides a central hub for the wide range of research on the region carried out at LSE. The Middle East Centre works to enhance understanding and develop rigorous research on the societies, economies, politics and international relations of the region.
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Podcast & Video
A podcast of this event is available to download from Unfree: migrant domestic labour in the Middle East.
A video of this event is available to watch at Unfree: migrant domestic labour in the Middle East.
Podcasts and videos of many LSE events can be found at the LSE Public Lectures and Events: podcasts and videos channel.