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Maids, helpers or status symbols?

Prospective employers may have very different mentalities.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
3 minute read
Without maids, many women juggle full-time jobs, chores, and childcare, leaving them with little or no time for themselves.
Without maids, many women juggle full-time jobs, chores, and childcare, leaving them with little or no time for themselves.

When she turned 33, Nabila Akashah was able, for the first time, to employ a 19-year-old domestic helper to manage the house while she and her husband were at work. 

Now, 13 years later, she can hardly remember a time when she was without a maid. 

In these years, she has had four helpers come and go due to a number of factors such as the expiry of their work permits and the passing of age limits. 

Nevertheless, their steady stream of help means that it has been over a decade since the mother-of-three last had to do any housework on her own. 

Nabila, who works as a financial manager at a branch of an international car dealership, said that having a maid leaves her feeling free and in control of herself. 

"Since I was little, I dreamt about having a maid because I thought my life would be better," she said. 

"I would only need to call her, and she would cook for me, take care of my parents, and follow me out when I go shopping. 

"That is what I have wanted since I was small. Once my husband and I were able to afford it, we decided we would employ a maid to take care of things in the house." 

In some countries such as those in the Middle East, maids are a symbol of status. Especially in urban cities, families are quick to employ domestic helpers once they reach the middle-income level, as a way of showing their newfound status on the social ladder. 

Without maids, many women juggle full-time jobs, chores, and childcare, leaving them with little or no time for themselves. 

Across the metaphorical fence, meanwhile, those in the upper class bracket might have a slew of domestic helpers including a personal driver and gardener. 

Different employers

Nabila's current helper, an Indonesian woman who asked to be called Intan, has worked for her since 2018, earning RM1,700 a month. 

Before coming to work for Nabila, Intan worked for two other employers, one for two years and the other for nine months. 

She said both of these employers had different personalities and approaches to her as a maid as well as her scope of duties. 

Her first employer was well educated and took good care of her as a worker. After that, though, she went to work for a couple whom she said treated her like a "modern-day slave". 

"My first boss only asked me to work in the kitchen and to do normal household chores such as cleaning and laundry," she said. 

"I never entered her room or those of her children. They would leave their laundry at the door, and I'd finish my work by dinner-time."

Her second employer, on the other hand, asked her to do a litany of tasks including to fix the toilet when it got clogged up. 

"She didn't want to do it herself, so why did she think that I would?" Intan said. 

"I'm not good at repair work, and anyway, it wasn't part of my job."

Eventually, she contacted her agent and asked to end her contract with the couple.

A maid agent in Petaling Jaya said most employers have very different mentalities which sometimes makes it difficult for agents and maids alike to fulfil their responsibilities. 

Asyikin Hanafiah, who has been in the business for 11 years, said the difficulties usually lie in dealing with the middle class or urban M40.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, she said such groups often view maids as a symbol of ownership and authority. 

"But maids are humans too, how can they be treated like slaves in this day and age?" she added. 

She said she had also received requests from prospective employers who asked that the maids be barred from owning mobile phones or leaving the house. 

"Whenever I get requests like this, I ask them if they have ever had a maid before. 

"If they say no, I tell them to let me handle these matters myself. In any case, a lot of what they want is stuff and nonsense," she said.