Maids made by Ethiopia’s inflation crisis
The rising cost of living in Ethiopia has citizens searching desperately for solutions as inflation wreaks havoc. Prices are rising so fast that items doubling overnight is becoming commonplace. The lowest denomination notes can no longer purchase much on their own.
The five birr note, able to buy an injera just four years ago, is now virtually useless – unable to purchase anything on its own. The 10 birr note soon risks the same fate.
Coping requires long hours of work, especially in the capital where living costs surpass anywhere else in the country. Supply struggles to meet high demand for everything from food to housing to rent.
Addis Ababa residents feel the squeeze acutely. For many households – from single professionals to families with young children – relying on live-in housekeepers to manage household chores has become essential to manage sky-high rents and soaring food prices.
Households turn to housemaids to shoulder housing responsibilities. Maids help stretch budgets by enabling families, from singles to couples with children, to eat in more often. However, finding the right housekeeper poses a challenge. While households want help with everything, most housekeepers available in the market lack basic domestic skills.
The demand for housekeepers in Addis Ababa is enormous. Out of an estimated one million households in the city, if even 10 percent need help, that amounts to a monthly outlay of 200 million birr – over 2.4 billion birr annually.
Yet residents describe this market as prey to “greedy brokers” – intermediaries who charge high fees while providing little value beyond basic placement.
As with many aspects of urban life, the prospect of reliable household help has become yet another source of frustration for Addis Ababa residents struggling merely to get by during this time of runaway inflation and escalating costs.
Households rely on “greedy brokers” as intermediaries to find housemaids, most of whom are women from rural areas seeking better income.
“Bottom feeders” – housemaid brokers – match underpaid, often underaged girls from rural areas with city employers seeking cheap labor. Sadly, the unregulated industry prioritizes profit over protecting these vulnerable women.
As the domestic worker industry is unregulated and lacks government oversight, brokers often disregard age and prioritize profit over ethics.
The informal market exposes both maids and households to numerous risks. Tragically, it is not uncommon for maids to be sexually assaulted by their male employers, with many too afraid to speak out for fear of retribution. Such abuse can force maids into prostitution or even more dangerous work, leaving them with no other options.
The lack of regulation poses problems for households as well.
The unsupervised system also jeopardizes families, with tragic tales of maids harming or kidnapping children becoming distressingly common.
Authorities frequently react only after such incidents occur, rather than taking preventative action.
The lack of regulation in the unorganized domestic worker sector has fueled a rash of sensational stories circulating on social media about maids harming or kidnapping children in their care. These lurid tales have stoked public outrage and sowed fear among families who rely on such laborers.
The realities are often more complex.
Desperate women from impoverished rural areas migrate to cities seeking the meager wages offered by employers who exploit their vulnerability. With no contracts or workplace protections, these maids toil long hours for paltry pay under the constant threat of being let go.
Some do inflict harm, pushed to the brink by abusive or suspicious bosses who scrutinize their every move. Others are falsely accused due to prejudice or misunderstandings in a system that stacks the odds against these poor and powerless women. Yet the melodramatic social media reports rarely delve into the broader systemic failures that breed such tragedies.
The tempest has spurred calls for stricter screening of domestic workers, tighter restrictions and harsher punishments. But real change demands confronting the root causes. Government oversight could mandate contracts, minimum wages, grievance redressal systems and workplace safety norms. Employers must offer fair treatment, empathy and basic humanity. And society as a whole should recognize the better care and security children really depend on starts with creating more opportunity, justice and dignity for all women.