Domestic workers in Gulf countries vent woes on TikTok


RIYADH (NYTIMES) – The young Kenyan housekeeper, dressed in a crisp uniform and a headscarf, nods her head from side to side to the beat of a tune in her video, an expression of mock exasperation on her face as she stares into the camera and mimes the refrain: “Don’t got it.”

Words like freedom and respect pop up on the screen, and the worker, Brenda Dama, 26, swats them away one by one. A single day off? “Don’t got it.” A peaceful life without quarrels or insults? “Don’t got it.”

Dama’s post on the video-sharing app TikTok, a parody of the song Renee by American indie rock duo Sales, vents about the stresses of her job as a house cleaner for a family in Saudi Arabia, where she has worked since leaving her native Kenya in 2019.

One of several videos of hers that have spread widely on the platform, it has amassed more than 900,000 views and nearly 6,000 comments since it was posted in August.

Far from home and in unfamiliar settings, domestic workers in the Gulf region, like Dama – the vast majority of them women – have long used social media to keep in touch with friends and family.

As the popularity of TikTok exploded last year, they have increasingly turned to the platform to open up about their lives and working conditions – many of them saying they are overworked, sexually harassed and targets of discrimination.

“Here, it is really tough,” Dama said in a telephone interview from Saudi Arabia. “You end up crying every day. But when you see the positive comments on your videos, you’re like, oh, this person understands.”

The oil-rich monarchies of the Persian Gulf depend on migrant labourers from Africa, Asia and poorer Arab countries to keep the machinery of daily life running – millions of housekeepers, construction workers, delivery workers, garbage collectors, guards, hairdressers and more. Those workers often outnumber the native population.

As of 2016, there were nearly 4 million foreign domestic workers in the Gulf, according to a study by