Because of my work I listen to many stories of migrant workers’ lives in St Petersburg. Most of them are stories about difficult fate of people who had to leave their homeland in search of better life. In Russia they face cheating and injustice: to obtain documents legally is very complicated. It leads to the “help” of various mediator agencies. Employers underpay the migrants’ work and do not provide proper work conditions.
Female migrant workers are in an especially hard situation. They are hired for the most unpopular job, although they might have very good education. For instance, Mastura T. is a degreed doctor, worked in a hospital in Uzbekistan. She is Uzbek and came to St Petersburg from the city of Osh, pulling through the riots and economic crisis. Mastura tried to get employed in a kindergarten – a nurse had just retired. The director was very polite on the phone, but refused to employ Mastura at the meeting as she did not hold Russian citizenship. Sonya A. from Samarkand speaks perfect Russian and has graduated in law in the Soviet Union. She cannot find occupational job placement and works as a sick attendant. Gulasal P. is an accountant but works as a cleaning woman in a shop. The work conditions are very poor, wages are low, and moreover, usually they are not paid fully.
Female migrant workers are also discriminated in the family. Men are often of weaker character and are not able to stand the difficulties of migrant life. They work off their bad temper on women. For example, Zebo came to St Petersburg from Tajikistan with her husband and a child and firstly planned to work in the market. They even bought a place there. The trade did not work well; the husband got disappointed and left the family. Now Zebo works in the “Pyaterochka” shop chain. She found this job through the infamous company “Megapolis.” The firm cheats the workers and do not pay the wages. As a result, Zebo and her child live starving.
Another story I heard is that of Umida Sh. She came from Samarkand and works as a cleaning woman in the hypermarket “Okay” in Kupchino, although she has a degree in pedagogy. She has to work in night shift without days off. Her life is difficult, and her husband beats, humiliates and insults her. Umida is a good wife and faithful Muslim but wants to be modern: she wears trousers and has a beautiful haircut. This whish is judged by her religious relatives. However, I cannot find anything wrong in her behaviour.
I met Azerbaijani Fatima A. and her two children in St Petersburg. Her husband cheated on her, beat and humiliated her. Although he did not take care of the children, Fatima was not allowed to get employed. In spite of all these problems, Fatima did not go for leaving her husband. She was afraid of the relatives’ disapproval. I tried to support her and approved her, but I could not make her be independent: after every beating she forgave her husband.
I had such sad experience myself. I know what means to be unprotected in the family. My husband left me with two children and did not take care of them at all. But he was approved by the public opinion. In Muslim communities “bad wife” is always guilty in all family problems.
It is pity that female migrant workers, especially Muslims, do not want to defend their rights. But their children see that their father insults and beats their mother. What understanding of relationship between men and women will they have? The psychologists say that family violence affects children very negatively. They do not understand what a family should be and can be. They do not see that close relatives take care of each other. As a result, they will build their families and future society in the same wrong way.