All these conditions point towards a kind of modern slavery
Die Ausstellung Sunday Women beschäftigt sich mit in Athen lebenden georgischen Frauen im Kontext ihrer Rolle als Hausangestellte. In diesem Rahmen führten wir ein Interview mit den beiden Macher*innen der Ausstellung Tatiana Mavromati und Laura Maragoudaki. Das Interview ist auf englisch.
1) Your exhibition is called Sundway Women and deals with Georgian women in Athens who work as domestic workers. How did you come up with this theme and title?
Georgian women comprise one of the largest migrant communities in Athens. They come to Greece to work as domestic workers and carers of children, the sick and the elderly. Since the 1990s they have become an integral part of greek society with thousands of families relying on their services in order to function on a daily basis. Employing a migrant domestic worker is a wide-spread practice in Greece, especially when it comes to caring for the elderly. But although the role of Georgian women is crucial, their existence within the city is ignored and their working conditions keep them illegal, vulnerable and invisible.
We first came into contact with one or two women living in the same neighborhoods as us. We knew about the conditions for domestic workers but the more we got to know women from the community, the more we realized the scale of exploitation that they are experiencing. Most work as live-in domestic workers or carers which means that they are living in their employers’ house 24 hours a day, 6 days a week, with only one day off, usually on a Sunday. On these Sundays, hundreds of women meet up in the centre of Athens, in migrant neighborhoods where there are Georgian restaurants, money transfer shops and cafes to spend their day together. We called the project SUNDAY WOMEN to highlight and celebrate a community which can only come together on this one day of the week.
2) You portray different women with different destinies. How did you get in touch with the women? Were they open to your idea or did you have to convince them? And what difficulties were there, for example, with communication?
We mostly met our participants through word of mouth. Some of the women we interviewed are friends of our Georgian friends, others have worked with families that we were in contact with and have kept close ties with them. We met with each woman and explained the principles of the project and most women wanted to contribute in order to make their stories and their experiences visible. However, we operate on a trust basis and we have tried to remain respectful towards each participants’ comfort level regarding public exposure. This means that we have certain conditions as to how the work is exhibited and any new public exhibition is usually negotiated with our participants.
Georgian women are forced to learn Greek very quickly in order to communicate with their employers with whom they live, so all of our participants chose to conduct the interviews in Greek even though we had offered the option to do the interviews in Georgian. We are very grateful for the huge effort they have made to be part of the project and for sharing their stories with us.
In the video “In their own words” which is part of the SUNDAY WOMEN exhibition, six women share their experience of working in greek households, the difficulty of working as live-in servants and the cost of being separated from family and loved ones who are also reliant on them for financial support.
3) How did the women get into this situation and what is their daily life like?
Most countries in the West have developed informal relationships with poorer countries in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia to supply them with cheap migrant labour in various parts of the economy. In Greece, it is more than clear that there is a direct link between the Greek market for domestic workers and Georgia, and there is a web of Employment Agencies, border officials, smugglers and middle-men that work between the two countries to bring women to Greece in order to work in this industry. The Greek state benefits from not recognizing them as an integral part of the labour force: it keeps them undocumented, vulnerable and therefore cheap.
This off course affects their life here in Greece. They live in fear of being arrested, they cannot negotiate their rights and work conditions with employers and are therefore exposed to exploitation, they are not entitled to sick pay or pensions. But mostly, they work as live-in servants: they must give up their own personal lives in order to serve others on a 24-hour basis, they leave their families and children behind and often don’t see them for years because if they leave Greece to visit them, they may not be able to come back to work. All these conditions point towards a kind of modern slavery where some people are forced to live without even the basic rights that others take for granted.
4) The women often live in very precarious situations? What happens when they are fired by a family? Are there organizations that take care of them?
There are no official union organizations to assist Georgian workers in Greece. When they are fired, or the elderly person they cared for dies, or the children they look after grow up, domestic workers are left without work or a roof over their heads. Older women who have worked for decades in Greece have no pension to fall back on and are often left with nothing.
The only support structure is the all-female community itself – a network of family and friendship ties between the women who informally offer help, temporary housing and financial or emotional support to each other.
5) When you deal with the fates of other people, it can really get to you. Did you try to keep a professional distance or how was your dealing with the topic?
Georgian women are already part of greek society’s everyday life, we are all aware of their role but its importance is consistently undermined. Their fate is caused by the politics of the society and State that we live in and our primary concern is to open a public discussion around our own responsibility in relation to the “fate” of thousands of migrants that work in our homes. We have only respect and admiration for the women who participated in the project, and their ability to survive injustice and move forward.
We are currently preparing a publication inspired by the exhibition that will present some of the important content of the project; extracts from the interviews and from the main films, along with Tatiana’s photographs of the Georgian community. We are also hoping to show the exhibition in other cities in the future.
Fotos by Andreas Domma