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Social Isolation and the Female, Live in Domestic Worker in South Africa sample essay

In a world which tends to discriminate against race, gender and class, many black, female, lower class women face an uphill battle in day to day life. Those who manage to find employment often work as domestic workers in the homes of the more elite. These women often serve many roles within a household such as nanny, cook and cleaner. Many of these women become live in maids for the convenience of their employers. This study takes a qualitative approach in examining why these women are prepared to leave their families and face such social isolation.

Using one women’s story of life as a live in domestic worker this study delves into the reality of day to day life in post apartheid South Africa. This allows one a unique opportunity into a personal perspective of those previously disadvantaged and even though the sample is not big enough to generalize with the study is relevant in that it provides a framework and the motivation to pursue further studies in this area. One must also take into account that even though one person’s experiences may be narrow, their perspectives may reflect those of a greater population and therefore must always be considered relevant in some way.

Literature Review Many female South African domestic workers live in the houses of their employers. This may be isolating and lonely for some. This qualitative study seeks to observe the effect this has on ladies who are particularly far from their families. Many domestic workers in South Africa are migrants from upper Africa who are already culturally isolated, by becoming live in they may experience social and class isolation. This interview tells the story of a female live in domestic worker who, although South African, has followed her job more than ten hours away from her family and support network.

The key issue here is social isolation. For one to be socially isolated one is living without companionship, social support and connectedness. One has no one to turn to for day to crisis and it is not surprising that the stress of such a situation is associated with poorer health. It is also associated with things like poor life meaning, levels of satisfaction and well being. The socially isolated even have a higher consumption of health care resources and unfortunately fare badly in acute interventions such as cardiovascular surgery.

The socially isolated are far more highly linked to mental illness, distress, dementia, suicide and premature death (Hawthorne, 2006). Social isolation is therefore a grave matter and with findings like this the western ritual of paying domestic workers to live in and possibly in turn become socially isolated should seek ethical approval. Social Isolation In Graeme Hawthorne’s study he points out that social isolation is most connected to personal relationships, or rather lack thereof.

He points out that within this things like neighbourhood friendliness, social initiation, geographic location and ethnicity play a large role in determining isolation. Ethnicity plays a large role in the social isolation of a domestic worker because although interacting with others they are not around those of their own ethnicity. Hawthorne’s study investigates the validity of a psychometric scale to measure social isolation and therefore defines the concept well, giving one a well rounded perception of this sort of isolation.

His study found that the ‘friendship scale’ was a reliable tool when measuring social isolation and would therefore prove to be an interesting second measure when looking at social isolation of female domestic workers in South Africa (Hawthorne, 2006). To follow up this quantitative research with a reliable psychometric scale may yield fuller results. This together with a larger sample of domestic workers would make this study far more reliable and conclusive.

In interviewing one participant many gaps are left, for instance this case shows a very positive employer-employee relationship however this cannot simply be generalized to the rest of the South African population and therefore cannot be used for much in the line of determining where change is needed. Race, gender, class & post apartheid changes. Race, gender and class come up in any study such as this, especially when the country has a history a rife of that of South Africa.

Although these discriminatory themes are still a serious issue in South Africa, past studies do show that things may have improved vastly since even the late apartheid era. A study by Hickson and Strous (1993) depicts a far worse picture than the results of this interview, with complete lack of care for the humanity of the worker, poor live in living conditions and low, often non-monetory salaries (Hickson & Strous, 1993). This study shows a problem which has to a large extent lessened with many domestic workers well supported by the families for which they work.

Shireen Ally goes as far as to say that post apartheid South Africa has launched one of the most extensive efforts to protect domestic workers. These efforts have surely paid off in many ways as pay in itself has improved on a great scale. Just the fact that domestic workers are politically recognized and are able to form unions was a big step out of the apartheid days (Ally, 2008). A later study by Jennifer Fish shows that although social change on a public level has dramatically revolutionised, the micro scale of everyday interactions still has a long way to go.

Therefore although things have changed in certain areas many domestic workers are still being subjected to very discriminatory treatment as a result of their race, class or gender (Fish, 2006). Due to these present and past discriminations there remains an air of elitism among employers. This air may serve as a barrier to connectedness between employer and employee. This lack of connectedness to those around the live in employee leads to social isolation with grave consequences. The live in dometic worker A study by Hondagneu-Sotelo shows some benefits of domestic workers who do not live in.

It provides an interesting alternate perspective. This study followed immigrant Mexican women in California. These women are isolated from their culture, country and often family. However the fact that they are not live in provides them with networking opportunities. They mostly work numorous jobs a week and in doing so interact with many other women who, although not always even similar in ethnicity, provide a support structure for each other. This structure helps the women to learn skills like negotiating fair pay and more importantly provides them with connectedness and social interaction (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 1994).

This study when compared to studies on live in domestic workers may yield a more healthy and ethical alternative and therefore is very relevant to this topic. Method This studied used a qualitative approach to research. Such an approach allows for great depth of research rather than great breadth. Qualitative research allows for more understanding into why people behave in certain ways or how they think rather than focussing simply on what they do or believe (Ambert, Adler, Adler & Detzner, 1995). This makes it suitable for research on the attitudes and perspectives of the less heard groups of people, like domestic workers.

It allows for true feelings and attitudes to be revealed and therefore gives far greater insight into the life and trials of a domestic worker. The method used to obtain information was that of a semi structured interview. This is an interview guided by questions but not strictly so. It is a highly beneficial means in many ways. It obtains macu relevant information, the audience is specifically targeted, it is structured to allow comparisons, can be used on sensitive topics, and allows for new areas of interest to emerge as one is able to diverge from the topic if necessary.

The disadvantages however are that interviewing skills are required and that it is a time consuming and resource intensive process. There is also always a risk of interviewer bias as the interviewer is a just a human being interacting with another human being (Cozby, 2005). The participant in this study was a 53 year old black lady from originally Vryburg. She is the domestic worker of my father’s girlfriend and therefore has had much contact with me prior to the interview.

Although she was a very willing participant this may have affected the way in which she answered questions. She was promised complete confidentiality which should have helped her to feel comfortable to say what she wants, however there is still the possibility she may have held back especially in regard to her feelings about her employer, you may notice she only said positive things about this which leaves room for the unsaid negative. However she seemed comfortable and relaxed throughout the interview.

Being from a higher class to that of the participant may have limited the interview somewhat. The interviewee may have felt I cannot relate to her and therefore shared less of her experiences. Perhaps in further research of this kind it would be beneficial to train ex-domestic workers to conduct interviews. By doing so the participant would stand on common ground with the interviewer. Although the participants English was extremely good it is not her first language and perhaps if I were able to conduct the interview in her first language it ould have been more welcoming and she might have expressed herself far better.

Results The interview shed light on five major themes. These themes may not all be entirely relevant to the question posed, however that’s the beauty of qualitative research, one often finds far more than one was looking for and this opens up new areas to be researched. Gender, class & race effects It became apparent that the participant views of herself and capabilities were constructed closely around what would be expected of a black, lower class women.

She aspired to nursing and then as a second resort chose domestic work. Passive acceptance Throughout the interview the participant never once shows a strong desire to change her situation even though she does not seem entirely satisfied with it. She accepts the situation and does not seem to see a way out of it. Isolation The participant admits to wanting to be around her family. She very rarely socializes with someone she calls a friend and this lack of companionship must be very lonely. Self sacrifice

The participant seems to feel that even though she is not satisfied the fact that she is able to support her family is enough for her. This may link up to the theme of gender in that as a women she may feel her happiness is less important than serving her husband and family. Money Money is a large theme that appeared in this study. The participant mentions it numerous times and it seems highly relevant in her job satisfaction. Being able to support her family financially appears more important than being there with them. This theme also fits in with that of self sacrifice.

Discussion Some of these themes that arose relate closely to the literature reviewed. Race, class and gender tie in closely with the literature on domestic work during apartheid and the after effects thereof. Having constructed her hopes around what a person of her position should expect to hope for she has left no room for disappointment and is possibly protecting herself. This is perhaps a coping method. The participant seems to identify the positive in most situation, thereby holding onto the all the dignity and satisfaction possible.

This study however broke away from any literature which depicted the new South Africa as still lacking change on a micro level. The participant seems well looked after by her employee and seems to like this aspect of her career, ‘… miss X has helped my family alot over the years’. Social isolation becomes clear throughout the interview. As Hawthorne says social isolation occurs as a result of a lack of personal relationships, and this is very apparent in the life of the participant (Hawthorne, 2006).

She seems to long for her family, ‘if I could live with my family that would be better… ’. This could be having serious effects on her health as she ages. Although the participant seems to think being a live in domestic is beneficial in her case, Hondagneu-Sotelo argues that the social networks developed amongst part time workers are highly beneficial and supportive to women who are otherwise isolated. Money and benefits seem to stand out almost the most in this study.

In asking questions unrelated to money the participant answers saying that the pay is good, showing the great emphasis she puts on it. This theme is the most probable answer to the research question posed. The participant’s main reason for being willing to isolate herself from her family, culture and class is money. She wants nothing more than to support her family and make sure her children are educated. The fact that her employer is generous and she has been able to do this leaves her at terms with her social isolation.

Further research into her stress and isolation levels at a quantitative or psychometric level my yield clearer results, this study however demonstrates that there is a ground for such research and that it may be beneficial. Physical health tests of live in as opposed to live out domestic workers may also lead to interesting literature on this matter. Conclusion This study has therefore provided an in depth account of a problem which possibly demands more consideration, showing that some women are prepared to sacrifice almost their whole life in order to support their loved ones inancially. Although the situation shown here is somewhat undesirable this study has also depicted many positive changes of the post 1994 South Africa with the participant saying she is looked after well by her employee. This study therefore not only met its aim of finding out why women are prepared to live in, but also uncovered other interesting research areas. Hopefully in the future these other topics will be covered more extensively.

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