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SYNEM Guinea: Creating a Safer Work Environment for Women Workers

SYNEM Guinea: Creating a Safer Work Environment for Women Workers

SYNEM Guinea: Creating a Safer Work Environment for Women Workers

The National Syndicate of Domestic Employees in Guinea (SYNEM-GUINÉE) has been actively working on supporting domestic workers report the abuse they face in the sector. In this interview, we spoke to Asmaou Bah Doukouré, its general secretary, to shed light on one of the gender-based violence cases handled by the union in 2020, the case of Aissatou, a worker who faced physical violence and continues to be supported by the union till today.


SYNEM Guinee is one of the few examples of successful collaborations with local authorities to support workers filing complaints of abuse against their employers.

Can you give us an example of a case you have handled and brought to justice?


In 2020, we have supported a worker named Aissatou handle a case of abuse against her and be reintegrated in society. She has been a live-in worker with her employer for five months, getting paid 500,000 Guinean Franks (50 USD) per month, in order to raise her 5-year-old daughter. She lived in poverty, as a divorced single mother, she needed the money and was working in the city while her daughter stayed back with the grandmother. It was Aissatou’s sister who found her this employment, and although Aissatou faced regular physical abuse, she continued to work for the family taking care of a disabled person.  

One day, the female employer accused Aissatou of stealing money and a phone from the house. Aissatou said that she is innocent, so in effort to force a confession out of her, the woman employer sent after a young man from the neighborhood to tie her up and electrocute her with an iron. The man applied the iron three times of Aissatou’s thigh, leaving six scars. He also attempted to rape her, but was stopped by a neighbor. Injured and abused, Aissatou did not confess to the theft. So instead of being sent to a hospital, she was sent to the police office that refused to put her under arrest as she was severely injured. They sent her back to the employer’s house. This is when SYNEM-Guinee took charge of the case.

How was SYNEM-Guinee able to assist Aissatou?


As the union works with the Brigade for the Protection of Vulnerable Persons (BPPV in French), we were able to pull some strings and send her into a hospital to attend to her wounds. We approached the Guineean organization for the Defense of Human Rights (OGDH) to take charge of the case and we filed a complaint against her female employer. The union also mediatized this case for Aissatou to receive public support and for us to raise awareness about the violence endured in the domestic work sector.

After Aissatou was discharged from the hospital, I took her in to stay with me at my house for two weeks, as she needed care for her recovery. Her employer was called into a tribunal of first instance to be judged, and served 4 months in prison but was rapidly discharged with the rise of COVID-19 in 2020, as she had diabetes and being confined with other prisoners could have had impacts on her health. She was therefore released on parole. The perpetrator escaped and the police roams the neighborhood from time to time in search for him, but he was not found yet.

The work of our union did not stop here. We supported Aissatou create a small income generating activity so she can support herself and her daughter. We also put her daughter to school, paying the costs through volunteer contributions. As Aissatou recovers and becomes reintegrated in the society, she will be able to create the better future for herself and her family with our support.

This is not but one instance of abuse that is disproportionately experienced by domestic workers. How does SYNEM-Guinee work to raise awareness on the issue with its larger membership and with local authorities?


We regularly hold informal talks in the community under a palaver. In Africa, meeting under the palaver is a custom to create and maintain social ties. It is an egalitarian practice in which community participates, which makes settlements of disputes and intimate sharing possible.

During the rainy season when it is not possible to meet under a tree, we lay out mats, bring Calabash, and invite women to discuss what is it that we are facing as domestic workers. The most recent encounter was amazing and everyone cried at the same time in response to the powerful sharing. I started by giving examples of hardships in my own life to encourage more personal sharing. I remember one story that marked me a lot; it is of a young woman who was orphaned at a young age. Her father has passed away and her mother was sick requiring medication for survival. She did not have the money to save her mother as she worked as a domestic worker and what she needed exceeded what she had. If medication was not administrated to her mother immediately, she would have passed. The young woman attempted to borrow money from a man who told her that he would give her the sum in exchange for sex. The young woman refused that he takes advantage of her vulnerable situation and looked for alternatives, reaching every single person she knows, friends, family, and neighbors, to try and gather the amount of money. It was in vain. After exhausting all options, she went to the man and took his offer. He gave her the money. And although she made it in time, her mother passed away. On top of the grief of losing her mother, the young woman felt violated for nothing. Now she was all alone, living in poverty and feeling violated. Had her mother survived, it would have provided her with some solace. But life can be cruel.

This is one of many experiences that the women shared in the session. When we discuss these intimate details of our lives, it is as if we have been friends for ages, it brings us closer, in an environment where there is no judgement but only solidarity. It is not only solidarity that we build, but also mechanisms to identify and report abuse. We share best practices, whom to speak to and what to do in case of danger. First and foremost, we explain the necessity to report abuse so it is not normalized in the sector.

That is necessary, of course, because we cannot change things that are not acknowledged. In many contexts, coming out with a story of abuse is difficult not only because of the stigma, but also the impunity of the perpetrator.

How is the situation in Guinea?


Here, if the aggressor is known and caught, he will be persecuted to the extent of his crime. We have worked a lot with the competent authorities in order to engrave this practice. This is why we are comfortable supporting survivors to disclose the abuse to the judicial police and the gendarmerie for the defense of vulnerable populations. We work hand in hand and we do not stop our support after the resolution of the case. We work further to support the social reintegration of the survivors. We have well-rounded support and we are currently looking for someone to provide the needed psychosocial support to our members. This is work that we cannot do alone. It is a collective effort that you also contribute to. And for that we are grateful. Together we are stronger, and we are able to fight against victim-blaming and create a safer work environment for our members.


ENG - 2022.07 Aissatou