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Domestic Workers In Gulf Countries Use Tiktok To Vent Their Woes Despite Risks

In partnership with The New York Times, The Fuller Project published the first in-depth examination of how domestic workers in the Middle East have turned to TikTok to share intimate details of their lives — and the consequences they could face for speaking out. Last August, a young Kenyan housekeeper, Brenda Dama, posted one such video from Saudi Arabia. As words like “freedom” and “respect” pop up on the screen, 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.” One in a series posted by Ms. Dama, the video has amassed more than 900,000 views — her account gained nearly 5,000 followers in just two days after posting it.

Far from home and in unfamiliar settings, domestic workers in the Gulf — the vast majority of them women — have long used social media to keep in touch with friends and family. Our story documents how they have increasingly turned to TikTok after the platform’s popularity exploded last year, opening up about their lives and working conditions. Many of them say they are overworked, sexually harassed, discriminated against — and the pandemic has further diminished the minimal freedoms they once had.

To give our readers the context they needed to understand stories like Ms. Dama’s, The Fuller Project created an explainer video for social media, styled after TikTok’s platform. It allowed us to reach, inform and engage broad audiences beyond our normal remit — like the youth who are likely to be on TikTok themselves. The final product is The Fuller Project’s most-watched IGTV video to date.

Published in The New York Times online and in print, our story was widely shared among migrant rights and human rights groups, including The National Domestic Workers Alliance. It was covered by KTN, one of the largest news channels in Kenya, and reporter Louise Donovan discussed the implications of her reporting on NBC News Now and BBC’s Woman’s Hour — the second most popular daily podcast across BBC Radio, with 3.7 million weekly listeners. Several New York Times readers reached out to Brenda on TikTok after publication, engaging with her content and asking her to share more about her life as a foreign domestic worker.

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