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Unlearning Ownership

It was about two weeks ago I came across a post on social media. A woman wrote in for suggestions on how to get lice out of the hair of her two young girls. She was devastated, especially when she discovered that they got it from the domestic staff. Unknown to both her and the domestic staff, the domestic staff’s hair was the breeding ground.

As I went through the comments, and reading people’s helpful suggestions, some caught my attention. I ordinarily would have looked away, until I saw that it wasn’t just one-off, but a number of people actually held similar views as they suggested the same thing – “Just scrape off your domestic staff’s hair.”

I haven’t stopped wondering why anyone would think they had the right to make that decision for another adult simply because they had employed them, but I have an idea and it is the OWNERSHIP MENTALITY.

While I do not think any employer sets out to be a slave master or would even stand in agreement with it, many still unconsciously operate with a slave master’s mindset. A mindset that takes away the rights of their domestic staff because they are not in the economic/social position to reject their demands. When a domestic staff then rejects this and stands up for herself, she is termed rude, too forward or too exposed.

An employer has mentioned that she seizes the phone of her domestic staff upon resumption. They are not allowed to use phones at all throughout the period of employment. Her reason is that each place of work has its rules, referring to offices, so does her home. But no office exerts it rules over their staff for 24 hours in a day, only during work hours. Her own rule has taken away the right of an adult to communicate with people they love, even when they are not working. That’s slavery.

If the decision you are making impacts your domestic staff’s body, wellbeing, preferences that do not interfere with the needs of your home, like the choice of bathing soap, then they have to be involved in the decision-making process.


By being intentional about offering choices. Acknowledging that your domestic staff has a right to choose what they want and you be fine with it even when their choices don’t match your desires. So, for the domestic staff with lice, the choices that could have been presented are: Go home to treat yourself or subject yourself to rigorous treatment here for two weeks, cut the hair if she doesn’t mind or you’ll have to find a replacement if she refuses any of the above. This way, cutting the hair is presented as a choice not a demand.

Choices empower your domestic staff. And this is the part many struggle with, because you feel empowering your staff means disempowering yourself. But that’s not true. The ability to make decisions amidst multiple choices helps your staff to be more responsible. It helps them come to the right decision for themselves after weighing other options and their consequences. With this, they are developing their decision-making process and learning good judgment. Unlike a domestic staff who is compelled to do only because you say so. They therefore become fully dependent on you for decision making and fail to use their initiative when needed.

By doing this, you end up harboring a resentful staff who cannot wait for the slightest opportunity to be in a position to exert power over you.

So, if you don’t like the bathing soap your domestic staff uses, maybe because it bleaches her skin and gives her an odour, unlearning ownership will mean you present her with better options and explain why they are better than what she has now, rather than saying “Throw your old soap away and start using this one.”

The good thing about choices is that you also get yours as an employer. You have a choice to say “I don’t want to employ you anymore because our choices do not match.”


I always hope that as I train domestic staff to be more confident and knowledgeable, they are met with employers who give them the room to be respected employees not compel them to be slaves.

I’ll see you in my next blog in the unlearning series.

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