You And Your House-helps – Let’s Talk About It!



In recent weeks, I’ve been coming across some articles and blog posts that discuss the topic of housemaids, usually in negative situations. Those articles got me thinking about the way the vast majority of middle and upper class Nigerians treat their domestic staff – people like housemaids, gate-men, security men, drivers, gardeners and so on. I discussed the issue with some friends last week and we all agreed that, in general, domestic staff in Nigeria are treated in an appalling way.

From what I’ve observed, they are treated like second-class citizens in the homes where they work. They often don’t share the same living quarters with the rest of the family. Or even if they share the property, they are given the worst spaces possible. They use a different set of utensils to eat, for some reason as if they are not worthy to use the same as the family they live with. They are often given cast-offs of the children’s clothes or the employer’s old and ragged clothes to wear.

They are spoken to in awful and demeaning ways. This is something I’ve observed over and over again. Sometimes I would visit a friend and she would be speaking with me nicely and politely, and then turn around to use a harsh and intimidating tone on her housemaid, and call her abusive names. I don’t understand it. Sure you can use a stern tone when you are giving instructions to an employee but is there a need for the constant stream of abuse? Would any of us take that kind of attitude from our managers at the office? Why do we think that they don’t have feelings, and they cannot be hurt by the terrible words we hurl at them? Is it fair? Doesn’t the bible say something about the way we use our tongues to praise God and curse our fellow human beings?

SEE ALSO: A Day In The Life Of A House Girl

Which brings me to my next point. Domestic staff in Nigeria have little or no employment rights. They don’t have regular working hours, due to the nature of their work. But they also don’t get any benefits. They don’t have days off – they work all day, everyday. They don’t have holidays. They don’t have anything called a social life. They don’t get sick days off or sick pay. The best they get from oga or madam is some panadol. Often they don’t go to school and can’t learn any skill while they are working for their masters. I’m sure none of us professional ladies would ever imagine working for a company that didn’t give us any time off or holidays, or allow us any social life. We would protest those working conditions, but we give the same treatment to our own employees. I have even heard women complaining bitterly when it’s Christmas time, and their maid wants to take a couple of weeks off to go and visit her family. It’s like, she’s not human right? Why does she need time off to go and see her family? Never mind that madam has taken time off from her own job so that she can enjoy her own Christmas holiday. She just cannot cope for two weeks while her maid is away. Why are we so reliant on our maids that we cannot function without them?

Furthermore, the physical violence towards them is just… I don’t know. Women who won’t raise a hand to strike their own children, seem to see no qualms in beating their maids to a pulp at the slightest offense. For some reason, the maid always deserves a beating whenever she makes a mistake, whereas their children do worse things, but they don’t get beaten. Why do we give a harsher treatment to our maids? Would any of us tolerate physical abuse at work? Why do we think it is okay to hit our domestic staff?

The funny thing is that these mistreatment are not limited to any type of woman. I have witnessed women from all spheres of life mistreating their domestic staff. Even women who should know better, like pastor’s wives, lawyers or human right’s activists. We can speak out against so many injustices in the world, but for some reason, we seem to turn a blind eye to the ones we do right under our nose. We can argue that we can’t trust them, they are rogues, thieves and what not. But for the amount of money they are paid, and the useful service they provide to us, most of our domestic staff don’t get treated well. So of course, they don’t have much of an incentive to behave properly. The irony is that, we maltreat our maids, and then leave our children and house in their care when we are not around. Shouldn’t we be worried that the treatment we mete out to them could be taken out on the children? I’m sure there are many innocent children who bear the brunt of the maid’s frustration because of the attitude she gets from her employers.

Then there are the really sad cases of rape and sexual abuse, when the man of the house decides that the maid’s body is his to do whatever he wants with. Usually the poor girl is caught between a rock and a hard place – forced to sleep with her boss and having no way of escape. I have read of cases where the oga impregnates the housemaid and when the madam heard about it, she was thrown out of the house and left at the mercy of fate. Who speaks for the rights of such victims?

Has anyone tried to put themselves in their maid’s shoes? Try to imagine it for a minute. You are a young girl of fourteen, forced to leave education because your family cannot afford it anymore. You are taken away from your family and sent to the city to work for a strange family. You could be scared, lonely, sad and homesick, but you have to put all those emotions aside and get on with it – this is now your fate. You have to endure working from sunrise to sunset every single day of the week for meager wages. If you are really lucky you will end up working for a nice family that will treat you well. But if not, you are treated harshly by everyone in the family – from the madam, to the oga, to the children. And you dare not complain. In fact, who will you complain to? Who will believe you, if you say your madam is mistreating you, or your oga is making sexual advances towards you? The best you can do is to run away. But where does that leave you? Out of a job, broke and lost in a big city. If you can even return home, your family will likely beat you for losing a source of income.

Food for thought.

I hope we can take a step back and re-evaluate the way we treat our housemaids and other domestic staff. They are people like us too, only trapped by the circumstances. That doesn’t justify anybody treating them with no respect or dignity. Let’s not forget that the way we treat others reflects back on us, and we will always reap what we sow. If we sow wickedness… well, it may very well come back to haunt us.

Instead, let’s try to sow a different seed – one of kindness. It may just be a few small changes we make everyday, but it would make a whole world of difference to the people we employ as our domestic staff. If you know your maid has been working flat out for weeks, give her a break from time to time. If you can see she needs new clothes, be kind enough to give her something new that you can afford. Do what you can to make her life better; not worse.

I would like to imagine a world where housemaids can point to the time they spent with their employers and say that those years were one of the best times of their lives. Some may try to take advantage of our kindness, but it shouldn’t matter. We should not be weary of doing good, just because someone once tried to take advantage of it.

Writer – Tolulope Popoola is a reader, writer and lover of books and literature. She is the author of the novel Nothing Comes Close. She is also a publisher and consultant with her own company Accomplish Press, where she publishes stuff and  help other writers to publish their own work too. She blogs at onwritingandlife.com

Image credit: Seattle Globalist

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  1. beautyay@yahoo.com'

    Beauty Fabulous.

    May 28, 2010 at 5:09 am

    Tolulope….I totally agree with you.
    We should treat them (domestic Staff) with kindness, knowing that God Almighty is watching and he will judge all wicked act.
    And for those randy men who sexually abuse their house helps, I say Shame!!!
    May God help us all, Amen.

  2. chizob21@hotmail.com'


    May 28, 2010 at 8:28 am

    This post is very insightful, it’s such a shame that a lot of Nigerian women really don’t care about their maids, I am a witness knowing it’s all around me, they don’t send them to school, they don’t feed them, try correcting a woman on the way she treats her maid, you might find yourself insulted, I love the fact that you are raising more awareness , truly we need to put ourselves in their shoes, maybe then people can learn to change for good.

  3. bussywuzzy@gmail.com'


    May 28, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    while i know that these scenarios do take place it is not always the norm!!! some madams are really good to their domestics and receive only bad behaviour e.g rudeness, theft, wicked acts to the kids etc in return.
    My approach is to be kind and gentle but within limits e.g i wont have my maid watching TV in my bedroom

  4. anon@yahoo.com'


    May 29, 2010 at 1:29 am


    there is no way a child that has been thrown into doing menial jobs at an early age will not steal or be rude. many of them have been so battered psychologically.

    i have a friend who has three kids and a thirteen year old househelp. i mean a thirteen year old child should be under the warm love of her parents, but here is she being burdened by all sort of responsibilities, and her boss expects her to be perfect at all times. she doesn’t even go to school!

    her psychological and emotional makeup is being messed with and that will result in bad and rebellious behaviour in most children.

    we take a lot of things for granted in africa, and its just so sad.

  5. ibironke278@yahoo.com'


    May 31, 2010 at 9:09 am

    tolulope…i think this is a very nice one.but the truth be told…some of these househelps are wicked and no matter how nice you are to them,they still mess up.i ve seen sooooo many examples.doesnt mean pple shd treat their domestic staff like trash anyway.nice write up

  6. dieko_raji@yahoo.com'


    May 31, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Tis indeed so true………i have often wondered at these things myself. I look forward to the day things will change…

    9ice one…thanks so much for posting! someone had to get it oout there and we still need to speak out more for them to others……

  7. yomi_adu@yahoo.com'

    Yomi adu

    June 1, 2010 at 3:25 am

    thanks tolu, i guess we are all too caught up with different stories of ‘house maids’ ending up in disaster that we forget that they are all different from each other, and sometimes their actions are mere reactions of what we give them.

  8. fadenyke277@yahoo.com'


    June 1, 2010 at 4:35 am

    gud observation,i think pple should realiz nw dt dos housemaids r human being lik dem nd dey shud b treatd well

  9. tolu_cutie85@yahoo.com'


    June 1, 2010 at 11:55 am

    i love this , it has been on my mind for months now , the inhumanity meted out to house helps in Nigeria is unspeakable and shameful . A lot of women don’t even allow their househelps to sleep , they work till midnight , doing house chores that should be handled by the ‘madam ‘ of the house . infact, i believe this issue of househelps should be talked about , and trashed out it’s very sad that the slavery days are back right in our homes.

  10. flourishingflorida@gmail.com'


    June 3, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    My dear, u yourself know the ordeal I’ve been passing 2ru with helps. My son is 5 months now, & I’ve had 4 maid!!! Each of these girls I’ve treated like sisters & daughters. D last one threatened with with physical harm after I caught her stealing! (Dis is after several things I’d noticed my monet being short & my husband insist we never accuse her openly until we see her taking it with our own eyes). I pay my househelps well, everyone tells me “ha! Daz too much!” But I say, it’s ok. She will not live wit me 4ever. Let her use here as a stepping stone. I open bank accounts 4 these girls 2 teach them saving, I buy them toiletries, I never never ever shout @ dem. & I get wickedness in return!! Like I told d one who was displaying Hulk Hogan 4 me, God will punish u 4 dis! Because every good I do with them, I did 4 God. & if they turn back & use it against me, their reward is on this earth!

  11. flourishingflorida@gmail.com'


    June 3, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    Am not saying there r no abused helps, BTW. Am just saying dat those who don’t get abused r so programmed to expect evil dat they don’t know wot to do wen someone is good to dem. In d end, most of dem do what has now become nature to dem, which is to be evil! 4 helps in 5 months, 4 blog posts, I think am fairly qualified to make d assessment I’ve just done

  12. anon@yahoo.com'


    June 4, 2010 at 3:15 am


    i really like what anon said earlier, some of these girls are psychologically messed up and the only way they know how to deal with it is to rebel.

    why do we employ young girls who should be under their parental care? many of them don’t even go to school and have been subjected to all sort of abuse.

    do you know some of these girls are forced into being househelps by greedy relatives who take advantage of them for money!

    i think it is cruelty to expect perfection from emotionally, psychologically and socially battered girls!

    here is what i think, if you need help, get an adult that you can deal with in a professional way, like you will deal with your staff at work.

    no young girl is wired to be a domestic help! dt is why you think they are programmed to do evil!

  13. olumokead2002@yahoo.com'


    June 5, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    I quite agree with you and and am a disciple of this school of thought but when a house-help is treated very well and she now steals and disappears with your properties and caught with your picture when questioned she said she wanted to use it for voodooo you can imagine what kind of thoughts will be going through your mind??? When asked why she is doing this she didnt have anything to say. All the same one doesnt need to repay evil for evil.God will help us and give us wisdom to handle situations like this.Amen!

  14. unyimek2007@yahoo.com'

    Unyime-Ivy King

    June 10, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    This post is most interesting because, it is about a topic i have written extensively about in a security magazine i contribute to called, ‘Security and Safety.’

    I totally agree with the views of the writer about how househelps are unfairly treated generally, but i want to point out that, there are exceptions to the rule. For instance, i grew up in a home where my parents treated maids as family members and we had some really exceptional ones that i remember with fondness-yet some still misbehaved. As a married woman with kids of my own, i towed the same line with my parents and treated my maids as members of my family. If i am traveling, we board the same plane and all that, but i tell you, i have been burnt without mercy by nearly all of them.
    I had to do serious research on maids and come to some serious conclusions. First, i never employ underaged girls-my maids are at least 23 and above. I have decided now that, i will treat them with the fairness all human beings deserve, but i must make it categorically clear that i am the boss and they are emplpyees. They are not family members. Also, my kids are not permitted to use bad language on them or be rude. On the few occasions they have dared-my oldest is 7-they have been severly punished. I don’t also use bad language on maids. No Matter how angry i get, i don’t curse or abuse, but i will always point out wrong behaviour when i see it.

    In conclusion, i plan to do my best with my maids nd treat them according to the dictates of my conscience, but no matter what, i have learnt-treat your maid the way you would want your boss in the office to treat you and leave the rest to God. He will avenge any injustice against you, when you have been just to the maid. So long

  15. unyimek2007@yahoo.com'

    Unyime-Ivy King

    June 10, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    I think it is a mentality issue. I have tried much older mature women, i had one in her 40’s, who said she was a grandmother. The experience i had with her was even worse than the behaviour of some of these younger girls. She used to be rude and would want to come and go as she likes. The tales of the older women, or nannies, is a subject for another day. I put it down to the devil not wanting them to better their lot in life, by making them perpetual house hoppers, instead of settling in one house where they are treated well, and receiving good from the employers in the end.

    I have a cousin, whose mum brought in a young girl as a maid, that girl grew with the family, was sent to school, my uncle, who worked with NNPC then, got her a job in a nice establishment, and she mrried from that house! she married a nice young man from a good family ant today, she is nicely settled. That is God’s reward for good and dilligent service.

  16. ekindele@yahoo.com'


    June 10, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    I can deeply relate to the article you wrote and I stand on working to be the voice for those who are affected by this.

    I can say this because of the personal exprience I had growing up with my unlce and his family. His wife even though she claimed she grew up with someone who mistreated her, she still fail to learn from that instead she became a very angry person who maltreated from the age of 4yrs till I was 21yrs old.

    The most sad part to this maltreatment was that my friend and other people found it very hard to believe at first because she was a green snake under green grass. Her Kids also followed in her footsteps, which as a child back then was the worst thing I can ever imagine should be happening to me.

    I finally moved out and this hurts and pains affected me in ways I can’t even mention. Even though I was going through all this I always had encourgaing words from stranges that even though weeping may last for a night Joy will always come in the morning. I am always thankful to God for seening be through it and making me the person who I am today.

    It very much still hurts somethings when I think about it and how a mother can treat another person’s child like a piece of rubbish but I have learnt to look up to God for strenght on those days.

    Thanks again for writing on this issue because as you can tell from my encounter it is surely a matter we all need to take seriouslly.

  17. ibanimi.moses@yahoo.com'


    June 11, 2010 at 3:14 am

    This is timely! This morning my househelp was extremely rude to me because i asked him to raise dress properly. He also banged the door on me and in the process spoilt the lock. Now this is a guy whom i insisted go to school, i pay 60,000 naira per term exclusive of books and even got a private tutor for him. Lately money and provisions have been missing from the house. In a case where the person is bad no matter how nice u are to them what do u do? Sometimes pple who seem to maltreat domestic helps have been dealt with by them in the past.

  18. kemsani@gmail.com'


    June 11, 2010 at 3:31 am

    From my point of view, I fink whichevr way u treat ur maids either nice or bad, watevr d maids want to do is within dem. So y not jst treat dem nicely nd leave d rest to God to judge. Malteatin ur maid is of no good. So let’s b nice to dem, nd if dey fail to b nice aswell sack dem nd leave dem to God

  19. bomi@jollynotes.com'

    Bomi Jolly - JollyNotes

    June 11, 2010 at 6:45 am

    Thank you so much for talking about this! I know not everyone treats their househelps this way, but what you described above is way too common(sadly). It’s ridiculous. Thank you, thank you, for talking about this!! We need to talk about and act on these things…change is needed!

  20. honeybunch307@yahoo.com'

    Seun Kosoko

    June 11, 2010 at 7:04 am

    Ok maybe its true that most househelps are been maltreated but what will you say of my case,
    I have this househelp that I treat like my own sister I took her in last year november cos she
    has no where to go to and her family are poor and in the village. She is 19 but stopped schooling
    since 9yrs old so I put in school pry 4 and what does she use in paying me back?
    Just on wednesday I got to know she was pregnant no one cud have suspected cos the house is big and she
    Has her room to herself to worsen it she was 5mths 2wks pregnant,I still haven’t gotten over it cos it
    Makes mii feel like if I have a female child she might just do the same. I was lucky she dint die cos
    She was bleeding not knowing the child had already died in her due to a local medicine she used but thank
    God she is alive and the doctors were able to flush out the died foetus without compl
    -ications,so not everyone maltreats their helps

  21. s@l.com'


    June 11, 2010 at 10:01 am

    This article really raises some valid points. The way we treat our househelps is truly disgraceful. If we think about it, it’s no better than slavery. We think we are good, decent people, we even worship God in church on Sunday, but we treat our fellow human beings with so much evil.

    For those who say they treat their house maids well, that is supposed to be the norm. Do you think you deserve a special award for being kind to your fellow human being? Even if people repay you evil, we are to keep our own conscience clear. Let’s not make it sound like we are doing househelps a favour when we treat them like proper human beings instead of slaves with no rights.

  22. tosinolawuni@yahoo.co.uk'

    Olawuni Tosin

    June 11, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    no matter the excuses given by people who have househelps working for them, i still think its not right to maltreat them no matter what they might do to provoke us. i was brought up in my home with no housemaid, but i had a neighbor who had a maid that worked for them till she got married and my neighbor sponsored her on the wedding day.
    so the point i’m making is that, tolulope has made a huge impact with the way we treat how maids and should try as much as possible to be nice to them because they are humans like us and should remember that our lifes lies in their hands and those of our family members.

  23. wwjd_ad2j@yahoo.com'


    June 11, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    This is why I’ve decided to do what i can; start an employment agency where people of humble backgrounds who wishes to serve in this department can get a proper orientation and know their rights and interested/intending employers will have to abide by the laws protecting these ones when they come for them. . . This world will be a better place for us all if we not only talk about this issue(s) but do something about it.

    • s@l.com'


      July 6, 2010 at 8:11 pm

      Please start one as soon as possible. There is a great need in the market for the service. It will also stop the massive exploitation of fellow human beings that is the current situation.

  24. thecongogirl@yahoo.co.uk'

    po woem

    June 11, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    I think there should be a write up on how badly househelps treat their madams. Also I wonder what scientists are doing that they have not invented a robot that can effectively handle domestic chores. That would certainly save househelps from their bondage and definitely save madams from the onslaught of househelps. Curously no body mentioned the case of househelps who actively seek out their oga’s trying to get him to notice her with the aim of becoming his mistress or deposing madam altogether!

  25. chyohany@yahoo.com'


    June 16, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    A grand write-up indeed! Thanks for sharing

  26. chiliz722@yahoo.ca'


    June 18, 2010 at 5:25 am

    Tolu, thanks a lot for writing about a subject many women shy away from – for obvious reasons -.

    The claim “I treat her like my sister” has become so trite that every woman resorts to it. Just pay a visit to some of them and you’ll be left dumbfounded at what some women call “treating like a sister”.
    Why do some think they are doing a great deed when they behave humanely with their house-helps? It is the least expected of you.
    Those who say their househelps lie, steal, seduce their husbands or sons, get pregnant, do they imagine house maids come from another planet? Can any of us maintain that there is no female member of our family/village who lies, steals, lures men into sex or has gotten pregnant out of wedlock? Do we ourselves or our colleagues not tell half-truths (not mentioning outright lies just to be polite), steal (time, ideas, office materials)? Given the chance, how many of us would shudder to seduce male executives in our workplace for whatever “personal advancement” reason? Can we honestly assert we never had sex before our wedding day or are we being quick to judge pregnat maids because we had access to contraceptives?
    The truth is, the traits found in house helps are shared human caracteristics. We are not better than them morally simply because we are more intellectually enlightened than them.
    Bottom line: Treat your house-helps the way you would like to be treated if you were in their shoes.
    Treat your house-helps the way you want your employer to treat you.
    Treat your house-helps the way Jesus treated his disciples.

  27. jadeyemi15@yahoo.co.uk'


    January 29, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Good write up. Many of us have pass through odeal of been a house-help of a thing.

  28. biodomoye@ovi.com'


    September 28, 2014 at 10:38 am

    It is not easy but i always say i am doing what ever i do because of God. My house help has stayed with me for 13 years she came as a child and not that she is perfect but i consider this – she should be at home with her parents but here she is working. i try to put up with the childish behaviour knowing that i too passed through that phase. believing like every parent that things she will grow up well like my children.

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