1. This is Jannatul Mawa, a Bangladeshi social activist and documentary photographer who “believes in the medium’s potential to combat exploitation.”
2. Through her photo series Close Distance, she attempts to draw attention to the nuanced dynamic between South Asian women and their housemaids.
All photos taken in households in Dhaka (Bangladesh) and posted with permission from the photographer.
3. Having live-in domestic help is ubiquitous in the South Asian upper middle class. Because of the gendered nature of household work, the help is typically female.
4. These women usually relocate from rural parts of South Asia to big cities, where they are employed to live and work for affluent families.
5. In return for household chores — including cooking, cleaning, and running errands — they are recompensed with food, accommodation, and a modest salary*.
*Dropping as low as $15 per month in Bangladesh, according to Jannatul Mawa’s website, and averaging around $60 per month in urban homes around India.
6. While such working conditions would be considered absurd and unethical in the Western world, they are rarely questioned in South Asia.
Earlier this month, an Indian diplomat in the United States was arrested for underpaying her domestic help. In an article covering the scandal, The New York Times wrote, “It is not unusual in India for domestic staff to be paid poorly and be required to work more than 60 hours a week; they are sometimes treated abominably. Reports of maids being imprisoned or abused by their employers are frequent.”