Mayday for domestic Workers: Why the demand for domestic workers' rights must be heard
More than half of all work carried out by the world's population is domestic care work. So this International Workers Day on 1 May, maybe it's a good time to ask: why do domestic workers have so few rights? And why is no one speaking up about it?
We're not servants, we're workers.
Eusebia Guarache, a domestic worker in Bolivia, told CARE: "We're always discriminated against, we're not treated equally in society, we're always seen as 'that servant', 'that girl', 'that plate-washer'. So our employers call us these names and they look at us like animals. They don't treat us like people."
Because domestic work is carried out in the private sphere, it is invisible, undervalued and unregulated. This doesn't just mean poor pay and conditions. For many domestic workers, it also means emotional, physical and sexual abuse – all suffered in the privacy of the home, behind closed doors.
So why does no one speak up about it?
Why have the rights of domestic workers been overlooked for so long? Because...
Domestic workers are fragmented.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, there are between 17 and 19 million domestic workers, accounting for 7 per cent of the urban labour force, and 95 per cent of these workers are women. Most are not connected to each other, making it much harder for them to organise and speak out.
Domestic workers keep the economy going.
Many middle class people rely on domestic workers to enable their own professional life, and some worry that improving domestic workers' rights will price them out of the market.
It's a difficult, messy issue.
Politicians have been unwilling to legislate because the 'home' is conceived as the householder's private and unregulated space. Society also seems reluctant to admit to the level of abuse that goes on. But unwillingness to legislate has reinforced the employer's sovereignty over the employee, leaving domestic workers vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse, economic exploitation and job insecurity.
So what can we do?
We can start by talking about it – and making it part of the political agenda. That's why we've produced our new report on decent work for domestic workers. And this is what we're working to do:
- Pressure states to adopt, ratify and enforce ILO Convention 189 to give domestic workers clarity on their rights
- Shift the attitudes of middle and upper class households to value domestic work and respect the rights of domestic workers
- Support domestic workers to organise and improve their capacity to lobby effectively
- strengthen civil society's capacity for oversight of legislation – because rights only become reality if they are implemented, respected and protected.
About the author:
Sofia Sprechman is Global Director of Programmes for CARE International. She is currently based in Quito, Ecuador, where she has seen the emergence of the fight for decent work for domestic workers in South America.
Story Type: News