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Guatemala: Guatemalan Domestic Workers Reveal a Dirty Business

by IDWFED published May 04, 2015 12:00 AM
Contributors: Louisa Reynolds/Women's eNews
At the age of 8, Fidelia Castellanos had just landed her first job as a domestic worker in Guatemala City and her tiny hands were already dry and chapped from washing, cooking and cleaning.



Read the original article in full: Guatemalan Domestic Workers Reveal a Dirty Business | Women's eNews


Castellanos had been raised on a coffee and sugar plantation in the municipality of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa, in the southwestern department of Escuintla, and she had never seen a TV before.

One day, as she cleared the table after dinner, she momentarily gazed up at the TV screen in amazement. Suddenly, a burning pain in her cheek brought her back to reality and tears began streaming down her face. Her employer's husband had slapped her so that she would never again forget that she was there to work from dawn to dusk and could not remain idle even for a few seconds.

That would be the first of many humiliations that Castellanos would face as a domestic worker.

Her last employer instructed another domestic worker to search her handbag before leaving the house at the end of the day. When she dared to complain, she was fired. Ironically, her employer worked for a well-known human rights organization.

Women's eNews interviewed Castellanos in her home in Guatemala City. Despite the hardship she has endured, her tone is upbeat.

Hers is the story of thousands of Guatemalan women.

Centracap, a local advocacy group, estimates 186,000 domestic workers are in Guatemala and more than 50 percent have emigrated to Guatemala City from impoverished rural areas. Some earn an hourly wage; others live with their employers. The latter often work up to 14 hours a day and are usually paid $150 a month, half of the national minimum monthly wage, which is currently $304.68.

What makes Castellanos unique is her determination to fight for better working conditions in Guatemala, where labor unionism is weak after the repression of workers' movements under the country's recent history of military dictatorships.

Trying to Unionize

At the age of 49, Castellanos decided to follow her father's footsteps - he had been a labor organizer on the plantation on which she grew up - and began to seek support from other domestic workers to set up the Domestic and Independent Workers' Union (Sitradomsa) in 2011. "I don't want other women to suffer the way I did," she says.

But it's been slow going. After four years, Sitradomsa has 55 members who pay a monthly quota of $1.20 and almost 100 attend its awareness raising events. "It's been hard because the women are afraid and they have been told that if you're a labor organizer you're going to get killed. But that was before; now we have the right to organize," says Castellanos.

The shocking case of Candelaria Acabal, a 24-year-old Mayan woman from the town of San Pedro Jocopilas, in the highland municipality of Quiché, reveals the particularly sadistic forms of abuse that indigenous women can suffer at the hands of their employers. Her case was widely reported by the Guatemalan press.

Since the age of 14, according to media reports, Acabal had lived with her employer, Olga Marisol Natareno Taracena, the wife of former Congressman Adolfo Manuel Rodríguez Recinos. She was forbidden to leave the house. She was routinely beaten and verbally abused. On one occasion, she was forced to have sex with two men. She was also forced to eat dog feces as a punishment for allegedly not keeping the house clean.

Source: Louisa Reynolds/Women's eNews

Story Type: Story

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