Domestic work is gendered and waaay undervalued. This we know. We know this because it’s been established over and over again on feminist blogs and in academia. But more importantly we know this because so many of us have seen it happen before our very eyes. We’ve watched our mothers cook and clean each day after working at her full time job, while Dad watches TV. We’ve seen this happen to our sisters, our friends, maybe it’s even happened to you. So many women aren’t properly compensated for that “second shift” they take on, and this extends to women who do domestic work professionally.
The profile of the average domestic worker tends to be a low-income, migrant woman of color. This holds true in the U.S. and throughout most of Latin America. These women often work in homes taking care of children, cleaning, or cooking. Within this private sphere, they work under harsh conditions and are vulnerable to exploitation and mistreatment. The nature of domestic work can make organizing difficult, as these women are often stuck within a home and fear losing their job if they speak out. In spite of this, domestic workers movements around the world have been making huge gains in the past few years.
One of the best examples of this is the International Labor Organization Convention 189 which was adopted in 2011 to guarantee decent pay and working conditions for domestic workers. Since then, only six countries have ratified the convention (including Bolivia, Nicaragua, the Phillipines, Maritius, Italy and Uruguay), but many more have taken steps to support domestic workers, particularly in Latin America, which at 20 million has one of the world’s largest populations of domestic workers.
For example, this March, Argentina passed a law requiring that domestic workers be given maternity leave, paid holidays and a maximum 48-hour work week. The month after, Brazil implemented a constitutional amendment that recognizes domestic workers as the same as any other informal worker, guaranteeing them a 44-hour work week, overtime pay and an 8-hour work day. The Mexican government is discussing following Brazil’s example and is expected to ratify the ILO convention in June of this year. Mexico will be joining Nicaragua, Bolivia and Uruguay, where women-dominated movements made up of workers and employers have pushed their governments for regulation.
Domestic workers in the U.S. face similar problems as those in Latin America. In a report conducted by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, researchers found that half of the domestic workers surveyed were paid less than is necessary to support a family. However, few spoke out for fear of losing their job, or having their immigration status used against them.
We need to create a space where domestic workers can feel safe speaking out for their rights, and where we can support them in pushing for the working conditions they need. As a Latina, this issue hits close to home for me, because it affects so many in our community. The NDWA report notes that Latinas working within domestic work were paid an average of $2 less than their white counterparts per hour worked. The difference grows even more if the Latina is undocumented.
So what is happening in the U.S. to change this? In 2011, the domestic workers movement succeeded in passing the New York Domestic Worker Bill of Rights and has since been organizing tirelessly to see the same bill passed in California. Just this weekend, NDWA called on legislators to pass the bill in honor of their mothers, and the valuable domestic work they did to raise them.
I want to live in a society that no longer views women’s work as less valuable than men’s, even if that work is doing laundry, or rocking a baby to sleep. Do you?
Here’s how you can help:
You can support the We Belong Together Campaign, which is pushing for humane comprehensive immigration reform that keeps migrant families together.
You can sign this petition asking Congress to reduce the barriers to affordable healthcare that have been proposed in the latest version of the reform. Many domestic workers are migrants here in the U.S., and they and their families deserve to be healthy!