Domestic workers are responsible for housework, cooking, laundry, childcare, looking after the elderly or sick, landscaping, babysitting, keeping pets, etc. In countries of the South, the work of domestic workers is undervalued, underpaid, and primarily disregarded: their work is so little appreciated that their human rights are not recognized. These women are exposed to discrimination related to their jobs and working conditions, but also to multiple human rights violations daily.
3 IN 4 DOMESTIC WORKERS ARE WOMEN
Globally, 75.6 million people are employed in domestic work. More than half of the world’s total number of domestic workers are concentrated in two regions alone:
- East and Southeast Asia, with 36%, followed by
- Latin America and the Caribbean, with 19%.
76% of them are women.
As essential players in the homecare economy, they often encounter violations of labor law: excessive working hours, substandard housing, poor or non-payable wages, absence of contracts, and unfair layoffs. Almost 90% of these workers do not have full social security benefits.
For those who live with their employers, violence, mistreatment, and even sexual abuse are commonplace, and their isolation makes them even more vulnerable. Some employers sometimes confiscate their IDs or deny them a working day off.
We are migrant girls and women working as domestic workers from neighboring villages or countries. We are marginalized, abused, exploited, and often raped. We wake up at dawn and go to bed late at night, carrying out all household chores. We suffer silently, and our work is informal, which makes us more vulnerable. Sakinatou Ouedraogo, ADDAD, Burkina Faso.
DOMESTIC WORKERS IN ACTION
Several associations supported by Feminists in Action strive to defend the rights of women domestic workers specifically.
ADDAD is just one example in Burkina Faso, with a nationwide network of 1,700 domestic workers. The organization’s founder, Sakinatou Ouedraogo, has observed a sharp increase in the number of underage young women who have dropped out of school to become domestic workers. To defend and protect their rights, ADDAD runs awareness-raising events in markets and shopping streets and lobbies local leaders, including religious leaders. They campaign for ratifying and enforcing ILO Convention 189, an international benchmark for recognizing domestic workers’ right to decent work.
In Cameroon, ASDAM organizes roadshows across the country to sensitize people to the rights of domestic workers. The members of ASDAM manage training sessions and encourage women to group together in associations to fight for their rights. ASDAM seeks to unite domestic workers within a trade union, the National Union of Professional Domestic Workers SNATDPRO (Syndicat national des travailleurs domestiques professionnels), which it helped create. Like in Burkina Faso, ILO Convention 189 has not been ratified in Cameroon. ASDAM believes obtaining this ratification is a crucial battle and would allow the organization to rely on legal texts when demanding recognition of domestic workers’ rights.
In Madagascar, the SENAMAMA association holds events and has joined a coalition of national trade unions to raise its profile. SENAMAMA also trains its own staff on domestic workers’ rights so that they can better defend themselves against abusive employers and, in turn, share the knowledge gained with their counterparts.
Domestic workers’ rights associations are often founded by domestic workers who have experienced, or know of, the harshness of domestic workers’ living and working conditions. Typically, the collectives they form are small, under-resourced, and ill-equipped, especially in Africa. Activists compensate for their precarious means with an impressive determination and commitment to action. The Feminists in Action Project is committed to providing them with financial support in their fight for the dignity of millions of women whose daily ordeal remains all too often invisible.
Would you like to see the current funding situation for feminist organizations worldwide? Read this article!