Women who fight for the rights of paid domestic workers, in Latin America

A Woman’s Journey

Women’s journeys are portraits of inspiring women who are supported by our partners.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres separate Lenny Quiroz, Emilsenn Moreno and Cleide Silva Pereira Pinto. They live in Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil respectively and are among the 18 million paid domestic workers in Latin America.* All three are mothers, heads of households and live in poor urban areas. All of them have been working for many years in private households and are responsible for household tasks such as cleaning, cooking and caring for young children. Above all, they share the same commitment – each one of them works to defend the rights of paid domestic workers, including participation in  trade unions **. This is an essential role in Latin America, which accounts for 37% of the world’s domestic work*.  Three quarters of the women who work in such care service are still part of the informal economy*, synonymous with insecure jobs, no social security, no fixed working hours, low wages and at risk of abuse and harassment.

With the  “Women, Dignity and Work” programme, which is a component of the programme “Equal Value, Equal Rights”, the non-governmental organisation, CARE, is helping to improve the situation of domestic workers in Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil by strengthening their representative organisations. Through training, it aims to improve  their knowledge of their rights (salary, social security, working conditions, holidays, rest, etc.) and to consolidate their professional skills, including in administrative and financial management. The project also aims to support them in the creation of social enterprises in care services, to improve their working conditions and income.

“I feel responsible for my community”

Emilsenn

Lenny has experienced exploitation and discrimination: “I have been going to the ‘Centre for the Protection of Women’ for two years where I get psychological assistance. There I met other women and decided to take action. In the neighbourhood where I live, our living conditions were very difficult: we had no running water, no sanitation, and no electricity. I became a leader and started organising my community, putting pressure on the local government and gathering signatures for petitions calling for access to basic social services. Today, I am the General Secretary of the National Union of Domestic Workers of Ecuador (UNTHA). It is a space of empowerment that enables us to demand implementation of the law and prevent the violation of rights of paid domestic workers”. Like her, Emilsenn and Cleide are also working to support their communities. To Emilsenn, it is a calling: “I feel responsible for my community”.

“We are not exploitable 24 hours a day”

Lenny

For each of them, learning has been an important step. According to Cleide, “The more you learn, the more you open your eyes”. Lenny also says: “I now know the law, our rights and how to demand that these are respected. We are not exploitable 24 hours a day”.

After receiving training, all three women take pride in passing this knowledge on so that all women can defend their rights. They lead the way, sometimes guided themselves by other inspiring women – in the case of Lenny, it was her own mother. “My mother was the only woman in her community to fight the men to obtain the ownership of the land they had worked on for years. She was then voted as the Treasurer and the community eventually realised their dream – they became the rightful owners of the land”. Emilsenn has also taken on a mission: “I want to help others with the knowledge I am gaining, so that they will not be stepped on”.

“I witnessed the mobilisation of the domestic workers with my own eyes”.

Cleide

Emulation advances the cause. As Cleide also says: “During a training given by CARE, I used the opportunity to involve other women in our cause. I witnessed the mobilisation of domestic workers during that training. Eight of them joined our union and it has been a great success especially considering how committed they all are.”.

With the health, economic and social crises linked to Covid-19, the situation has worsened for these workers: less income due to reduced working hours, loss of employment, increased insecurity, risk of exposure due to lack of protective equipment and illness/death. CARE has provided emergency assistance (financial aid, food distribution, protective equipment etc.) to support these women and their communities. It also helped them to access digital tools to continue remote training and the sharing of experiences and action. As a result of this support, Emilsenn, Lenny and Cleide have hope despite the pandemic. The next challenge for each of them will be to start a social enterprise in care services, run by and for domestic workers. “This will help many women to work with dignity,” concludes Emilsenn.

 

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* Source: International Labour Organization
** – Lenny Quiroz is General Secretary of UNTHA (Unión Nacional de Trabajadoras del Hogar y Afines / National Union of Domestic Workers of Ecuador).
– Emilsenn Moreno is a founding member of UTRASD (Unión de Trabajadoras Afrocolombianas del Servicio Doméstico / Union of Afro-Colombian Domestic Workers).
– Cleide Silva Pereira Pinto is Director and member of the Advisory Board of FENATRAD (Federação Nacional de Trabajadoras Domésticas / National Federation of Domestic Workers of Brazil).