Helping domestic workers stand up for their rights

A domestic worker in Ecuador looking after some children

Estimates suggest that there may be as many as 100 million domestic workers worldwide. Together, they would rank among the dozen or so most populous countries on Earth. And yet, there’s a good chance you know little to nothing about them or their working conditions.

Because they work in individual homes, domestic workers have long been invisible and voiceless, and as a result, they are often excluded from conditions and provisions that most workers take for granted such as established working hours, a minimum wage, social security and maternity leave.

Women’s work

Women and girls make up the brunt of this injustice as they make up the majority of domestic workers. Many have no rights and endure physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their employers.

A domestic worker’s story

Meet mother-of-five Maria, 39, from Ecuador. She earns US$30 a week – far below the minimum wage set for domestic workers by the Ecuadorian Government. Formally, her job doesn’t exist, and therefore she is not able to claim any rights afforded to other officially employed workers.

I have worked for the same lady for many years. She gives me clothes, but $120 a month is not enough. I have children to put through school.

Maria’s employers are teachers; she has mixed feelings towards them.

"I’d like to leave, but I feel close to them. She has been good to me, if I ask for something she normally gives it to me."

Maria’s mother was also a domestic worker and she joined her mother, cooking and cleaning in households from a very young age.

"When I was a little girl I worked in a house and broke a lamp, the lady punished me.

When I was 11 I was raped. I went to work in a house outside the city when some men came. They covered my mouth and raped me. They just left me there.

"I got pregnant, but the child died. Nobody knew about my story, I was ashamed. It was many years ago but it is still the reason why I would not let my daughters do domestic work now, I am afraid it could happen again. It happened because I went to work."

Learning about her rights

Maria recently joined the women’s association supported by CARE and is learning about the rights she is entitled to as a domestic worker.

She says, "I am really committed to the association. I am not the person that I used to be, I have changed a lot."

I feel better, my self esteem has grown; I can now talk to people.

Maria now helps to counsel young women who come to the association who have also suffered sexual abuse.

"I volunteer to interview them like a social worker, I help these girls. When I hear their story I cry. I remember and I cry, nobody knew about my story."

Maria is torn about leaving her poorly paid job as she is attached to the family she works for, but she now knows she deserves more.

"I’d like to leave the lady, I am looking for another job, but what I would really like is my own small business. I enjoy cooking."

Maria is determined that through the association, there will be change.

We need more campaigns to spread the word, to teach the women who employ us, but also the men, as they need to be educated too.

Our work

We strongly believe that domestic work is ‘real’ work and should be recognised as such. We support organisations that fight for domestic workers’ rights and hold states to account to ensure decent working conditions.

To date, only 12 countries have ratified and submitted ILO Convention 189 which mandates state protection to ensure decent work for domestic workers. As an organisation dedicated to helping women and girls overcome poverty and injustice, we are working to ensure more countries follow suit.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.