The accusations against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the IMF, highlight one thing clearly: Domestic Workers and Hotel housekeepers are in a very vulnerable position. Many of the millions of Domestic Workers that work worldwide as cooks, maids, gardeners, and nannies are in a similar position.
They disappear behind mountains of dishes to be cleaned, clothing to be ironed; they cut the grass in the garden, walk the dogs, clean the car, and look after the children or the elderly. They are the oil in many a family’s engine, their work allows their employers to concentrate on their daily activities.
And yet abuses of all sorts are very common in this group of people, constituted mainly by women. Housework is traditionally unpaid and is socially undervalued and stigmatised. They are often excluded, de jure or de facto, from labour and social protection, sometimes they work up to 16 hours a day and are victims of sexual harassment and rape.
In Latin America alone there are about 8 million people employed as Domestic Workers (nobody knows how many of them are children) and they can barely make a living. In most cases their income is only half that of a fully employed person on a minimum wage (in the case of Peru where I took this photographs an average of 300 Soles 107 USD monthly) and most of them are unable to build a future outside the Domestic Employment: Only 19% have social insurance.
Their situation is so dear that the ILO (International labour organisation) has called for a “Convention on decent work for domestic workers” that will start at the UN in Geneva in June 2011 to determine the basic rights of Domestic Worker.