“Today, the women have politicised the space and the man as provider exist no more. He is unemployed, the families have become more varied in form and we, women feel much more deserving of rights than we did before.”

This was a reflection of Peruvian feminist activist Virginia Vargas on the impact of increasing globalisation on otherwise stable perception of women and families. As more and more family members especially male household heads are retrenched due to privatisation and deregulation, women's burden is further multiples and become heavier. One symptom of phenomenon is the increasing concentration of women in domestic work both at home and abroad and the need for effective protective measures.

Such phenomenon was further surfaced during the conference, “Domestic Workers are Workers: Decent Work for All,” organised by the Committee for Asian Women (CAW) from 26 to 27 August 2008 in Bangkok, Thailand.

One participant, the Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. (VFF) presented its alarming findings on domestic work in India, Indonesia, Nepal, and the Philippines: Ninety per cent of the 20 million estimated Indian domestic workers are girls and women, from 12 to 75 years. Of the 2.6 million domestic workers in Indonesia, 688,000 are children below 18 years. Sixty-eight per cent of the 150,000 domestic workers in Nepal are female, 70 per cent of them under 18 years. Finally 9 out of 10 Filipino domestic workers are women, with 60 per cent or 363,000 belonging to the 15-24 year age bracket. Most women from these countries also find themselves as domestic workers abroad.

All women cited poverty as the main driver for their involvement in domestic work, with some citing debt bondage, urban homelessness, insurgency and conflict and family problems as additional factors. While their economic and social mobility could hardly be guaranteed in the cities or abroad, many experience low wages, long and unpaid working hours, and the lack of health and security benefits. Others have even suffered verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Still others have become subjects of trafficking in the process.

“While it may be true that there are existing laws which may be invoked for the protection of domestic workers, the entire context of the domestic workers' vulnerability and invisibility would not be captured by these isolated and separate provisions. There is an overriding, imperative, and compelling need for the enactment of a specific law on domestic workers,” Tricia Clare Oco of VFF asserted.

In response to the growing calls for greater protection of domestic workers locally and abroad, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is looking at a convention that is dedicated on domestic work. Its recent survey validated that domestic workers are “particularly devoid of legal and social protection” and “singularly subject to exploitation,” with “their legitimate interests and welfare neglected in most countries.”

Although such convention is promising, women's groups and social movements are more concerned with its actual implementation, beginning with the states' ratification of such convention. Chris Bonner of Women in Informal Employment' Globalising and Organising (WIEGO) also pointed out, “[The proposed convention has to take into account] that majority of domestic workers are unorganised and the international movement is still weak. Pressure [must also be placed] on employers and governments, [among others].”

“Domestic Workers are Workers: Decent Work for All” was attended by 42 participants from Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and South Africa. The Committee for Asian Women is a network of 43 women workers groups in 14 Asian countries which aims to empower women workers to protect, advocate, and advance their rights.

Sources:
E-mail correspondence with Niza Concepcion and Deepa Bharathi of the Committee for Asian Women.

Bonner, Chris. (2008). “Domestic Workers' Rights: Prospects and Challenges for International Advocacy.” Presentation during the conference, “Domestic Workers are Workers: Decent Work for All,” 26 to 27 August 2008, Bangkok, Thailand.

De Meyer, Tim, et. al. (2008). “(International) Labour Standard on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.” Presentation during the conference, “Domestic Workers are Workers: Decent Work for All,” 26 to 27 August 2008, Bangkok, Thailand.

Oco, Tricia Clare. (2008). “Research on Domestic Workers in India, Indonesia, Nepal and the Philippines.” Presentation during the conference, “Domestic Workers are Workers: Decent Work for All,” 26 to 27 August 2008, Bangkok, Thailand.

Vargas, Virginia. (2007). “Democracy: Ruptures and Transformations.” In WIA (Women in Action): Radicaling Democracies: Feminist Dialogues and World Social Forum 2007. Vol. 1, pp.6-11.

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