Promoting Labor Rights for Women Domestic Workers

Posted by Barbara Shailor
March 29, 2013
Chamber Maid Opens Curtain

This year during Women's History Month, the United States is highlighting its continuing efforts to press for gender equality and to advance the status of women and girls. As Secretary Kerry affirmed in his editorial on March 8, the contributions of women are essential for widely-shared prosperity, sustainable development, and durable peace.

I want to take this opportunity to recognize the women who perform some of the most marginalized and at the same time, most personal, work in our global economy -- domestic workers. Their contribution has long gone undervalued and unrecognized; yet, domestic workers -- approximately 80 percent of whom are women, and many of whom are migrants -- form a significant component of the modern service economy.

Despite these contributions, domestic workers face barriers in exercising their fundamental labor rights. Domestic workers are often not allowed to organize or bargain collectively, and most do not receive the basic benefits and protections commonly extended to other groups of workers -- things as simple as a day off. Moreover, their ability to move freely is often limited, and employment in private homes increases their vulnerability. Domestic workers, especially women, confront various forms of abuse, harassment, and exploitation, including sexual and gender-based violence and sometimes human trafficking. Recently, we have even seen high-profile reports of deaths of domestic workers.

Labor and civil society organizations play an essential role in advocating for the rights of domestic workers. For example, the contributions of organizations like the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Domestic Worker Network (IDWN), among many others, were critical to the success of the International Labor Organization's Domestic Workers Convention, or Convention 189, adopted in 2011. This convention is an important step in promoting and protecting the labor rights of tens of millions of domestic workers -- or 7.5 percent of women wage earners globally. Convention 189 sets forth protections for domestic workers regarding fundamental rights at work, fair terms of employment, decent working conditions, and minimum labor and social protections. The U.S. is pleased to have actively participated in the collective efforts to negotiate this convention.

In recognition of domestic workers, and all the women whom I have met during my tenure at the State Department, I reaffirm the commitment of the United States to extend the rights of workers as widely as possible. We will continue to partner with governments, civil society, and the private sector to promote the rights of women workers and to ensure their economic inclusion and the empowerment of all to claim the rights, protections, and respect they deserve.

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