Domestic Work

Shouting at the System: Domestic Workers in Honduras and El Salvador Center Life Above All

Carla was working dutifully on her daily tasks, when she was suddenly interrupted by a phone call from her daughter. It was May 12, 2020 – a day typically filled with love, passion, and togetherness across Honduran homes, as families gather to celebrate Mother’s Day. Carla’s daughter had stopped by the house where her mother labored as a domestic worker. After spotting her from a distance, Carla eagerly crossed the home’s front door. She had not seen her daughter in nearly 15 days and was overjoyed when she presented Carla with a Mother’s Day gift. The celebratory moment would be cut short by Carla’s employer, Maria. 

Why did you leave the house?” Maria yelled upon catching a glimpse of the mother/daughter interaction. Carla’s employer yelled words of fear and anger. She anticipated that Carla’s presence outside of the home’s premise would put her family at risk of infection. Carla – the assumed “source of contamination” – was forced to sign documents without knowledge of what she was agreeing to. Her belongings were thrown on the street. In an instant, Carla was fired without compensation. 

Carla shared these painful memories with Silma Perez, the president of the domestic workers’ union, SINTRAHO in Honduras who met with Latina Republic to provide an update on the status of domestic workers’ rights and livelihoods in Honduras. Unfortunately, Carla’s story is not unique.

It is etched into the larger narrative of systemic oppression experienced by  domestic workers throughout Central America. In countries such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama, domestic workers have historically been subject to various forms of exploitation as a result of insufficient regulation of labor rights. 

However, as highlighted in Table 1, below, Honduras and El Salvador are two Central American countries where domestic workers are systematically marginalized and stripped of basic labor protections. Latina Republic spoke with four leaders of local domestic labor unions in Honduras and El Salvador to investigate the lived experiences of domestic workers in both Honduras and El Salvador:

Silma Perez, President of El Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadoras del Hogar (SINTRAHO) in Honduras; Evelyn Argueta and Ariadna Roman, who serve as the administrative coordinators of El Sindicato de Trabajadoras Domésticas de El Salvador (SITRADOMES) in El Salvador; and Aida Rosales, the General Secretary of El Sindicato de Mujeres Trabajadoras del Hogar Remuneradas Salvadoreñas (SIMUTHRES) in El Salvador.

Table 1. Latin America and the Caribbean (21 Countries): Formal Recognition of Domestic Workers’ Rights 2015

 

Source: Policies to Formalize Paid Domestic Workers in Latin America and the Caribbean. International Labour Organization, 2016.

 

Silma Perez, President of SINTRAHO

 

The daughter of a domestic worker and a campesina (a woman of the rural regions), Perez began performing domestic labor at the age of 12 in order to provide a roof over her head while pursuing an education. By the time she had turned 22 years old, Perez spent her days harvesting produce and sowing the land with corn and beans as an active member of a farming organization. She helped mobilize groups of young field-workers in order to demonstrate that rural populations could survive within their pueblos without having to migrate to cities in search of employment.

 

Image courtesy, Silma Perez. President of SINTRAHO.

 

Perez’s ability to empower individuals and encourage others to embrace their identities would be put to use in 2018, a year after moving to San Pedro Sula with her husband and children. That year, Perez was invited to participate in local meetings, in which a group of domestic workers held critical discussions regarding the need to unionize and protect their labor rights.

Through these initiatives and workshops, Perez (and other domestic workers) began recognizing the value and importance of domestic labor. It was these discussions and workshops that led to the formalization of the union (El Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadoras del Hogar), of which Perez was elected president in the Assembly of October 27, 2019.

 

Photo courtesy, Silma Perez. President of SINTRAHO.

 

The union – located in San Pedro Sula, Honduras – is currently made up of 300 domestic workers. According to Perez, 

the union’s work consists of organizing [domestic workers], since we domestic laborers are the most invisibilized sector within society, as well as within the government.” 

SINTRAHO advocates for the ratification of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 189, designed to specifically identify and protect the legal rights of domestic laborers.

Evelyn Argueta and Ariadna Roman: Administrative Coordinators of SITRADOMES.

Prior to her involvement with SITRADOMES, Argueta worked as a primary education teacher in various school institutions. In 2013, Argueta accepted a job as an administrative coordinator for a federation of independent unions.

While working at this federation, Argueta met Vilma Vasquez – the founder of SITRADOMES. By July of 2019, Argueta had begun participating in and collaborating with El Sindicato de Trabajadoras Domésticas de El Salvador as an administrative coordinator.

Roman, on the other hand, had been a student prior to her involvement with SITRADOMES. Throughout her years at the University of El Salvador, Roman constantly strove to organize herself within her surrounding academic environment and discover a place to which she could belong.

In 2018, she found this space at SITRADOMES, where Roman currently works with Argueta as the union’s coordinator.

 

Photo courtesy, Evelyn Argueta. Administrative Coordinator of SITRADOMES.

Argueta and Roman explain that this union of domestic workers – part of La Asociación de Mujeres Sindicalistas “Febe Elizabeth Velásquez” – began in 2010 as an initiative to connect a group of students at the University of El Salvador with the community members of Cuisnahuat, who primarily work in the sector of domestic labor.

After providing various workshops and “popular education” courses within the community, the students saw the necessity to mobilize Cuisnahuat’s domestic laborers.

By 2015, SITRADOMES was granted legal status and had been officially recognized as a union.

 

Aida Rosales: General Secretary of SIMUTHRES.

 

Rosales first encountered labor exploitation within one of El Salvador’s numerous maquilas – factories characterized by extremely low wages and inhumane working conditions.

In response to their dehumanizing status within the maquila, Rosales and other female workers strove to form a union.

Their attempts of mobilization, however, were met with contempt, and many factory workers – including Rosales – were fired. Soon after, Rosales began working in the sector of domestic labor.

By 2008 – after nearly 10 years of cleaning homes, caring for children, and washing clothes – Rosales found herself participating in a commission of domestic workers.

Her drive for mobilization and first-hand experiences of labor exploitation would be employed when she was appointed General Secretary of El Sindicato de Mujeres Trabajadoras del Hogar Remuneradas Salvadoreñas (SIMUTHRES) in 2014.

 

 

Photo courtesy, Aida Rosales. General Secretary of SIMUTHRES.

 

The union – Rosales notes – aims to inform domestic workers of their basic human rights, their rights as domestic laborers, and their rights as women.

In order to do so, SIMUTHRES provides Salvadoran domestic workers with various resources, including union-led workshops, referrals to psychological services, access to legal representation, and communal support.

Rosales explains that in order to improve the conditions and status of domestic workers in El Salvador, the union has centered its fight for justice around the ratification of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 189 as well as domestic laborers’s right to social security, medical insurance benefits, and a minimum wage.

Recently, participants of SIMUTHRES donated basic necessities to the homes of over 200 unemployed union members, the majority of whom are struggling to survive under the rule of COVID-19.

Legal Discrimination

Perez explains that in Honduras, domestic labor has yet to be formally recognized as “work.”

In fact, the Labor Code of this nation classifies domestic work within a “special regime.” This classification – intended to specifically address the regulations and rights of domestic labor –  leaves domestic workers at an extremely disadvantaged position.

Perez  not only emphasizes the lack of laws protecting domestic workers within Honduras, but Perez also stresses the Labor Code’s contradictory nature when addressing domestic work. 

For example, Article 162 of Honduras’ Labor Code dictates that an employer has the right to end a domestic worker’s labor contract without any prior notice if the domestic worker is infectiously ill.

Employers possess this power “unless the domestic worker contracted the sickness because of direct contagion/infection from the employer or the individuals that inhabit the home.

In such a case, the worker will be entitled to a leave until her total recovery, to be assisted in her illness, and to be paid her full salary.” 

Thus, Article 162 of Honduras’ Labor Code justifies an employer’s ability to fire a domestic worker without prior notice unless specifically proven that the domestic worker had contracted the illness from the employer and/or household members – a task that is nearly impossible to prove.

Now more than ever, Perez notes, domestic workers suffer from these rules that have clearly been designed to disempower domestic workers:

We received a report that a fellow domestic worker suffered violence in the sense that she presented symptoms [of COVID-19]. She was isolated within the home in which she labored without communicating to her family that she was being isolated. Her family began to deeply worry because they could not get in touch with her… Where did the domestic worker contract the virus from? It had to have been from her employers. Because, as we said, we [domestic workers] do not travel outside of the country/region. We only go to the market – And within the market, the workers do not leave the country/region. So the virus was obtained amongst her employers, but her employers made her isolate [herself.]”

Not only does the obscurity of these regulations allow employers to justify abusive behavior towards domestic workers, but – according to Perez – it also reinforces the complete invisibilization of domestic labor and domestic workers’ experiences.

This marginalization of domestic laborers is not limited to Honduras. Both Argueta and Roman explain that El Salvador’s Labor Code explicitly justifies an unequal distribution of power between a domestic worker and her employer.

Various sections of the country’s Labor Code – Roman states – dictates that domestic workers must be completely obliged to their employers.

 

Photo courtesy, Evelyn Argueta. Administrative Coordinator of SITRADOMES.

 

For example, Article 83 of El Salvador’s Labor code lists “infidelity or insubordination against the boss, his/her spouse, ancestors, descendants, or other people who reside permanently within the home,” as a reasonable cause for a domestic worker’s dismissal.

Similarly, Rosales emphasizes the unequal power dynamics that result from El Salvador’s Labor Code. Referring to the classification of domestic labor as a “special regime” within the nation’s Labor Code, Rosales notes:

We are in a discriminatory regime that values that which the employer says and not what the domestic worker says… [The domestic laborer] works for more than 12 hours, [and] rests for about 2 hours. And if the employer wants the domestic worker to stay, he can do so because everything depends on what he says/orders. Thus, live-in domestic laborers wake up at 6:00 in the morning and go to bed at 10:00, 11:00 at night. And if the employer wants her [the domestic worker] to attend to his guests… or [if the employer wants to] wake her up to make him food, the domestic worker is obligated to do so because if not, they will fire her.”

The unequal power distribution justified by El Salvador’s Labor Code is simply one of many forms of systemic discrimination inflicted against domestic workers.

Rosales lists the numerous benefits from which domestic workers are excluded, such as adequate healthcare coverage, written employment contracts, decent social security benefits, etc.

Not only do such policies reinforce the complete degradation of domestic work as a job, but the systematic disempowerment of domestic workers also forces many women to diminish themselves as individuals.

Factors Fueling the Cycle of Exploitation

This lack of legal protection places domestic workers at a disadvantaged position within Honduran and Salvadoran society. But what are the factors that continue to fuel this cycle of exploitation?

In other words, why do nearly 266,000 Honduran and Salvadoran women seemingly “choose” domestic labor over other sectors of work? 

While the lack of legal protection degrades domestic workers, cultural norms continue to blur the line between “expectation” and “exploitation” throughout Central America.

Roman and Argueta note that women are essentially “trained” to work within the sector of domestic labor from a very young age.

The patriarchal system of power that governs nearly every aspect of life requires girls to perform various chores within their own homes.

Whether it be cleaning, sweeping, cooking, or caring for siblings, young girls are expected to fulfill their domestic duties.

These cultural expectations generate a unique perception of domestic work – one in which the labor of a 10-year-old girl within her own home is considered “normal.” 

 

Photo courtesy, Evelyn Argueta. Administrative Coordinator of SITRADOMES.

 

The implications of such cultural expectations extend beyond the home, as young girls enter the sector of domestic work as early as 10, 11, or 12 years of age.

Rosales explains that domestic labor is repeatedly reproduced across generations:

There are colleagues that bring their little girls with them to work. They tell the employer that they’re going to bring [the child] because they don’t have anyone to take care of her, or because she is the youngest, or because she is just a little girl. And the employer says ‘Okay, but she must help you with the chores.’ Thus, since girls are very little, they are already performing the same labor [of domestic work]. It is already being reproduced.”

In this sense, cultural norms continue to legitimize child labor and exploitation within the sector of domestic work. If a 10-year-old girl already performs domestic labor within her own home, why shouldn’t she perform domestic labor within an employer’s home – for pay?

Because of such cultural expectations, the domestic work of a young girl is not seen as “exploitation,” but rather as a normal and legitimate form of employment. 

In addition to cultural norms, economic vulnerability tracks both women and young girls into the sector of domestic work across Central America.

In a country like El Salvador – where the national income per capita in 2018 was merely $3,820 ($318.33 monthly) – many families cannot afford proper schooling for their children.

Roman claims that even on the off chance that a family is capable of paying for an education, sons are more likely to be sent to schools while daughters are left to work within their own homes.

 

Photo courtesy, Evelyn Argueta. Administrative Coordinator of SITRADOMES.

 

This intersection of both “economic violence” and “gendered violence,” according to Roman, causes many women to move to urban regions in search of employment opportunities.

Specifically, those who reside in the rural regions of Central America and face the most intense form of economic insecurity migrate to cities in order to financially support themselves and their families.

Roman explains that because many women “have been forced to believe that domestic work is the only thing that they can do,” women accept jobs as domestic workers within urban environments.

Silma Perez also notes that in many cases, young girls are forced into performing free labor in order to obtain some form of education: 

“In Honduras, there is a sector of domestic work that girls carry out in which, maybe, a girl’s father cannot provide her with schooling… He ‘gives’ the girl to an employer so that the employer provides the girl with education. And in exchange for this schooling, the girl pays with domestic work.

While economic vulnerability prevents many women from receiving an education, Perez also stresses that many women do, in fact, receive proper schooling.

In fact, it is common for many female graduates to work within the sector of domestic labor. According to Perez, employers have increasingly demanded more labor experience from job candidates. 

However, many women are not presented with employment opportunities and, thus, cannot acquire extensive “career experience.” On the other hand, employers searching for domestic workers do not require any level of experience.

Because women have been, essentially, “training” and “preparing” for a job of domestic labor for their entire lives, many women turn to domestic work as a source of income. 

Abuses Faced By Domestic Workers

Women’s lack of economic stability, proper schooling, and/or employment opportunities construct a chain of vulnerability amongst domestic workers. This vulnerability enables employers to abuse the population of domestic laborers in many ways.

For example, Argueta and Roman explain that the absolute basic cost of living in El Salvador is $250 – $290 a month. However, the highest paid domestic worker receives $300 a month, while the majority of domestic workers earn $200 a month. 

Perez notes that in Honduras, the highest earning domestic worker is paid 4,000 lempiras ($160.45), while the lowest earning domestic worker is paid 2,000 – 2,500 lempiras ($80.23 – $100.28).

In recognizing that most domestic laborers send a portion of this unregulated salary to their families as remittances, one may wonder how domestic workers are capable of living?

Roman explains, “The majority of us Salvadorans do not live. We survive.”

 

Photo courtesy, Evelyn Argueta. Administrative Coordinator of SITRADOMES.

 

While most domestic laborers have no choice but to accept unjust salaries, the vulnerable position of domestic workers also subjects them to exploitative working hours. Perez explains that in Honduras, most domestic laborers work for 12-14 hours per day. 

Women must wake up at 4:00am or 5:00am in order to bathe and clothe a child, prepare breakfast and lunch for a family, and send children off to school.

Such responsibilities are followed by hours of laborious tasks – many of which the domestic worker never agreed upon. 

 


Photo courtesy, Aida Rosales: General Secretary of SIMUTHRES.

 

Rosales explains that in some cases, domestic workers neglect their most basic needs, such as eating, because they cannot afford to lose time: 

[Employers] hire a domestic worker for one thing, and – by the end – she must even bathe the dog, wash the cat, clean the car, perform the work of a gardener, and do anything else. Because we do not have a written contract that specifies the chores/duties for which we have been hired, [employers] take advantage and hire one [domestic worker] for everything.”

The unequal distribution of power between an employer and a domestic worker becomes clearest when domestic workers are expected to obey the employer’s demands at any cost: A domestic laborer may be woken up by an employer in order to prepare food; a domestic worker may be ordered to resume her chores when taking a break within her 13 hour workday; a domestic worker may only have one day off every 8 or 15 days.

Roman states that for women in general and for domestic workers in particular, “we are an interchangeable, disposable product, [that] one utilizes, can throw away, obtain another…” 

 

Photo courtesy, Evelyn Argueta. Administrative Coordinator of SITRADOMES.

 

The complete commodification of domestic workers is contrasted by the emotional labor within the sector of domestic work. In many cases, a domestic laborer is responsible for taking care of a child while the employers are at work or otherwise unavailable.

Since a domestic worker protects, provides for, and supports a child, she may come to see the minor as her own. Similarly, a child may turn to a domestic worker as a system of support, someone to confide in, and a source of love. This strong emotional bond that forms between the domestic worker and the child for whom she cares may present a deep problem.

Perez notes, “when a [domestic worker] is fired, she suffers because she doesn’t have this child [in her life anymore]. And children, too, feel the void/emptiness, as many children turn to the domestic worker because… perhaps Mom or Dad are not attentive, [they] work, and the only person that [the children] spend time with is a domestic worker.” 

According to Perez, an employer does not take this emotional connection into consideration when deciding to fire a domestic laborer. Rather, the bond between a child and a domestic worker is simply shattered. Not only does this leave a child without a source of comfort, but it creates immense pain for a domestic worker – an individual who has lost a child that she loved as her own.

While many employers ignore the bond between a domestic worker and a child, other employers utilize the emotional relationship to further exploit a domestic laborer. Rosales notes that:

“Many times, employers take advantage of this [situation]. Because they may say [to a domestic worker] ‘Listen, you’re a part of the family here, we take you into account/consideration here, look at how the child loves you as if you were his/her mother… So for these reasons, don’t leave,’ and [the domestic worker] receives very little salary, [employers] maltreat her, discriminate against her. At the end of the year the employers do not give her a Christmas bonus, they do not give her vacations/breaks, they do not give her benefits.”

In other words, employers use the emotional connections formed between the domestic worker and the family members in order to justify further abuses against the domestic laborer. Whether it be sexual and physical assault, harassment, or isolation, countless abuses against domestic laborers are constantly legitimized within a system that silences domestic workers and renders domestic laborers invisible.

Barriers to Joining the Unions

If mobilization may shed light onto the experiences of domestic workers, what is preventing women from joining unions in Honduras and El Salvador?

Perez explains that the overarching environment of violence and fear that permeates many Central American societies prevents women from organizing themselves within the existing unions. 

 

Photo courtesy, Silma Perez. President of SINTRAHO.

 

For example, Perez – along with other colleagues – spends every Sunday recruiting domestic workers and campaigning for SINTRAHO in El Parque Central de San Pedro Sula.

However, the general sense of skepticism that dominates urban life in Honduras creates hesitancy amongst women when approached:

There are many, many female workers that are still not affiliated with the union. But it is a little difficult for us because when one comes from her ‘pueblo’ and someone approaches her and begins to speak with her, one is frightened. You’re scared because you don’t know if they [members of the union] will jump you, will kidnap you…”

In addition to an environment of hesitancy and fear, many women refrain from joining unions and informing themselves of their rights because their employers instill a great deal of fear in the domestic workers.

As previously mentioned, many domestic laborers originate from a nation’s rural regions. These campesinas often find themselves stigmatized, as many cannot read or write due to a lack of schooling opportunities. 

In many cases, this stigma causes employers to actively seek domestic workers from rural pueblos. As Rosales explains, many employers embrace the idea that “the less they [domestic workers] know, the better.”

In other words, employers believe that if domestic workers are uninformed of their rights, they will be more likely to comply with the exploitative demands of the employer. 

Rosales notes that even members of the Sindicato de Mujeres Trabajadoras del Hogar Remuneradas Salvadoreñas refrain from informing themselves of their rights as domestic workers because of employers’ threats to their work:

“It is of interest to the employers that they [domestic workers] are not informed. And they tell her [the domestic worker] not to listen [to the union]… and that, on the other hand, they [employers] will not give them [domestic workers] a job if they are involved in the union. They make them so fearful that, in many cases, they [domestic workers] believe them [employers].” 

In this sense, employers may consider a worker’s engagement in acts of mobilization as a threat to their authority and ability to exploit domestic workers.

Recently, however, the global health crisis has prevented individuals like Perez from recruiting new members and contacting new domestic workers. 

 

Photo courtesy, Silma Perez. President of SINTRAHO.

 

Thus, leaders of these unions now rely on existing members to reach out to friends, co-workers, and companions in order to increase union involvement. Because, as emphasized by nearly all union activists, COVID-19 has drastically impacted nearly every aspect of the domestic worker’s experience.

COVID-19

With the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, the presence and impact of such abuses have intensified. Over the past five months, many domestic workers have been fired from their jobs in fear that they will infect their employers’ families.

Not only has this left many domestic workers without a source of income to support themselves and their children, but this has deeply affected the living situations of domestic laborers.

 

Photo courtesy, Aida Rosales: General Secretary of SIMUTHRES.

 

According to Perez, many of the domestic laborers who had been fired from their urban jobs have returned to their pueblos, or rural towns.

However, because the pandemic has restricted individuals’ means of transportation to and from urban zones, individuals have been unable to return to major cities in order to search for employment. 

On the other hand, many of the domestic workers who had been fired from their jobs remain trapped within urban cities. Perez notes that such individuals will face immense difficulties in surviving everyday life.

While she understands that many employers do not have the sufficient income to continue paying a domestic worker during the pandemic, Perez states that,

 “we should not be so inhumane as to kick someone out of our home without having the means to get them to their ‘puebla.’ Because my mom always says ‘in a ‘puebla,’ even if there are only some beans [to survive by], there [is something].” 

In other words, domestic workers who have no choice but to remain within urban regions struggle to survive within an environment isolated from family members, friends, and systems of support.

These individuals not only endure a sense of social detachment, but, according to Rosales, they also struggle to obtain the most basic necessities of food and water. 

 

Photo courtesy, Aida Rosales. Administrative Coordinator of SIMUTHRES. Providing union members with basic necessities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

While some domestic workers have been forced out of their employers’ homes, the domestic laborers who continue to reside within their employers’ homes have been subject to unprecedented amounts of abuse over the past five months. 

Because COVID-19 health restrictions have exacerbated the amount of time that individuals remain within their households, domestic workers have been charged with performing disproportionately heavy workloads.

On top of the additional chores, Rosales explains that many domestic workers have been prohibited from leaving their employers’ homes.

The fear that a domestic worker will become infected with coronavirus and, thus, contaminate an entire family has forced many domestic laborers into literal isolation and confinement.

The impact of COVID-19 extends beyond public health across Central America. The pandemic has forced individuals to confront the invisibilization of abuses against the most vulnerable populations of Central America.

In addition, the global health crisis has forced domestic workers themselves to recognize both the injustices of their lived experiences and the ways in which their voices are systemically silenced. As Perez notes: 

“With regards to after the pandemic, we believe that things will be much better because [we] the domestic workers will be much more conscious of the problem that we face and that we do not want to face again. We want to be more organized, with much more strength…”

 

Photo courtesy, Aida Rosales. Administrative Coordinator of SIMUTHRES.

 

While the COVID-19 crisis has left many individuals questioning the future situation of domestic workers, the pandemic has also fueled the desire of many activists to continue the fight for domestic workers through the ratification of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 189 (designed to specifically identify and protect the legal rights of domestic laborers).

Most importantly, the pandemic has reinforced the importance of unionizing domestic workers across Central America. Referring to El Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadoras del Hogar (Honduras) (SINTRAHO), Perez notes that:

After the pandemic we do want to commence with much more force; [We want] the organization to rise up with much more energy… As of now, we have a very low membership… [But] our wish is that the 130,000 domestic workers [of Honduras] are organized. That’s our dream – that all of us are organized and that we all fight for our well being. Because it will not do us any good if only a few are organized while others are suffering hardships.”

 

Photo courtesy, Evelyn Argueta. Administrative Coordinator of SITRADOMES.

 

Roman similarly stresses the urgent need for domestic workers to organize themselves within a union:

“[Just because she is a domestic worker,] that doesn’t mean that she must be a slave, that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have rights, that doesn’t mean that she cannot do anything else besides domestic work. I would invite her to get to know [the union], to search for [the union], to ask [for the union], to approach the union in order to start talking about the different rights that they have, because they do have rights. They have the right to a decent work, to a dignified life, to a decent salary, to decent working conditions, to a break, to overtime pay, to paid time-off, they have the right to a written contract, they have the same rights that any other worker has. And it is time for us to join forces so that this work [domestic work] may be valued.”

 

Photo courtesy, Evelyn Argueta. Administrative Coordinator of SITRADOMES.

 

Joining the Union

Latina Republic asked each activist why a domestic worker should join a union. All of the leaders emphasized that their unions provide women with the opportunity to inform themselves of their basic rights, join a network of communal support, advocate for laws and legislation that would implement systemic change, and engage in the fight for social justice.

Change on the Horizon

Rosales reported that as a result of SIMUTHRES’ persistent fight for justice, the Salvadoran Constitutional Chamber recently approved a minimum wage for domestic workers.

While this decision marks a milestone in the battle for equality, union members hope that this policy will be implemented and enforced within the sector of domestic labor.

 

Photo courtesy, Aida Rosales. Administrative Coordinator of SIMUTHRES.

 

Roman notes that change must also come from a larger social recognition of the value of domestic work. When asked what she would tell a domestic laborer who has yet to join a union, Roman states:

“I would tell her that she is a woman that performs an essential and valuable job for life. Regarding the people that she works for, if it wasn’t for the work that she carries out, care work… ironing, cooking, sweeping, everything that has to do with the home and [with] care, if she were not to perform this work, perhaps it would be very difficult for other women and other men… to access sources of employment that allow these people to develop themselves; that thanks to her work, other people may also reach their dreams and may be professionals. So, just as these other forms of work are recognized – that of a lawyer, that of a doctor… without the work of a domestic laborer, perhaps another woman could not be a professional, could not go to work…” 

 

Photo courtesy, Evelyn Argueta. Administrative Coordinator of SITRADOMES. “Your work matters… ours does, too.”

 

Domestic workers care for life. Through tasks of cleaning, washing, ironing, and cooking, domestic laborers physically and emotionally care for the lives of individuals within a particular household.

Their work allows other people to climb the social ladder and grow as individuals. While domestic laborers maintain life, the social, economic, and political systems devalue and repress the life of a domestic worker.

Roman explains:

“We are always putting life at the center of the union, [at the center of] what we raise, [at the center of] what we converse about, [at the center of] what we analyze, [at the center of] what we reflect upon, [at the center of] what we debate. We are telling this system that we need it to place life in the middle, in the center. We are telling the system that we, the women, are the ones performing carework, and that we will resist, and that we are recognizing that we have rights, and that we will continue fighting in order to claim our rights… We are shouting at the system, [demanding] that it be a system for life and not for death… it is a system that has been constructed for death and for only the strongest ones to survive. So from this subject matter of caretaking, from [the subject matter of] domestic work, we propose to the world that life is what’s essential, that life is what’s important, that ancestral knowledge, that the knowledge of every woman, that the knowledge that does not come from a school are all important because they serve and provide for life.”

To learn more, contact leadership:

El Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadoras del Hogar (SINTRAHO): [email protected]

El Sindicato de Trabajadoras Domésticas de El Salvador (SITRADOMES): https://www.facebook.com/LasFebes/ 

[email protected]

[email protected]

El Sindicato de Mujeres Trabajadoras del Hogar Remuneradas Salvadoreñas (SIMUTHRES):

[email protected]

[email protected]

 


Jordan Hopp | University of San Francisco

Jordan is a rising senior at the University of San Francisco. As a Sociology major and a Latin American Studies minor, Jordan is constantly striving to immerse himself within diverse environments in which he may learn about the various issues and obstacles that individuals face within modern society. Jordan has participated in two university-sponsored immersion programs,in which he has studied issues of transnational migration, street children, and human sex trafficking in both Puebla, Mexico and Lima, Peru. Jordan is particularly interested in the presence of violence, the effects of migration, gender inequalities, and grassroots movements of social change within Latin America. He hopes that his work as a Latin American Correspondent will provide him with an incredible opportunity to implement his passions for community outreach, social justice, and humanitarian aid on a global scale, and shine light on the lives of individuals whose experiences are often neglected.