THERE are tens of millions of women and girls working as domestic workers in private households worldwide. 


Cleaning, cooking, caring for children, and looking after elderly family members are just a few of the essential tasks they perform for their employers. 

Despite their critical role, they are among the world’s most exploited and abused workers. They often work 14 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for wages far below the minimum wage. They may be locked within their workplace and subject to physical and sexual violence. Children and migrant domestic workers are often the most vulnerable.

A 2020 report by Amnesty International reveals how migrant domestic workers in some countries havebeen pushed to breaking point by extreme overwork, lack of rest, and abusive and degrading treatment. The organisation spoke to 105 women employed as live-in domestic workers in Qatar and found that their rights were still being abused and violated despite government reforms aimed at improving their working conditions. 

Some women said they had been victims of serious crimes such as sexual assault.

“In 2015, Kavita, a poor 17-year-old from Jharkhand,India arrives in a metro city to work as a domestic help. Agents scour villages for vulnerable girls like her, offering them a better life. Often, the girls are minors, Kavita is sent to work for a family of four – an old woman, her son and daughter-in-law, and their child. Her employer would scold and slap Kavita often. One day the son came to her room and raped her. He threatened her with dire consequences if she ever opened her mouth. The abuse continued until one day the man’s wife walked in. Kavita was thrown out of the house. Nowhere to go, she hid in the bushes behind the building. A guard noticed her and brought her back to her employers. They called up the agent to take her back as she was incapable. She was sent back to her village, abused, and stripped of her dignity.”

International standards can be powerful tools to protect domestic workers. The International Labour Organisation Domestic Workers Convention No. 189, was adopted in 2011, which recognises millions of domestic workers as workers, further empowering them to advocate for their rights and fight violence and harassment.Since the adoption of the Domestic Workers Convention No. 189, the ILO brought out a global strategy to support governments, workers, and employers to make decent work a reality for domestic workers. 

Through this strategy, the ILO has supported some 60 countries to extend protections to domestic workers, ensure compliance with these standards, shift norms, and strengthen the representation of domestic workers and employers of domestic workers.

In spite of the laws, the challenges are huge, as comprehensive laws and enabling mechanisms do not exist in the vast majority of countries. 

In the few where they do, there continues to be a lack of public awareness and institutional support for effective implementation due to gender and many other biases against domestic workers. To prevent harassment and violence from happening and to seek justice for the victims, the need for information and communication prevails.

“Gender-based violence has been a silent killer of many domestic workers around the world as we are scared to speak out, afraid of losing our jobs. We need to lift our voices to stop this abuse.” – Myrtle Witbooi, President, IDWF.

This article is supported with the WAN IFRA Women In News (WIN) Social Impact Reporting Initiative (SIRI). Gender equality, diversity and inclusion ( GEDI) Information in this article does not reflect the views of WAN IFRA Women In News.


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