Campaigning for domestic workers’ rights in Spain

Monday, December 3, 2018 - 07:13

By: Julissa Jauregui 

The story of Marta Arboleta illustrates the challenges faced by many migrant women in domestic work, with constant discrimination and violence. It’s a reminder of why we are campaigning to end gender‐based violence at work during these  16 days of activism.

Marta, who is from Cali in Colombia, has lived in Spain for over six years. At first, she did domestic work while completing her studies and playing an active role in her community.

Domestic work tends to be undervalued and invisible and is often carried out by migrant women and girls who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and abuse. A domestic worker in Madrid may be expected to work around fourteen hours per day and is likely to earn as little as 600 euros per month.

Society does not recognise domestic work as something worthwhile

Amongst other things, Marta and her colleagues are discriminated against due to immigration law that treats migrant workers differently from other workers. For example, Marta says, “We have to tell our employers 15‐30 days in advance if we want to leave work. But they can throw us out whenever they want, leaving us literally on the street since we do not have the right to unemployment benefits.” Migrant women are also more likely to be subjected to harassment and sexual abuse at work. Bosses take advantage of them, knowing that their fear of deportation means they are less likely to report the crime.

Marta is now a pharmacy technician, having obtained her qualifications by studying at weekends. She is also the vice‐president of SEDOAC (Servicio Domestico Activo), an association of women from many different countries who decided to join forces and fight for the labour, political, social and civil rights of all domestic workers in Spain. It’s a place where women can meet, share ideas and support each other to understand their rights and demand equal treatment to those in other jobs, as outlined in the 189 ILO Domestic Workers Convention.

 What we want is to stop living life for our bosses and to start living our own lives

Marta points out that many domestic workers have completed higher education, but their skills and experience are not recognised. "We must eradicate that myth of [domestic workers as] 'poor women', the idea that we know nothing, that we do not have an education... and that we come from other countries only to clean and take care of others".

The 16 Days of Activism campaign is coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and brings together over 6,000 organizations in 187 countries to call for the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence. Read more about it: