Today women represent around half of the total population of international migrants worldwide. They move, more and more, as independent workers, usually to more developed countries in search of a better life for themselves and for their families. Reproducing patterns of gender inequality, at destination they tend to find work in traditionally female-dominated occupations such as domestic work. Their vulnerabilities are often linked to precarious recruitment processes (including passport and contract substitution as well as charging of excessive fees), the absence of adapted assistance and protection mechanisms, the social and cultural isolation they can face at the destination due to language and cultural differences, lack of advance and accurate information on terms and conditions of employment, absence of labour law coverage and/or enforcement in the country of destination, and restrictions on freedom of movement and association, among other things.
In May 2006 at the age of 52 Marcela B travelled to visit her daughter who was an irregular migrant worker to see her new grandchild. Travelling on a tourist visa she was able to stay for 3 months but unable to work. However, while there Marcela’s daughter faced the prospect of losing her job so Marcela agreed to step in and become a live-in domestic worker. For three years Marcela worked seven days a week, taking care of two small children as well as shopping, cooking, cleaning and ironing. She was unable to take time off she was ill and without papers felt she had little option but to keep on working. In 2009 Marcela was able to obtain a temporary residence permit and nor works 8 hours a day with regular breaks and time off.
I sacrificed not seeing my husband and the rest of my family for long periods of time, also hoping to secure a better pension for us. I saw this as an opportunity.
Sometimes the husband would tell me: Marcela, go up to your room, it’s late, and you’ve worked enough. But my employer would never tell me this. Even though I did what I thought was a great job, she was never happy and would complain. It was never good enough. Sometimes she came back from work and started screaming at me and the children if she didn’t like something.
I knew nothing about the country, I could not speak a word of the language. I was obliged to accept the conditions, because I could not find other work. I was scared of the police, because I didn’t have papers. My employer would tell me not to open the door to anyone because I was working illegally.
For me today its good. I was lucky to get help. I know that for some girls it’s not like that. I’m more relaxed. I pay my taxes and everything. I’m paid, and I’m going to get a pension; so everything is good for me.
Narrative provided by United Nations Human Rights report ‘Behind Closed Doors: Protecting and promoting the human rights of migrant domestic workers in an irregular situation