Domestic workers declare war on the War on Women

Last week, domestic workers declared war on the War on Women.

The current domestic laborers’ market has been forged in the most recent phase of globalization – understood, too briefly, as the political economy of globalized production serving a global market – that began in the 1970s. The last four decades have been marked by the rise of global cities, and mega-slums. Already, more than half the world population is urban. Soon, very soon, more than half the world population will live in slums. A planet of slums beckons.

Cities are the place, and slums are the face of urban poverty in the new millennium. And that face is a woman’s face “Women bear the brunt of problems associated with slum life.”

Global cities produce mega-slums and slum cities. Meanwhile, global cities’ 25-hour-a-day, 8-day-a-week so-called service economies require large numbers of easily available, and replaceable, and cheap domestic workers who make sure the beds are made; the food prepared and tasty; the children and the elders cared for; the houses swept; and the structures of household, community, regional, national and global patriarchy solidified and intensified. Political economists tell us that the new economies produced social workers, workers in the information sector whose work is more than and different from the binary of boss and worker. Tell that to the maids and nannies, childcare and eldercare providers (as well as the hotel and office cleaners, and sex workers) across the globe who every day, and every night, make sure everything is neat, tidy and available. It’s a world economy in which women, especially women of color, are forced to care.

In order to meet this demand, nation-States, the Philippines most notably, have turned themselves inside out and, presto, turned into mega-brokerage houses for mass migrations of domestic workers. Global cities demanded, and created, transnational domestic labor, which became one of the fastest growing, and largest, labor sectors of the world economy.

Women workers built the global economy, which came to rely, violently, on women workers. The feminization of the new industrial workforce produced the feminization of migration, which in turn produced the feminization of survival, and all of it, the whole system, sits heavily, and precariously, on the shoulders and in the arms of domestic workers.

That is one reason that the ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, passed last week, is called a landmark treaty, a milestone. Here is a key section from that document:

“Considering that domestic work continues to be undervalued and invisible and is mainly carried out by women and girls, many of whom are migrants or members of disadvantaged communities and who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination in respect of conditions of employment and of work, and to other abuses of human rights, and

Considering also that in developing countries with historically scarce opportunities for formal employment, domestic workers constitute a significant proportion of the national workforce and remain among the most marginalized …

Recognizing the special conditions under which domestic work is carried out that make it desirable to supplement the general standards with standards specific to domestic workers so as to enable them to enjoy their rights fully.”

Women and girls are “the special conditions under which domestic work is carried out.”

“Special conditions”.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, W.E.B Du Bois famously noted “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.” For Du Bois the color line came down to a simple, and impossible, question: “How does it feel to be a problem?” Today, the problem of the Twenty First Century continues to be the problem of the color line, and the question now is, “How does it feel to be a special condition?”

Domestic workers around the world, and in our neighborhoods, recognize that question as part of a global War on Women, and they have had enough. Domestic workers refuse to be ghosts in the machinery of “special conditions.” They have declared war on the War on Women. Step up, step up, it’s not too late to enlist.

 

(Photo Credit: Asian Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development: http://apwld.org)

 

I’m a human. I know the fear

The governor of Texas recently declared a state of legislative emergency. The emergency is sanctuary. Cities in Texas are declaring themselves `sanctuary cities’ or are acting as such, and that somehow threatens Texas.

The Texas House of Representatives leapt to action and dutifully passed a bill, HB 12, that would effectively outlaw sanctuary zones. The moment the bill passed, House Representative Ana Hernandez Luna requested to speak to the body, as a matter of personal privilege.

Representative Luna explained that she, her sister, and her parents had come to Texas from Mexico. The family overstayed their visa and lived in the shadows until the 1986 amnesty was signed, by Ronald Reagan. In the intervening twenty-five years, Ana Hernandez Luna attended and successfully completed grade school, college, law school, and was elected to the House of Representatives at the age of 27.

Representative Luna began her remarks by articulating the new version of W.E.B. DuBois’ color-line: “I’m not an alien. I’m not a problem that must be handled. I’m a human.”

She then described the new, and not so new, world order: the politics of fear: “I remember the constant fear my family lived with each day.”

And then Ana Hernandez Luna found it difficult, impossible, to simply speak the words. Tears began to flow, as she struggled to speak: “The fear my parents experienced each day as their two little girls went to school – not knowing the there would an immigration raid that day – and they wouldn’t be able to pick up their daughters from school – and not knowing who would take care of them if that were to occur . . . . The daily task of going to the grocery store to buy groceries might seem a simple task to you, but to us it was a death sentence, that one of my parents may be deported. . . . I know the fear.”

The Texas Senate managed to gut the bill, but the fear persists. Twenty-five years after receiving amnesty, after twenty-five years of steady work and accomplishment, Ana Hernandez Luna still lives, immediately and viscerally, with the knowledge of the fear and with the fear itself.

The politics, and the politicians, of fear dream of a world without sanctuary. Some say that when it comes to prison reform, to addressing mass incarceration, money trumps civil rights. When it comes to children, whose access to `civil rights’ is already tenuous, fear trumps sanctuary. It’s a war zone.

Seven years ago, Else Temesgen and her daughter Betty, who was seven at the time, fled to the United Kingdom. Else was fleeing, first, an abusive husband and, second, a situation of certain separation. Else is Eritrean-born, and her daughter is Ethiopian-born, and so, if the two had returned to Ethiopia, the mother would have been deported. They arrived in England and immediately applied for asylum.

The two were detained in a variety of centers before, finally, receiving asylum. Else describes Yarl’s Wood as “very horrible.” Asylum only came because of the intervention of a prominent local politician. Otherwise, they would still be in the shadowlands of immigrant detention … or worse. They know the fear.

The politics of fear sows only tears. Twenty-five years after coming out of the shadows, Ana Hernandez Luna lives with the knowledge of fear, a shared knowledge, a knowledge whose borders are expanding, and weeps. Twenty-five years from now, how will Betty tell the story of her sojourn in Yarl’s Wood?

What exactly is the nation-State that would be threatened by sanctuary? Sanctuary is not an emergency. If anything, sanctuary is holy. Sanctuary is a time and space in which the human can be recognized and sustained. “I’m a human.”

Sanctuary haunts the State of fear.

 

(Video Credit: YouTube / Texas Impact)