Babae, ang lugar mo ay sa pakikibaka—Women, your place is in the struggle

Women, peasants, workers, artists, mothers, and other marginalized people and communities are at the forefront of the struggle in the Philippines. Their identities and struggles intersect and overlap as they fight for gender equity, land reform, labor rights, living wages, and divorce rights, among others. They are all suppressed at the hands of the fascist, authoritarian, machismo state which began long before the administration of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, but significantly increased during his time as the country’s top leader, and continues under the new Ferdinand Marcos Jr. presidency.

Pres. Duterte’s term was notorious for his war on drugs that resulted in thousands of deaths and extrajudicial killings of the urban poor and marginalized; passing the Anti-Terror Law in order to red tag dissidents; shutting down and threatening media outlets for critiquing him and his administration; and consistent misogynistic comments made during official speeches and press conferences. Under Duterte’s administration, several community advocates and political activists were jailed on false charges or killed by the military. Most notable are the cases of Amanda Echanis, daughter of slain peace consultant and peasant organizer, Randall Echanis, and Reina Mae Nasino, whose newborn daughter died while separated from her imprisoned mother.

Organizations such as Rural Women Advocates and Gantala Press have been instrumental in the advocacy for their releases and for spreading information and awareness of other causes and struggles in the Philippines. Although they are part of larger organizations and coalitions, such as Gabriela and Amihan, who have more political power and international chapters, RUWA and Gantala Press advocate for their messages and causes through social media and the promotion of the arts and literature.

Rural Women Advocates or RUWA are volunteers of the Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women. Amihan is a political party that campaigns for representation in Congress and at other important events and committees in the nation’s capital region. RUWA uses social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in order to organize and share events such as printmaking, community cooking, general body meetings, fundraisers, online campaigns, infographics, and other publication materials. RUWA volunteers who live in Metro Manila work in solidarity with women peasants in the rural and countryside regions to elevate their voices and bring more awareness to the issues they face. This is important because peasant and worker issues affect everyone, regardless of their location or positionality in class and society.

Meanwhile, Gantala Press identifies itself as a “Filipina Feminist Press” who also advocate for women in the margins of Philippine society, including queer and trans women, and victims of state violence, to name a few. The small alternative press publishes chapbooks, anthologies of poetry, prose, and essays, cookbooks, comics, zines, and other feminist and artistic resources that would have been overlooked or rejected by bigger, traditional printing presses. They allow for their writers and contributors to have a larger audience and an archive for their work to be accessible to others. The press also organizes creative workshops, book and art fairs, and fundraisers to support women and artists in their community.

The use of social media and alternative publishing has allowed for these two grassroot, feminist organization to reach more individuals in the struggle and create a larger network of feminists, activists, and allies. The accessibility of their content and writing, both operating in English and Filipino, has allowed them to connect to both Filipinos living in the country, both rural and urban, but also to Filipinos outside the country, and non-Filipinos who sympathize with them and their causes.

Both organizations show the intersectionality of the struggles of women, peasants, workers, mothers, queer folk, creatives, and activists in the Philippines. Their campaigns often intersect in subject matter and overlap in duration or approach. Both RUWA and Gantala press have proved that there can be rural-urban-local-global solidarities.

These struggles and resistances are reminiscent of Chandra Mohanty’s essay, “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses.” Filipino women can experience transnational and rural-urban solidarites and connections, but the solutions and means of resistance must come from the women and peasants working at the grassroots level, at the front line of the struggle. The struggle must also be a continuous process, one that can last over a lifetime through small and even “weak” resistances, working alongside the goal of drastic and bigger movements towards revolution.

Solidarity and utopian thinking are imperative to the sustainability to any struggle and long term fight. Even if we cannot be together physically, knowing that you have allies who take on your oppressions and struggles as their own and work alongside you to do social and cultural work is important in motivating us and giving us hope. As Sara Ahmed reminds us in Living a Feminist Life, feminism is in the everyday acts of resistance against the patriarchy, the state, and society. These seemingly small and ordinary acts and crucial to the work we put towards imagining a better and brighter future where all of us are liberated and happy.

Babae, ang lugar mo ay sa pakikibaka. Whether we are conscious of it or not, join a organization or not, realize our everyday acts of resistance or not: women, our place is in the struggle. Our place will continue to be in the struggle until each and everyone one of us has been freed.

(By Wella Lobaton)

In the Philippines, prisons are at 332% capacity. Releasing a few people will do little to nothing

In the Philippines, detained people, incarcerated people, are referred to as PDLs, persons deprived of liberty. At Monday’s Cabinet meeting, the first of the year, Philippines President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. directed the Department of Justice to release those PDLs who are already eligible for parole in order to relieve overcrowding in the prisons. If history is any guide, this gesture may reduce overcrowding, slightly, and even that is doubtful, but it will not relieve overcrowding. According to the Bureau of Corrections latest data, as of November 2022, the prison capacity is 12, 145, and the prison population at that time was 50,226, or 414% of capacity. The one women’s prison, the Correctional Institution for Women – Mandaluyong, CIW-Mandaluyong, has a capacity of 1,008. In November, according to the government, it housed 3,341 WPDLs, women persons deprived of liberty. That is, it was at 332% of capacity. Releasing a few persons here and a few there will not do anything, especially since the prisons take in more people than they release anyway.

In September, the Bureau of Corrections, BuCor, released 371 PDLs. 37 were WPDLs. Since then, every month the government has called for more releases. Meanwhile, every month the prison population has risen: 49,515 in September; 50,141 in October; 50,226 in November. How is this possible, if people are being released to decongest the prisons? In September, 788 PDLs died; 5,011 were released; and 6,625 were admitted. Similarly, in October, 857 PDLs died; 5,627 were released; 7,358 were admitted.

Where and who are the women? In November 2021, 874 WPDLS, almost half the female prison population. listed unemployed or jobless as their profession. Next `businesswomen’, 454; then vendors, 394; then housekeeper/housewife/caretaker, 376; then laundrywoman, 111. After that, the categories drop even more significantly. Who are the women? Overwhelmingly low-income women operating in the informal sectors.

When Marcos suggested the release of PDLs, he noted, “Wala naman silang magaling na abugado (They don’t have good lawyers). So that’s why we are in favor now to release many of them. They just needed representation to set them free.” They just need representation to set them free. Why are the prisons so fatally overcrowded in the Philippines? They don’t have good lawyers. They just need representation to set them free. The deprivation of liberty begins and ends right there. Don’t build more prisons, which is what is being planned. Don’t release 300 here, 300 there, when you know they will be replaced by 400 one month, 500 the next. And as pretty much everywhere else in the world, the prison sentence doesn’t end when people are released, and this is especially true for women who have been deprived of liberty. Women face particular stigma post-incarceration. As human rights attorney Catherine Alvarez explained, “There is a perspective in society that a woman is not fit to become a mother because she committed a crime.” Rather than relieving congestion, try preserving and sustaining liberty.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Jire Carreon / Rappler) (Image Credit: Pacita Abad, “Caught at the Border” / PacitaAbad)

Who mourns Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende? Where is the global concern?

Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende

On July 4, 2019, 26-year-old Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende left her village on the island of Mindanao, in the Philippines, and headed for Kuwait, where a job as a domestic worker awaited her. Five months later, on December 28, 2019, Jeanelyn Villavende arrived, or was dumped, already dead, showing signs of having been tortured, at Sabah Hospital. Her employers are under arrest. The Philippines expresses its outrage, and, yesterday, declared a partial ban on “deployment of workers” to Kuwait. Two years ago, reflecting on Saudi Arabia’s execution of domestic worker Tuti Tursilawati, we asked, “Why does the world not care about the young women of color who travel long distance and leave families and communities behind, precisely to keep the world, our world, functioning?” The redundancy and familiarity of Jeanelyn Villavende’s story suggests that was the wrong question. This repeated narrative of migration, abuse, torture, exploitation, death, return, 15 minutes of national “outrage”, followed by return to the same, this is the quality of our concern for young women of color in the contemporary global marketplace. As an Ethiopian domestic worker in Lebanon once put it, “We are like oil to our government”. After an oil spill here and there, it’s back to business as usual.

None of this is new. If anything, it’s a cliché by now. The neoliberal global economy was built on global cities that required 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week service, and so, among other industries, the household care work sector exploded. Urban areas of certain areas demanded more and more domestic workers, and certain nation-States, the Philippines most notably, turned themselves into mega-brokerage houses for mass migrations of domestic workers … like so much oilThe sending countries lauded the women as heroes of the nation and promised to protect them. But that protection never came. If it had, not only would Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende be alive today, she would never have had to leave in the first place.

Repeatedly, we have seen migrant and transnational domestic workers organizing themselves, demanding justice, making change. Filipina domestic worker Evangeline Banao Vallejos did so in Hong Kong, as did Indonesian domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, and as are Filipino domestic workers Baby Jane Allas, Milagros Tecson Comilang, and Desiree Rante LuisAdelina Lisao is a mirror sister of Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende: 26 years old, Adelina Lisao left Indonesia to work in Malaysia, and returned home, visibly tortured, in a body bag. Why does the world not care about the young women of color who travel long distance and leave families and communities behind, precisely to keep the world, our world, functioning? We do. This is how we care. We speak of justice, for example “justice for Jeanelyn Villavende”, and then return to business as usual. No one cries forever over a little spilled oil.

In February 2018, the Philippines imposed a total deployment ban on Kuwait, which it rescinded in May 2018. In May 2019, the Philippines imposed a total deployment ban on Kuwait, which it rescinded soon after. Each one of these bans occurred in response to spectacular brutality and death visited upon Filipina domestic workers. Each time, Kuwait and the Philippines signed a new deal. Each time, women were told they were protected. This is why almost every headline involving Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende’s torture and murder says “another”: “PH condemns killing of yet another Filipina domestic worker in Kuwait”; “PH gov’t condemns death of another Filipino domestic worker in Kuwait”; “Another OFW killed in Kuwait”. Another just like the other just like the next … so many drops of oil.

Around the world, domestic workers, overwhelmingly women, are organizing. They know that neither justice nor dignity come in some afterlife. There is absolutely no point in intoning “justice for Jeanelyn Villavende” as if that would conjure her up. It’s time to remember Mother Mary Harris Jones’ exhortation to striking miners: “Your organization is not a praying institution. It’s a fighting institution. It’s an educational institution along industrial lines. Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!” 


(Photo Credit: Sun Star Manila)

The Philippines factory fire was yet another planned massacre of workers

In the Philippines, House Technologies Industries owns a three-story factory in the Cavite Export Processing Zone, also known as the Cavite Economic Zone, south of Manila. On February 1, in the evening during shift change, a fire broke out. That fire raged for two full days before it was finally put out. Fire exits were locked, windows barred, corridors far too narrow to allow for quick passage: this was no accident. Yet again, as in the Kentex fire two years ago, this fire and those workers burned to death and the workers critically injured are part of the brutal architecture of industrial production. Every report covers up more than it reveals, and the workers, charred beyond recognition, wait for nothing now. What have the owners, including the State, learned in the years since the Kentex fire? They’ve learned the art of cover-up.

According to a report released by the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, “Nearly all those interviewed … believed that many were trapped inside and have died. The stream of people desperately seeking to go out of the building was too big for the employee’s passageways and fire exits to accommodate. There were accounts that the fire exits were locked, forcing escaping workers to break windows as their means of egress. Workers claim that the company’s exit stairs land inside the building, or in the delivery section within the company compound. There was no exit that lands on the streets. A witness shared that he did not see anyone who escaped using the same exit he went out of, only through passageways and windows.

“There were accounts that windows were tightly screwed on window sill and witnesses saw workers including a pregnant woman jumped out from the third floor window. Other witnesses narrated that on their way out, they left behind workers on the floor, unconscious. They also saw flames rapidly chasing the escaping workers. Relatives of those who were injured also told that their relative was able to escape by crawling over and stepping on unconscious bodies on the floor, whom they presumed dead.

“The National Building Code of the Philippines (Republic Act 6541) and the Occupational Safety and Health Standards prescribed specific design, size, width and dimension for fire exits and passageway, particularly in structures for different loads and those that contain highly combustible materials for safer egress and other. Examining the accounts, the law’s prescriptions were amiss in the HTI fire, the biggest fire in the country’s history of Export Processing Zones (EPZs).”

In its conclusion, the Commission notes, “There were more women working in the Quality Control in the 3rd floor including a pregnant woman who jumped out from the 3rd  floor window and more possibly trapped. From the reported 126 workers injured brought to hospital … there were 25 women … Where were those women workers? What happened to that pregnant woman? The distance from the ground floor to the third floor is high, as vertical clearance alone from the 1st to the 2nd floor, where containers are brought in, is estimated to about 18 feet (5.49 meters) high.”

We have been here before. The State can find violation of safety regulations, or not, and the trade unions can protest working conditions and demand an independent investigation, but the factories and sweatshops go up, bars cover the windows, doors are locked from the outside, and no one does anything. This is the second fire at the HTI factory in four years. In the first fire, HTI was exonerated of any fault. After this fire, HTI called in employees and told them to keep quiet. Some say the company forced them to erase video and photo evidence from their phones. Some say the company only counted full time employees in its tally. HTI is the largest employer in the Cavite Economic Zone.

From the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on March 25, 1911, in New York, to the Kader Toy Factory in 1993 Bangkok, to the Zhili Handicraft Factory in 1993 Shenzen, to the Tazreen Fashions Factory in 2012 Dhaka, and to the Kentex Manufacturing Corporation in 2015, to the House Technologies Industries in 2017, the architecture is the same, as are the smoke, stench, exploitation, workers and bosses. The factory was built as a slaughterhouse. When the flames burst and the workers’ bodies exploded, there was no accident. Today, March 26, 2017, we begin the 117th year of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Era, in which we can eradicate epidemic diseases and yet stand by and watch as the factory fires grow larger, more intense, and more lethal, and women jump from windows to the hard earth below.

After the fire


(Photo Credit 1: CTUHR) (Photo Credit 2: Rappler / Naoki Mengua)


The Philippines factory fire was a planned massacre of women workers

A new collection of specters haunts the earth today: 72 workers killed yesterday in a slipper factory fire in the Valenzuela district of Manila. There was no accident. That fire and those workers burning to death are part of the brutal architecture of industrial production. Every report covers up more than it reveals, and the workers, charred beyond recognition, wait for nothing now.

The fire “started” when sparks set off an explosion. The slaughter of the innocents began long before the spark. The windows were covered, sealed tight, by metal gratings. Even now, the local mayor isn’t sure the building had any fire escapes.

Dionesio Candido, whose daughter, granddaughter, sister-in-law and niece were among the missing, said iron grilles reinforced with fencing wire covered windows on the second floor that `could prevent even cats from escaping’.”

Those workers – daughters, granddaughters, sisters-in-law, nieces – were deemed less valuable than cats, and far less valuable than the chemicals, the machinery, and the slippers in the building.

None of this is new. The State can “investigate quickly”, if it likes, and the trade unions can protest “working conditions”, but the factories and sweatshops go up, the bars and grills cover the windows, and doors are locked from the outside, the flammable materials are next to the welding machines, and no one does anything … until the fire explodes.

From the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911 New York, to the Kader Toy Factory in 1993 Bangkok, to the Zhili Handicraft Factory in 1993 Shenzen, to the Tazreen Fashions Factory in 2012 Dhaka, and now to the Kentex Manufacturing Corporation in 2015 Manila, the architecture is the same, as are the smoke, stench, exploitation, workers and bosses. The factory wasn’t a factory; it was a slaughterhouse. When the flames burst and the women workers’ bodies exploded, there was no accident. There was an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people, a massacre, and it was always part of the plan.


(Photo Credit: Reuters / Ezra Acayan)

The case of Bonita Baran

For many years, household helpers or “kasambahays” have been playing significant roles in many Filipino families here and abroad. They take care of our everyday needs, our household, serves as second parents to our children and sometimes they become our confidants, our friends. Every day, they make our lives easier but some of us tend to forget of that they have their own needs, they have their own families who were the very reason why they are in our household. Some have become insensitive and sometimes abusive of our kasambahays.

In the Philippines, there are about 600,000 to 2.5 Million domestic workers. Majority of whom are women and girls. Due to the very nature of domestic work which is within the private sphere of the employer’s household and informal arrangements, abuses of household workers still remain rampant and hidden, making them one of the most vulnerable sectors. This is exactly what happened to Ms. Bonita Baran. Ms. Baran who hails from the province of Catanduanes came to Manila in search for work at the age of 16. She was employed by the Marzan’s in 2007. For 5 years, she was confined in her employer’s home doing all-around work, received a meagre salary of P700 a month, physically and verbally abused, no day off, no any social insurance benefits and disconnected from her own family and the outside world. Her employers basically trampled and stripped her of her rights.

The Philippine Commission on Women where i am presently employed vehemently condemns this unjust and inhumane treatment of household helpers. Ms. Baran is just one of the estimated 2.5M in the country. You can just imagine how many more of her are currently being abused and hidden in their employer’s private homes.

Urgent actions from the lawmakers have to be made especially at the lower congress where the legislative bill known as “Kasambahay Bill” has been pending for months. These lawmakers have yet to realize the significance of enacting this bill into law which will ensure rights and welfare for our “Bonita Baran”s.

(Jemelle Milanes works for the Philippine Commission on Women. This piece originally appeared at Pulse Wire’s Voices Rising. Thanks to World Pulse and Jemelle Milanes for this collaboration.)

(Photo Credit: Rem Zamora / YouTube)

You have struck the woman farmer and farm worker …

It’s Women’s Month in South Africa, and the news from government is predictably grim. Women are still suffering, announced Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulama Xingwana, and in particular for `rural women’. This comes a year almost to the day of the Human Rights Watch report, Ripe with Abuse Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries. The report described and documented the face of the abused farm worker in the Western Cape, and, to no one’s great surprise, the face is a woman’s.

A year later, the struggle continues.

For example, Worldwatch Institute issued a report this week that finds that investment in women farmers, globally, is too low. Remember, women produce half of the agricultural output in South Asia and 80 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. Further, women farmers produce more than half of all food and comprise 43 percent of the global agricultural labor force. `Forgetting’ women endangers food security as it threatens food sovereignty. Beyond that, and perhaps more to the point, excluding women farmers and farm workers imperils democracy, locally, nationally, regionally, globally. Remember that the next time you bite into a piece of fruit, wherever you are.

While the situation is grim, the news is not all bad. In the United States, undergraduate women enrolled in agriculture programs outnumber undergraduate men by more than 2,900 students. That’s out of a sum of around 50,000 students. This trend corresponds with the increase in women farm operators.

In Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal, the Philippines, Nepal, and beyond and between, women farmers, women farm workers, rural women activists and organizers, ordinary rural women, are breaking new ground … literally. They are moving from a field not quite her own to a field of her own. And that’s good news … for food security, for food sovereignty, for democracy. The struggle continues.


(Photo Credit: Phuong Tran/IRIN)

Does David Cameron support slavery? Ask the domestic workers.

Last year, England declared October 18th as Anti-Slavery Day. Today is the second Anti-Slavery Day. How will Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha Cameron celebrate this day? Let’s ask their nanny, Gita Lima.

Gita Lima is originally from Nepal. She worked, in England, for a family that proved to be abusive. She received assistance from Kalayaan, an advice and advocacy center for migrant domestic workers. Lima’s situation was all too familiar to Kalayaan. According to Kalayaan, nearly 70% of migrant domestic workers work seven days a week, almost half work 16 hours a day, and nearly 20% have been physically abused. More than half of the transnational domestic workers report that their bosses seize their passports and do not let them leave the house unaccompanied. Many report being denied food, many report sexual abuse.

Among its services, Kalayaan runs an ethical employment agency. David and Samantha Cameron came to that agency and hired Gita Lima, a number of years ago. Lima cared for their four children. In particular, she took care of the eldest child, Ivan, who had been born with a combination of cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy, and required round the clock care. Ivan died in 2009, at the age of six. Gita Lima continued to work for the Camerons, moving with them to 10 Downing Street.

The government, David Cameron’s government, recently proposed a change in visa regulations. This change would require migrant domestic workers to stay with the employers who sponsored them. Like the song says, “You’d better dance with the one that brung ya.” Or else.

Many domestic workers, and their allies like Kalayaan and the trade union Unite, understand the removal of the limited protections provided by the current system, the elimination of the right to change employers, as slavery.

They’re right, it is slavery, and it’s the Parliament of the United Kingdom that says so, in its Anti-Slavery Day Act: “In this Act “slavery” includes—
(a) trafficking for sexual exploitation,
(b) child trafficking,
(c) trafficking for forced labour, and
(d) domestic servitude.”

Domestic servitude. Gita Lima, Marissa Begonia, Noor, Mira, and all the transnational domestic workers did absolutely nothing wrong, did everything right, in fact. They have worked hard, they have taken care of children and households, and in the case of some, like Gita Lima, they have wept at and mourned the loss of a loved one. Who is the criminal here, the one placed in slavery, in “domestic servitude”, or the one who holds the woman worker in bondage?


(Photo Credit: BBC)


Evangeline Banao Vallejos will not go gentle into that flight

Evangeline Banao Vallejos won a “landmark decision” today in Hong Kong. It was a women’s victory, and hopefully not temporary, in the War on Women. She won the right to abode, the right to stay, the right to permanent residency. She won the right to be, the right to live with her family, the right to unpack her bags and stop living in fear.

According to the law in Hong Kong, non-Chinese who have entered Hong Kong with a valid travel document, have stayed in Hong Kong for seven continuous years, and have taken Hong Kong as their place of permanent residence have the right of abode. That is, they can become permanent residence, with all the protections and privileges that allows.

Unless they’re domestic workers. Another law excludes foreign domestic workers, officially called “foreign domestic helpers”, from becoming permanent residents … ever. Hong Kong has a little under 300,000 foreign domestic workers, the vast majority of whom come from the Philippines and Indonesia. The rest come from Thailand, Nepal, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Hong Kong totals around 7.1 million residents. That means 4% or so of those living in Hong Kong are foreign domestic workers.

Evangeline Banao Vallejos went to Hong Kong, from the Phillipines, in 1986, and has worked, continuously, for the same employer since 1987. In 2008, Vallejos applied for permanent residency and was rejected. In 2010, she applied for judicial review of the law that excludes foreign domestic workers from being … ordinary people. She is not alone in her cause. Organizations, such as the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body and United Filipinos in Hong Kong, have supported her case.

Other foreign domestic workers are also suing for admission into the world of ordinary people. Irene Domingo, for example, arrived in Hong Kong, from the Philippines, in 1982 and, except for a brief period where she had to wait for a visa, has lived in Hong Kong continuously ever since. Josephine Gutierrez has been working and living continuously in Hong Kong for twenty years. Ordinary women seeking the status of the ordinary.

Here’s how, by law, the “extraordinary” are treated. Foreign domestic workers are subject to two-year employment contracts. They must live in the homes of their employers. They cannot bring in their spouses or children. This is the price of being extraordinary in the midst of the “miracle” of economic growth. For women in the global economy, being extraordinary means being disposable, deportable.

What is the threat constituted by Filipina women, by Indonesian women? Flood. Influx. That’s how the State, that’s how the media, describe the possible consequences of treating foreign domestic workers as anything but ordinary women. Give them rights and they will flood the labor market. Recognize their ordinary humanity and a flood, a tsunami, of “others” – family members – will come crashing down on the island city.

Evangeline Banao Vallejo. Irene Domingo. Josephine Gutierrez. These are not the names of tropical floods. They are the names of terrifically ordinary women workers who haunt the world economy. And for now, they’re staying put.

(Photo Credit: AP / Asian Correspondent)

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: David Swanson / IRIN / The New Humanitarian)