In Tanzania, Rebeca Gyumi fought to end `child marriages’, won, and then had to win again … and did!

Rebeca Gyumi

On October 23, 2019, Tanzania’s Court of Appeal ruled that child marriage is illegal … period. The Court ruled that the marriage age for both girls and boys must be [a] the same and [b] 18 years of age. In so ruling, the Court of Appeal upheld a similar decision by Tanzania’s High Court, reached July 2016. At the center of this momentous and landmark victory is Rebeca Gyumi, feminist organizer extraordinaire. A caption for this story could be, “She persisted.” Where have we heard that before? Everywhere!

Here’s the story, in brief. In 1971, Tanzania passed the Law of Marriage Act, which set the age limits for marriage as 18 for boys, 14 for girls. In 1986, Rebeca Gyumi was born in Dodoma, the official national capital of Tanzania, where, according to her own recollections, she saw girls expelled from school because they were pregnant, and she saw the catastrophic consequences of that policy. At a young age, Rebeca Gyumi decided to do something about the situation of girl children in Tanzania. 

Rebeca Gyumi attended and graduated from law school. She founded the Msichana Initiative, whose mission is to advocate for girl child right to education in Tanzania and to make Tanzania a model for other countries in that right. Then, in 2016, Rebeca Gyumi pulled together a team to challenge the Law of Marriage Act. They showed that, at the time, two of every five girls in Tanzania married before the age of 18, making Tanzania one of the “leaders” in rates of child marriage. Despite quite a bit of opposition, Rebecca Gyumi and her colleagues persisted, and, in 2016, the High Court ruled that the Law of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, and the government had one year to fix it. This was a landmark decision and victory … 

And yet … 

In September 2017, Tanzania’s Attorney General formally filed an appeal. Much of the ensuing argument was, predictably, about “Western values corrupting” Tanzania, and in particular Tanzanian girls who were somehow especially vulnerable to, again, “Western values.” That Tanzanian girls might be even more vulnerable if married and denied access to education and other opportunities seemed somehow beside the point.

Rebeca Gyumi persisted, on all fronts. She waged a social and political campaign to both counteract the corruption arguments and to promote a public discussion about the significance of gender equality in Tanzania. Concurrently, she honed the legal arguments, amassing more evidence of the impact of differential limits on marriage for girls across Tanzania. Meanwhile for two years, the government has railed against Gyumi, the High Court decision, and, more generally, gender equality. Remember, this is the same government that has sworn to keep pregnant girls out of school permanently.

This year’s Court of Appeal decision is, again, landmark. Where the High Court left some discretion to the government, now the terms have been set. Additionally, it points to the power of women organizing, organizing, organizing. In that lesson, Rebeca Gyumi has given all of us an important lesson. In 2016, Rebeca Gyumi said, “Changing the law is not the ultimate end to child marriage. Changing mindsets and trying to trigger the shift of customs and traditions is the next thing we are planning to do.” The time is now!


(Photo Credit: Face2Face Africa)

Children trafficked into domestic servitude in Zanzibar

Girls and women in a Zanzibari shelter

With the promises of better lives and opportunities for their children, parents are being tricked into sending their children to become domestic servants for various wealthy employers in Zanzibar. Unfortunately, the promise of wages and educational opportunities for children do not come to fruition, and many child domestic workers endure long hours, no salaries or education as promised, and have to endure slave-like working conditions.

Children like Rose became the victim of the traffic of girls into domestic servitude. With the promise of economic and educational opportunities in Zanzibar City, Rose left home to work in a wealthy family’s home. There she was subject to long hours of work, physical abuse, and inhuman punishments for not completing a job. For example, Rose was locked in a fetid, tiny outdoor latrine for more than 11 hours. She had not finished washing the dishes the night before.

Such stories are common among the children being trafficked in Tanzania to become servants and domestic laborers. Based on reports of child labor in Tanzania, 131,741 children are pushed into domestic servitude; girls constituted the majority of domestic work with 84.2% (110,911) of the total child laborers. According to the Tanzania Mainland National Child Labour Survey,

the most common risk facts that the children face include “long and tiring working days; use of toxic chemicals; carrying heavy loads; handling dangerous items such as knives, axes and hot pans; insufficient and inadequate food and accommodation, and humiliating or degrading treatment including physical and verbal violence, and sexual abuse.”

Some few, more fortunate children more fortunate work for families that treat them well enough, but most face a lifetime of abuse and exploitation. Rose’s story illustrates the abuse that most trafficked girls experience as domestic workers. The morning of her first day of work, she was beaten mercilessly by her employers. After similar and worse punishments, such as imprisonment in a latrine, Rose finally escaped to a shelter for trafficking victims.

Likewise, Rachel, a domestic laborer at 14 years old, was forced to work for 16 hours a day, doing everything from cleaning to childcare. Her employer beat her often and raped her frequently. Finally, Rachel escaped and found a shelter.

Because of outside pressure, Tanzania has begun to take the cases of trafficked children seriously, investigating 100 suspected trafficking cases in 2016. Nevertheless, there has been no headway into the agencies that bring the children to their employers. There is no sense of how to stop the flow of children from mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar. Further, no proper organization has helped reunite survivors with their parents nor does any organization formally help trafficked child domestic laborers escape from their employers. In Zanzibar, there is one offering protection for these children, and it has only ten beds. Meanwhile, the warnings from Rose and others like her have not hindered other children from following in her footsteps. Many more children are at risk of falling into the same trap of the promise of a better life, only to be pushed into slavery.


(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Rebecca Grant)

In Tanzania, as everywhere, pregnant girls deserve an education!

Jackie Leonard Lomboma and her daughter Rose

At a rally last week, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli declared that pregnant school girls would never be allowed to return to school. The President’s statement sparked a heated debate, in Tanzania and elsewhere. For the past two days, Kenyans have weighed in, using the hashtag #StopMagufuli. Yesterday, Tanzania’s Minister for Home Affairs, Mwigulu Nchemba, threatened NGOs who “support” pregnant school girls returning to school and those “supporting” homosexuality with decertification. Commentators noted the dire consequences of excluding pregnant school girls from education while others discussed the gross, and patriarchal, unfairness of the policy, and others invoked tradition and nation.

President Magufuli’s declaration emerged after a months’ long debate in Tanzania’s Parliament over the budget. That debate included a move to fund policies and structures that would help pregnant school girls stay in school and return to school after giving birth. While Members of Parliament were divided, a sizeable group favored this idea.

For decades, activists, researchers and others have organized to end child marriage and the exclusion of pregnant school girls from education. A recent study reported, “In Tanzania, …  school officials conduct pregnancy tests and expel pregnant students. Nineteen-year-old Rita, from northern Tanzania, said she was expelled when she became pregnant at age 17. `Teachers found out I was pregnant,’ she said. `I found out that no student is allowed to stay in school if they are pregnant … I didn’t have the information [sexual education] about pregnancies and what would happen.’”

Researchers have long shown that Tanzanian school girls experience pregnancy and early school-leaving at exceptionally high rates. Access to reproductive health and to sex and sexuality education are limited, especially in the rural areas. Further, the policy of exclusion violates the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania as much as it does the aspirations and autonomy of young Tanzanian girls: “The Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania recognizes the right to education to every child, … denying pregnant schoolgirls’ re-entry to school after giving birth infringes the right to equal access to education and … the infringement of the right to education by denying pregnant school girls’ re-entry to school after delivery has great harm.” What harms the girl harms the Constitution harms the Nation harms the future.

Two years ago, when this current President and current Parliament were elected, some wondered if 2015 might be the year of the girl child in Tanzania, the year in which child marriages would be abolished and in which the girl child would be respected. It wasn’t.

Jackie Leonard Lomboma directs a center for teenage mothers in Morogoro, Tanzania. She became pregnant while in school. Orphaned at three months, raised by her grandfather, she managed to finish primary school, but there was no money for secondary school. A young man offered her money for school if she would “be with him.” They met once, and she became pregnant. She never saw him again. Her grandfather kicked her out, and the village ostracized her.

She began work as a house maid, and moved to Uganda to work for a Tanzanian family there. When the family moved to another place, the mother asked the young woman what she would want as a “goodbye gift”, and Jackie Leonard Lomboma answered, “I told her I wanted to go to school …  I knew it was only through education that I could make a positive step in my life and give a better life to my child … Eventually she agreed to take me to school.”

Jackie Leonard Lomboma completed secondary school in Uganda, and then returned to Tanzania. Today, she is disappointed: “It is a big disappointment to hear the president say that girls who get pregnant should not be allowed back to school. I am very disappointed because Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world and in order for us to overcome this we need to empower underprivileged groups like teenage mothers with education … I was empowered through education, that is why today I am supporting other girls to stand up again.”

When Jackie Leonard Lomboma talks of secondary school, she talks of the dream, as do school girls in Malawi, India, the United States, South Africa and everywhere else. They all have a dream that someday we will all have gone to school, together, and will all have flourished there, and that that day must be now.


(Photo Credit: BBC / Jackie Leonard Lomboma)

African women farmers reject the same old business as usual

Members of the Rural Women’s Farmers Association of Ghana (RUWFAG) prepare a field for sowing.

The World Economic Forum is meeting this week in Cape Town, with much self-congratulation on “economic growth”, “poverty eradication”, and “women’s empowerment”, all brought by those who engineered a world economy based on growing inequality, galloping individual debt, expanding precarization of labor, and anything but the empowerment of women. Part of this circus maximus is the meeting, held largely behind closed doors, of the partners of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Across Africa, women farmers see this “new alliance” as the same old same old, and they’re not buying it.

The New Alliance, cooked up by the G8 and the European Union in 2012, sports all the “right language”: transformation, growth, partnership, security, sustainability, sharing. But the New Alliance opens ever-larger amounts of land to corporate investors and multinational agro-corporations, because nothing says sustainable security like over-the-top investments, land grabs and the forced eviction of local populations. Women farmers’ organizations have decried the physical and cultural violence of this project. They have protested the Alliance’s refusal to consult, and they have shown the devastation this “new alliance” harvests from the destruction of women’s bodies and lives.

But what do women farmers know about food security or nutrition, and, in particular, what do African women farmers know? Once again, they must be saved from themselves.

The premise of the New Alliance is that “land titling” will fix everything. Here’s what’s actually happened. Malawi was induced to release about a million hectares, or 26 percent of the country’s arable land, to large-scale commercial farming. According to ActionAid, “Land titling can give small-scale food producers more security over their land, but in the current New Alliance-related processes, it appears to be a way to primarily help governments facilitate large-scale acquisitions of land. Secure land tenure does not necessarily require individual land ownership but can be achieved with clearly defined and sufficiently long-term use rights over land that is ultimately state property. The abolition of customary or communal tenure systems and their replacement with freehold title and the private land market has often led to extinguishing the land rights of the poor, notably women.”

Notably women. Yet again, the “new” produces wider and deeper vulnerability, especially for women, all in the name of security and sustainability. This new is not so new.

Malawi women farmers are not the only targets. Women farmers in Nigeria, Senegal, and Burkina Faso report the same, as do women farmers in Tanzania. As Tanzanian farmer Anza Ramadhani explained, “We never had a chance to influence the decisions concerning our land and future. There has been no transparency whatsoever. We don’t know if we will be resettled, where it will be or if we will be compensated. We don’t know how much the compensation will be or if it will be at all.”

In Ghana, women farmers are threatened with being forced to give up their control, and knowledge of seeds, by a new law, called the “Monsanto Law”, which would restrict, and even prohibit, storing and trading seeds. This law is a condition of New Alliance aid. The new is not at all new. As farmer Esther Boakye Yiadom explains, “My mother gave me some seeds to plant, and I’m also giving those seeds to my children to plant. So that is ongoing, every time we transfer to our children. And that is how all the women are doing. We don’t buy, we produce it ourselves.” Patricia Dianon, chair of the Rural Women Farmers Association of Ghana and traditional queen, agrees, “After harvesting, the women are able to store the seeds … They are able to dry it, tie it, and preserve it … So when the year comes, they bring these seeds to sow again.” Victoria Adongo, Program Director for the Peasant Farmer Association of Ghana, concurs, “Seed is where you grow your food from. So if you save the seed, then you grow food the following year. It’s very economical because you don’t have to go and buy seed. That is what we farmers have always done … We, the small holder farmers, want to have good lives. We want to be healthy. We have our seed systems that we like and are proud of. So we do not want multinational companies to come in and take over our seed systems.”

In the pursuit of profit, the New Alliance condemns women to “new” lives of increasing, intensifying and expanding vulnerability, hardship, and disposability. Across Africa, women farmers are saying NO! to the international delegation of liars and thieves. They are saying, “We don’t buy, we produce it ourselves. We want good lives. We want to be healthy.”


(Photo Credit: Global Justice Now / Common Dreams) (Video Credit: Global Justice Now / YouTube)

How many women? Ask the women of Papua New Guinea

How many women are raped in order to produce the world’s gold? How many women are chased off their land, kicked out of their own social structures, and otherwise beaten down in the pursuit of mineral resources? Ask the women of Papua New Guinea.

The Porgera open-pit gold mine in Papua New Guinea is a good old-fashioned money, and blood, pit: “The mine has a terrible reputation for both human rights abuses (rapes, beatings and killings by security personnel) and environmental damage (vast quantities of potentially toxic tailings dumped into a nearby river). But gold prices, while down from their recent peak, are still three times what they were a decade ago, so dig they must.”

The Porgera mine, owned by the Canadian company Barrick, is rich. In the last two decades, the mine has produced over 20 billion dollars worth of gold. Barrick is rich. Papua New Guinea is poor. Almost a third of the population lives in dire poverty. Around the Porgera mine, it’s worse. As happens so often around `wealthy’ mining sites, the area has experienced severe “social disintegration.” The local communities derive little benefit from the mines, and what benefit they get is slotted to the men. Gender inequality increases. Women become both absolutely and proportionately poorer and more vulnerable. Bride price and polygyny increase dramatically. Women’s status declines. Women’s customary abilities to negotiate dwindle. Abandonment of women and children rises. Domestic violence both increases and intensifies.

Three years ago, a major report investigated and confirmed repeated incidents of gang rape of local women by Porgera’s private security firm. All of the women were brutally beaten. None of the women reported the rapes. What would have been the point? Another report, this one from last year, noted: “A number of the women whose assaults had become public knowledge were stigmatised, beaten by family members or divorced by their husbands.”

The women started organizing and issued demands. What happened? At first, nothing. Then … Barrick created a “remedy program for victims”. This included “the requirement that to receive compensation, women must waive their right to sue Barrick.”

In order to get help, in order to get compensation, the women have to sign away their rights. First, Barrick denied and stonewalled for five years. Then they bullied and bullied some more, all in the name of `remedy.’ The United Nations `recommended’, and the world `condemned.’ No matter. The Barrick non-judicial grievance mechanism remains in place, opaque as ever. Here’s how one witness describes it: “Many women were not aware of the remedy program, others were suspicious of it, and we found general lack of clarity about the process. Women said that the program was being run in a language that they could not understand and that they had not been offered translation. Women said that the things they were being offered through the program were either not what they needed to address the harm they had suffered, or not compatible with culturally appropriate remedies for the type of harm they had suffered, or simply not commensurate with the harm they had suffered. The primary things these women were being offered were baby chickens to raise and second hand clothes to sell. The program seemed to be confusing small scale development programs with remedy.”

There is no confusion. The founder and chairman of Barrick explained that the sexual violence at Porgera occurred because, in Papua New Guinea, “gang rape is a cultural habit.” It never happened, we weren’t there, and anyway it’s your fault, even though it never happened. Barrick was there, Barrick is there … and in Tanzania … and … How many women? How many more women?


(Photo Credit: Brent Stirton/Getty Images for Human Rights Watch)

African women smallholder farmers haunt the G8 … and The Guardian

In 2012, the G8 launched the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which, controversially, gave agribusiness a seat at the African farming table, right next to governments and aid donors. Agribusiness had always been there, but now the arrangements of hand holding and pocket filling would be formalized. Despite promises of the `new’, transparency around the arrangements did not increase. If anything, the world of African food security and nutrition transactions became murkier.

This week The Guardian ran a series of articles on the New Alliance. Many see the Alliance as colonialism with a neoliberal face. First, the aid processes become increasingly privatized and imbedded into the workings, and failings, of markets. Second, the contractual and policy decisions are not only made behind closed doors, they’re made in settings that prohibit any direct involvement of smallholder farmers. Neither the Alliance nor The Guardian seems to care that smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are overwhelmingly women. What’s not new here? Millions of women workers rendered invisible … again.

Ten African countries signed agreements that `open’ them to greater foreign direct investment. The countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania. The national commitments involve land and water; seeds; tax; finance; infrastructure; food security or nutrition; and other. Ten countries signed 209 commitments. Of those ten countries, only Benin made any commitments to women, and those two commitments are, at best, vague: “Design and set up a gender-based information and communication system to prompt behavioural change in the agricultural and rural sector.” “Improve how gender is addressed when designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating projects/programmes and activities in the agricultural sector.” As of yet, the progress on these is listed as “Unknown.”

The Guardian reported on Malawian smallholder farmers being kept in the dark on Malawi’s commitments; on Tanzanian smallholder farmers’ concerns that the new alliance will only turn them into cheap labor for the new, large farming corporations; and on Ghanaian smallholder farmers’ mixed reactions. The Guardian doesn’t mention or quote any women smallholder farmers.

Women comprise as much as 80% of African subsistence farmers. In Burkina Faso, gardeners and smallholder farmers are overwhelmingly women. From palm oil production in Benin to cocoa production in Ghana to general smallholder production in Tanzania, women predominate in numbers but not in access to resources or control. In Malawi, women make up almost 70% of the full time farmer population. Every major multinational agency has issued a report on the centrality of women in agriculture to any food security agenda. Repeatedly, reports demonstrate that women constitute the majority of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, and yet have little to no access to land tenure or to State or international assistance. Those reports also suggest that extension services automatically look to men as `change agents.’

Women farmers are a majority of the adult farming population. They are not part of the picture. They are the picture. They are not part of the story. They are the story. When you see the picture, when you read the story, if you don’t see and read about women farmers, write to the authors and tell them, “No women farmers, no justice.”


(Photo Credit:

A tale of two (billion) women farmers


Mwajuma Hussein

In two days, in Jakarta, Indonesia women farmers from all over the world will gather under the banner slogan, “Sowing the seeds of action and hope, for feminism and food sovereignty!

Close to 2 billion women, out of a global population of around 7 billion, depend on agriculture for their livelihood. For those women, these are the best of times, these are the worst of times. Herein is one tale of two women farmers in these times.

Mwajuma Hussein is a 75-year-old woman farmer in the Geita Region of Tanzania. In 2007, she and all the residents of her small rural farming community, Mine Mpya, were evicted from their homes and lands to make way for the Geita Gold Mine, operated by AngloGold Ashanti, a South African mining corporation. They were forced out and have lived since, for close to seven years, in a “cluster of makeshift tents constructed from plastic sheeting and bits of wood and metal.” As Mwajuma Hussein remembers, “[One day in 2007] I was attacked by police at 5am.  They arrested three people and beat them, and then they dumped us here.” In the bitterest of ironies, the residents sometimes call their “cluster” Sophiatown, and other times they call it Darfur as well.

Women make up a large and increasing part of the agricultural work force of Tanzania. On the one hand, men are leaving to work in the cities or in the mines. On the other hand, women play an integral role in agricultural production and ensuring household food security. Women are in charge of farm labor, especially subsistence crops; child care; food preparation; water retrieval; household maintenance; caring for the sick; building and holding community together. Women run the farms … up to a point. Women do not have formal decision-making authority over land use and earned income, and they have at best tenuous land rights. For widows, the situation is even more precarious.

What happens to the women farmers of Mine Mpya now? They become day laborers. Where life was difficult before, especially for women, it is now reduced to the hardship, and practical impossibility, of purchase-based survival. Where before, women ensured that the household had enough food to live, enough water to function, and enough social connections to weather almost any storm, now that’s all gone.

Phindile Nkosi is also a woman farmer, in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa. She has a share of Elukwatini Farm, in an arrangement with the upscale mega-market Woolworths. Woolworths set up Elukwatini Farm this way: 13 farmers farm 1 hectare each. Those who succeed get more hectares. The others are out. Phindile Nkosi now farms 3 hectares, and employs five full-time workers. It’s good for her, for her children, for the region.

As Phindile Nkosi explains, “There have been no jobs in the area since the mines closed down 15 years ago. But Woolworths has helped us to help ourselves and the community. When my neighbours saw how poor I was, living in a mud house to what I am now, they too want to start farming. For my children as well it’s been good.”

Phindile Nkosi is a single mother of four. With the profits from selling tomatoes to Woolworths, she has managed to build a home and to send her eldest through university.

Are “Sophiatown” and Elukwatini signatures for the worst of times and the best of times? Yes and no. In both Geita Region and Mpumalanga Province, women farmers are responsible for sustaining food production and reducing household food insecurity. The hand that rocks the cradle tills the fields. In both Geita Region and Mpumalanga Province, the mining industry devastated the agricultural sector at large and the political economy of women’s lives.

Most critically, both stories point to the utter refusal of the State to address women farmers. Mwajuma Hussein was not removed from her home by mining security guards.  Police removed her. Phindile Nkosi did not live in a wasteland created by the mine’s closure. She lived in a wasteland created by State policies of “non-intervention”. A little over ten years ago a study reported that rural women in South Africa were “isolated, confined and marginalized through the non-interactive government policies on rural areas.” Since then, rural women in South Africa have become more active and engaged in farming and in farm work, no thanks to any `interaction’ from the State.

In Tanzania and in South Africa, the rural zones are treated by the State as empty space, and, for the State, the women who inhabit that empty space don’t exist. If they’re lucky, a `beneficent’ corporation will come to their empowering rescue. If they’re not, they end up in Sophiatown – Darfur. Either way, where is the State?

Phindile Nkosi

(Photo Credit 1: IRIN / Zahra Moloo) (Photo Credit 2: Business Day)

Domestic workers Mwanahamisi Mruke and R Pranathi haunt labor

R. Pranathi’s relatives argue with police

Mwanahamisi Mruke and R Pranathi are two faces, two names, for global domestic labor. Perhaps they are the same face, the same name.

R Pranathi is a domestic worker in Ennore, a suburb of Chennai, India. For the last four months, she has worked as a household worker in a constable’s family. She comes from a poor family. She has worked in the house and taken care of the couple’s child. Pranathi is known as “a brave girl who would fight eve teasers in the locality.”

Pranathi is 14 years old, and she is dead.

The couple’s story is that the girl suffered stomach pains and hanged herself. People from her hometown and members of the Tamil Nadu Domestic Workers’ Union have a different story: the girl was raped, murdered, and then `translated’ into a suicide.

Whether or not Pranathi’s death was murder, and one suspects it was, the story of domestic workers being killed and then translated into suicides occurs every day, all over the world. Some gain some notice, such as the 31-year-old Nepalese domestic worker Samoay Wanching Tamang, who died by hanging in Lebanon in late February. Others simply vanish into the void. Some deaths are said to be mysterious, others are allegedly clear-cut. What is not mysterious is that domestic workers are dying, at work, across the globe, at an alarming rate.

Domestic labor is a growth industry, but it is also a labor killing field. And the ways of dying are many, some swift, others slow.

Mwanahamisi Mruke suffered the slow death. In October 2006, Mruke left Tanzania for England, where she had been promised employment as a domestic worker. She left her home and homeland for higher wages that would allow her daughter Zakia to attend college. She went to work for Saeeda Khan, a widow with two adult disabled living children, a hospital director with a good job. Khan kept Mruke a slave for the past four and a half years. Mruke’s passport was taken away, she was not allowed to leave the house, she worked from six am to midnight, sometimes more. Mruke was forced to sleep on the kitchen floor. After the first year, Khan stopped paying the worker. She was “treated like a slave.” Slavery, as sociologist Orlando Patterson explained in his magisterial work, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, “the slave’s powerlessness was that it always originated (or was conceived of having originated) as a substitute for death, usually violent death.”

On Wednesday, March 16, 2011, in a groundbreaking case, Saeeda Khank was found guilty of trafficking a person into the United Kingdom for exploitation. Mwanahamisi Mruke is now pursuing a civil suit.

These stories are an intrinsic part of the fabric of global waged domestic labor, one of the major growth industries of the past three decades worldwide. On one hand, they tell the story of terrible employers. Venal, corrupt, violent and vicious. It’s an important story to tell.

But there’s another story as well, that of the isolation, the silence, the exclusion of domestic workers from the world of workers and of labor.

This year, on May 1, 2011, Hong Kong will implement a Minimum Wage Ordinance. The new legislation will apply to full-time and part-time employees, regardless of whether they are employed under continuous employment contracts. Anyone who has been employed continuously by the same employer for four weeks or more, with at least 18 hours worked in each week, will be covered.

Almost anyone, that is: “the MWO does not apply to certain classes of employees, including live-in domestic workers, certain student interns and work experience students.”

In British Columbia, in Canada, this week, the minimum wage has been increased for the first time in ten years. This is good news, but does it cover domestic workers? Jamaica awaits a government study on livable wages. Will the study consider domestic workers?

In June 2011, the International Labour Organization may adopt a Convention on the rights of domestic workers. If so, it would aim to strengthen legal protection for the billions of paid domestic workers around the globe. The ILO Convention could be an important step. But it depends on the language of respective member countries’ labor laws.

Until the trade union movements formally include domestic workers in every worker protection campaign, in every campaign and action, billions of paid domestic laborers will remain super-exploited and under a death sentence. Employers have indeed been known to isolate, imprison, torture, and even kill domestic workers. But the rest of us, in our day-to-day failures and refusals to see domestic workers as real workers, and domestic labor as real labor, exclude, silence, and isolate precisely those workers.  Mwanahamisi Mruke and R Pranathi haunt us.

(Photo Credit: The New Indian Express)