Abject Poverty or Domestic Servitude
By Graham Peebles
They work as maids, housekeepers, cleaners; they take care of children, the elderly and infirmed for wealthy and middle class families in rich and upwardly mobile nations. They are found throughout the world: in the G20 countries and the Gulf States, Latin America (where they account for 60% of internal and international migrants), and developing countries in Africa and Asia where vast numbers of poor and vulnerable live alongside the privileged few. They walk the dogs, iron the designer shirts, collect the privately educated children from school in London and New York: they clean the homes and are on 24 hour call to comfort the elderly in Paris and Dubai, Kuwait City and Tokyo: they cook and serve in Singapore City, New Delhi and Moscow.
They are the domestic workers of the world: essential employees, numbering anything between 53 and 100 million people (excluding children), 83% of whom are women. And, due to a range of social and economic factors, including demographic, social and employment trends, an aging population in many regions, more women working outside the home, together with the decline in state provision of care, and grinding poverty in many source countries, their numbers are growing: between “the mid 1990s and 2010, there was an increase of more than 19 million domestic workers worldwide”, The International Labour Organisationi (ILO) states. Demand is particularly strong in “North America, wealthier Asian countries such as Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea, and in many Arab States”. [Women in Informal Employment Globalising and Organising (WIEGO) reportii]
They live outside the economic growth bubble, in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines, as well as India, Bangladesh and Nepal, and to a lesser degree the Horn of Africa countries of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. They constitute around 8% of the total worldwide female workforce, (that's one in 13); it’s 27% in Latin America and the Caribbean (where 20 million work). But the region with the highest number of migrant domestic workers as a percentage of the total workforce is the Gulf States where it is almost one in three: mistreatment and abuse is widespread and labour laws for domestics are amongst the weakest in the world.
The poisonous feeding ground forcing millions of children and women into lives of enslavement and exploitation is inequality. It is the fundamental cause impelling parents to sell their children and the underlying social injustice driving hundreds of thousands of women away from their families and homes to take up domestic work. It is the plague of our times: it divides and separates communities and nations, instilling despondency, resentment and anger amongst the dispossessed (the 99.9%), feeding complacency and arrogance amongst the coterie of the economically privileged.
Vulnerable and easily exploited, the millions of women and children meeting the domestic needs of the economically better off, are victims of a global socio-economic system that has trapped hundreds of millions into poverty and continues to fuel stellar levels of inequality.