Domestic Work Sector Focus

Beginning in January 2019, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership will be highlighting the types of discrimination and violence faced by women in various labor sectors as part of our commitment to making sure that the ILO adopts a strong, inclusive convention that addresses all forms of gender-based violence against women in the world of work. This month, we will be focusing on domestic workers.

The material gathered below includes UN reports, ILO instruments, declarations, and recommendations, recommendations from UN Special Procedures, recommendations from UN Treaty Bodies, UN declarations, NGO reports, good practices, case law, videos, infographics, and stories from the lived experiences of domestic workers.  Taken together, these documents paint a picture of the struggles that domestic workers face, as well as a path forward to ensure that their rights are protected.

UN Women estimates that 1 in every 25 women workers around the world are employed in domestic work. Of those, 1 in 6 is a migrant. Domestic workers therefore exist at the nexus of informal labor, gender, and migration, all of which make them particularly vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, and lack of legal protections.

Research has shown that domestic workers suffer from a range of abuses, including:

  • Physical, sexual, and emotional abuses
  • Forced isolation
  • Exclusion from the protections provided by labor laws
  • Lack of access to health care
  • Withholding pay
  • Long working hours with no breaks or time off

As workers in the informal sector, migrant domestic workers are often excluded from basic labor law protections as well as subject to draconian visa and immigration legislation that leaves them vulnerable to exploitation with no viable options for redress. The kafala system which exists in many countries in the Middle East, for example, tethers workers to their employers who are tasked with maintaining the worker’s legal status. Effectively, it is a system that delegates responsibility and oversight of workers to private citizens that facilitates the exploitation of workers with no repercussions. Similarly, in 2012, the UK adopted a visa system for domestic workers that removes their right to change employers, thus trapping them in potentially abusive situations.

There is extensive research documenting the horrific violence faced by migrant domestic workers. When a private home functions as a workplace, and particularly in cases of live-in domestic workers, this type of violence blurs the lines between domestic violence and workplace violence. It is therefore crucially important for the ILO to adopt an expanded definition of the world of work and to make explicit the connections between domestic violence and the world of work.