As women's organizations around the world are set to march for International Women's Day Wednesday, a women workers' association in Ecuador stands as a pioneering example in the global fight for transformational changes to protect women's labor rights and empower them in the workplace.
Maximina Salazar, director of the Household Workers Association of Ecuador, has been fighting for almost 20 years to demand labor rights for women working inside homes cleaning, cooking or taking care of children and seniors. And in recent years, her organizing has made breakthrough progress.
“There were times when we worked and we didn’t get paid, we didn’t have social security, there was no minimum wage for us,” Salazar told teleSUR in a recent interview. “All this type of labor violence against us women is what we had in the past.”
Under the left-wing government of President Rafael Correa since 2007, Salazar and her colleagues have been able to push for radical change in the domestic work sector, which they refer to as household work in an effort to combat stigma and dignify women workers. For Salazar's Household Workers Association, founded in 1998, it was the first time state authorities promoted an open dialogue between ministers, employers and workers to put demands for better working conditions on the table.
With space to apply political pressure, the group blazed a trail by successfully urging the Ecuadorean government in 2013 to adopt the International Labor Organization's Convention on Domestic Workers to ramp up protections for women workers. And in 2016, the leaders in the women's labor movement scored another landmark victory by officially launching the Union of Household Workers.
The Household Workers Association boasts the membership of more than 600 workers from 11 provinces, who benefit from training and information on work risks and social security, as well as rights and responsibilities. They also receive minimum wage, social security, respect for 8 hours of work and vacations, which wasn’t part of the law a decade ago.
Thanks to the women's organizing and a campaign under the banner "Decent work, decent life," Ecuador is one of just 23 countries around the globe that has ratified the ILO's Convention 189, the international law that sets labor standards for domestic workers including minimum wage, rest periods and anti-violence protections.
Convention 189, which entered into force in 2013, recognizes that "domestic work continues to be undervalued and invisible and is mainly carried out by women and girls," adding that workers in the sector are disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds and among the most marginalized in the workforce, making them "particularly vulnerable to discrimination in respect to conditions of employment and of work, and to other abuses of human rights."
Legal changes in recent years have made a big impact on the lives of household workers in Ecuador. Salazar said that she remembers many cases of women who were part of their association who before were treated as slaves, and many were even sexually abused by their employers.
"I continue organizing so that the next generation of domestic workers don’t go through what I experienced," she told U.N. Women. "To other women domestic workers I say, 'my friend, you have rights, don’t let others trample on them.'"
International Women's Day in Ecuador, where women will join the global women's strike to highlight the important role of women in the economy, national workforce and society, will be just one day in a years-long fight for women's labor and human rights.
The main march to demand worldwide respect for women's rights is set to take place in the capital city of Quito Wednesday afternoon, joining the groundswell of women in other cities in the world, to demand gender equality, reproductive rights and an end to discrimination, violence and femicide.
“No flowers or chocolates on March 8," said Jeannette Cervantes, from the Vivas Nos Queremos Ecuador, the organization behind the march. "That doesn't erase the wage gap or that we are killed daily.”