Domestic and care work should be recognized as work

The 2nd Panel presentations were held on the subject of gendered migration in Western EU states, which are increasingly in need of a large amount of domestic work – one of the largest sectors driving international female labour migration. This work is usually performed in the informal sector of the economy, the workers being excluded from benefits of the social and health security system. Most of the women who will take these jobs are exposed to illegal and unregulated status in the host country.

Women’s migration on domestic and care work in Europe must have an impact on EU policies. But the ambiguity of migration discourses and the lack of public debate over domestic work at the policy level will sustain the current economic neoliberal model. Another consequence is the phenomenon of multiple discriminations for migrants moving into low skilled jobs to meet the increasing demand for cheap and flexible migrant labour. All economic globalization through transnational corporations has a huge impact on countries, communities and people, leading to labour exploitation. Even if “the impacts of globalization upon women’s work, mobility and empowerment are not easily summarized or generalized”[1], all women will be affected in different ways depending on the places, contexts or personalities.

Andrea Spehar analyzed how in the context of globalization no country remains unaffected by migration, and especially by labour migration as driven by uneven global economic development. A set of trade liberalization policies (through WTO) and a big number of bilateral free trade agreements settle down a full market access for transnational corporations. The disadvantage is that “contemporary trade policies have prioritized the interest of global capital and profit maximization over poverty eradication, social justice and gender equality”, which is the case of European strategy pointed in “Global Europe: Competing in the world”, 2006.

While the majority of the world’s workers is found in the informal economy, the “feminization of labour captures the increased share of women in the formal labour force relative to the men”, and “also includes recognition of the deterioration of working conditions in predominantly female jobs”. Usually migrant women’s labour is found in almost all less paid sectors, and working conditions are exploitive and risky. In consequence, the reasons for hiring women workers create an advantage for TNSs are the wage inequalities, “their subordinate position in the labour market, and the discrimination and abuse of women workers that are not incidental or accidental to the global economic order. Instead, they illustrate the structural inequalities in contemporary divisions of labour where different forms of discrimination are fundamental to women’s employment conditions in the global economy”. A gender quality dimension should be seen through labour migration. The concept that defines the visibility of migrant women, “feminization of migration”, really reveals the “increase in women’s autonomous migration over the past few decades”[2].

From recent statistics the highest percentage of international female migrants can be found in Europe, but for women who migrate there are no changes in gender role, underlined Filomenita Høgsholm. While “the dismantling of the welfare states in Europe… reorganized the division of responsibilities between the states and families for care and dependent sectors of the population” migrant women often “replace national women in their traditional care and domestic roles”. This can be called “new gender order” where women entering labour markets outsource “parts of their care work to migrant women”. Only by valuing the domestic work, recognizing it as real and legal work, with dedicated policies, it will change the gender order. And the concept that will shape the global economic labour system is the migrant domestic worker.

Referred to as domestic work, there are no specific international regulations or common accepted definition. For EU member states the legislative and policy approaches are varying “from child and elderly careers to security guards and gardeners”. The usual understanding relies on the areas covering family care and household maintenance. While regulation depends on each state for giving (temporary) legal entry to domestic workers, it can be said that domestic work is “characterized by the following aspects: the intimate nature of the social sphere where the work is performed; the social construction of this work as a female gendered area; the special relation between the employer and the employee, which is highly emotional, personalized and typified by mutual dependency; and the logic of care work which is different from that of other employment areas”[3]. The extreme need is to “re-conceptualize care work as valuable and productive, for example, by finding ways to national economies and the sustainability of the welfare sectors”[4].

“Domestic works have no legislation, are lower paid jobs, and are made by migrant women without legal status” – noted Fe Jusay. What can be the strategy for domestic workers rights? The migrants, even undocumented, contribute to economic growth of the host country and of the home country through remittances. This issue is a feminist one and has to be done through redistribution of resources and state contribution (moving the service from private to public dependency). The domestic workers should politicize their work – through unions gathering, parties statements, feminist campaigns, etc. The impediment is the illegal status of migrants that expose them to other risks like deportation in home countries. That’s why the EU member states law should be reinforced in the first place to adopt migration status. Unfortunately, migration regimes in EU states are very different. Then, the possibility to issue work permits for the purpose of domestic work is very low in most of EU countries. As an organization, EU doesn’t have the power to influence the member states to modify even the gender legislation. But, it is much easier for the international movements of women to influence the local or national behaviour.

“We should mobilize women, not women’s policies” said Andrea Spehar, underling the role and importance of international feminist lobbying and raising awareness campaigns through women’s movements. “National, regional and international networks of civil society organizations working towards the human rights of women migrant workers have emerged in various parts of the world”[5] encouraging and sustaining a feminist strength. Among them are: ENoMW and RESPECT in Europe, WIDE, EWL, WIEGO, etc.

The overview of the migrant workers strategies enables the capacity building that should emphasize the migrant empowerment through self-organization and education. The gender aspects in strategies of migrant workers represent a profound and serious consideration. By gender mainstreaming there will develop links, networking and international working groups on rights assignment. In the same time, response strategies need to be constantly adjusted to the circumstances, realities and perspective of MDGs through transnational advocacy, lobby and campaign. It is also important that lobbying and campaigns should raise the interest of transnational corporations: WTO, IMF, WB or the EU governments, Parliament and policy makers. The key to keeping the objectives alive is the pro-active in outreaching to migrant networks as well as to encourage them, especially to empower women in the grassroots.


Franck, Anja K, Spehar, Andrea, Women’s labour migration in the context of globalisation, WIDE, 2010.

Ioana Vrabiescu, graduated in Gender and Political Studies at National School of Administration and Political Sciences, participant in Panel 2, first day of the conference.

[1] Franck&Spehar 2010, p. 11

[2] idem, p. 13

[3] idem, p.40

[4] idem, p. 56

[5] idem, p. 66


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