Feudal enclaves and political reforms: Domestic workers in latin America

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Abstract

I examine how domestic workers have fared legally and politically in post-transition democracies in Latin America. Paid domestic work employs more than 15 percent of the economically active female population in Latin America, yet national labor codes tend to mandate lower salaries and benefits and longer working hours to those working in this sector. They also suffer from race, gender, and class discrimination. Although organizations advocating for domestic workers have demanded equal rights, political actors in the region have been extremely reticent to respond to these demands. By analyzing domestic workers' legal rights across the region and process-tracing political reforms in Chile and Bolivia, I find that although elite resistance to change is a constant, under the right circumstances, domestic workers can gain legal reforms. Domestic workers' social allies are labor, feminist, and indigenous organizations; however, to get the attention of these allies, and consequently to pressure politicians, they must first organize autonomously and publicize their cause. Although leftist parties are more likely to be receptive to their cause, they need pressure to act on behalf of the needs of such a marginalized group. Once they do, however, they need not be majority parties to get the issue on the agenda. The key political battle is getting and keeping the issue of domestic workers' rights on the political agenda; once it goes to a vote, it is unlikely to be rejected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)158-190
Number of pages33
JournalLatin American Research Review
Volume44
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Sociology and Political Science

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