Equality movement ignores domestic workers’ challenges


Who is really surprised that “Wonder Woman” is reaching record numbers during its first week in the theaters? This is the first superhero movie focused on a female leading role in more than 10 years, and girls, women and femmes in our country have been yearning for long to see themselves finally represented in the screen as heroes.

More often than not it’s up to us, women and femmes, to tell our own stories and lift up ourselves and our leadership. Just like “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins was bold enough to use this story of a strong female warrior to break the cycle of male-dominated superhero films, we must also be bold enough to center the fight for gender equity on the voices and concerns of the everyday heroines in our lives and our community.

The real “Wonder Women” may be invisible to the cameras, but work tirelessly as nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers. They keep our houses clean, our families healthy and our children safe and protected. It’s thanks to them that many of us can work outside of home and grow professionally to sustain our families.

Last year, the Miami-Dade County Commission helped call attention to the struggle of these women with a proclamation designating June 7 as Domestic Workers Day. It was a well-deserved spotlight for the nearly 100,000 domestic workers who contribute daily to the South Florida economy.

However, proclamations alone are not going to improve working conditions and provide livable wages for thousands of women and their families. To do that, we must move beyond a feminism that keeps discussions about domestic workers separate from their advocacy. We must envision pay inequity not just when the high-ranking female executives aren’t paid the same as their male colleagues, but also when housekeepers and caregivers are victims of wage theft or not paid enough.

Modern feminism would do more to raise the economic fortunes of all women and families if the feminization of poverty was a prioritized concern of all equity activists, even when the most affected women are low-income heads of households who can’t always attend their meetings.

According to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an overwhelming majority of domestics are women, and predominantly women of color, who suffer low pay chronically and wage theft at epidemic levels. Moreover, only 2 percent of domestic workers employed in households receive retirement from their employers, and fewer than 9 percent of employers pay into Social Security on behalf of their household workers, decreasing the chance that these hard workers will escape the cycle of poverty that they are being forced to endure.

Sadly, the conditions in which domestic workers live and work can get even worse when they are treated like Eudocia Tomas Pulido, whose story of near modern domestic slavery was detailed recently in the Atlantic. She worked 50 years cleaning and cooking for a family that didn’t pay her, barely fed her, controlled her immigration status, and often put her to sleep in a corner in one of the children’s rooms or in the laundry room.

We cannot say that we are fighting for full equality if we continue to have a blind spot to the needs and conditions of women of color who work as domestic workers.

When we say “the future is femme,” we can’t build such future without the women who are taking care of our homes and our families. It is our responsibility to ensure that all women are paid just wages in safe working conditions, free from economic or physical abuse. We can ensure a future when women’s potential and hard work, not their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, determines their success and financial stability.

From running for president to leading nationwide marches in the streets, girls, women and femmes in our country are actively seizing the opportunity to be heroes on screen and off. There is no doubt that such leadership at all levels is reenergizing civic life here in Miami. Yet, getting more women in the boardroom or having our stories lifted up for mainstream audiences to witness will not get us nearly far enough without including the invisible wonder women who save the day every single day and make our world a better place without recognition and full labor protections.

Marcia Olivo is the executive director of the Miami Workers Center.