The impact of globalisation on domestic work


Discriminated, poor, uneducated, without a residence permit or shelter: alone. They are the 43 million women in the world that work in the homes of others. Before the 50s, little was known about their working conditions. They were ‘invisible’. Then, starting with Europe, an era of liberation began for domestic workers (women for the most part, but also men and children), culminating in Convention 189 of the International Labour Organisation on dignified conditions in domestic work, in 2011.

Scholars and experts from universities all over Italy and abroad will take part in a public convention on this phenomenon, organised by Ca’ Foscari University of Venice in the framework of a European project that concerns changes to conditions of domestic workers in the world. The event will take place on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th March at Ca’ Foscari Zattere.

Globalisation has entered the houses. Recognizing domestic workers as genuine workers has brought out their stories, their rights and the data that concerns them. This is the core of the research project DomEQUAL, funded by a Starting Grant from the European Research Council and coordinated by Sabrina Marchetti, Sociology professor from the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage.

“Even though their role in society is important, these workers generally operate in very precarious conditions, their salary is basic, they perform tasks that are heavy both physically and psychologically, and they are not provided with adequate social protection” explained Marchetti. “However, something is changing over the course of the decades.  This research will allow us to better understand how these workers have been successful, in various contexts, at obtaining rights and visibility.”

Despite its “global” nature, paid domestic work has different characteristics in a national or regional context. In Europe and North America, many immigrants are involved, required to care for children or assist the elderly. In South Africa and other nations that have seen colonisation, the sign of racial discrimination remains. In Latin America, however, domestic work is mainly a prerogative of the indigenous and rural population. In India, domestic work belongs to the lower class.

“This local specificity is the heart of the project because it offers the opportunity to analyse how different economic and socio-cultural contexts influence the social positions of domestic workers” Marchetti commented.

To carry out this study, therefore, the sociologist has put together a team of researchers that will investigate the transformations of the rights and working conditions of domestic workers in nine countries in Europe, South America, and Asia: Beatrice Busi (Italy), Silvina Monteros Obelar (Spain), Marlene Seiffarth (Germany), Maria Fernanda Cepeda Anaya (Columbia), Maria Gabriela Alvaredo Pérez (Ecuador), Thays Almeida Monticeli (Brazil), Pei Chieh Hsu (Taiwan), Madhurima Das (India), Verna Dinah Q. Viajar (The Philippines). At Ca’ Foscari, the current research group is composed of Sabrina Marchetti, Vincenza Perilli,  Daniela Cherubini, Giulia Garofalo Geymonat, and Anna Di Bartolomeo.