(WOMENSENEWS)–Recently, the mayor of Chihuahua, Mexico, Javier Garfio Pacheco, told an audience of female domestic workers that they should watch "no news – because the news isn’t good . . . Watch soap operas instead, and above all, good soap operas."
After much criticism he said it was a joke, "We have joking moments when the atmosphere allows it."
There’s a saying in Spanish, "echar leña al fuego;" to add fuel to the fire, and Garfio Pacheco indeed could not help himself when he explained that, "la intención era apapacharlas," the intent was to coddle, humor them.
Does he also use the coddling strategy to indulge or humor other constituents and colleagues? Or just low-paid female workers?
As much as Garfio Pacheco attempted to defuse the situation, his comments reveal the extremes of class disparity in Mexico and how women who work as domestic workers are often mistreated.
In visiting the home of friends or distant relatives in Mexico, it is not uncommon to find that the household has a live-in domestic worker.
In my observation, there is an inherent inequality that is imposed on the domestic worker, bound by excessive labor expectations and unfair remuneration.
In the Nexos article, Cuartos de servicio (Maid’s Quarters), Mary Carmen Sánchez Ambriz and Alejandro Toledo offer a description of the female domestic worker in Mexico as living in the shadows.
She fills the role of housewife. She is in charge of preparing meals, child care, washing, cleaning, clothing. She can be wholly dependent on the family for room and board and often lives in a small room in the back of the house. The family expects her to be available around the clock.
In the worst cases, she is obligated to comply sexually with the boss or other males living in the home.
She can be treated like an indentured servant.
Despite this difficult life, there is no shortage of domestic workers in telenovelas, the Mexican soap opera genre.
In "Simplemente María," the 1989-1990 Mexican adaptation of the Peruvian telenovela 20 years earlier, María, the protagonist, is a poor peasant arriving in Mexico City. She comes to serve a wealthy family where she becomes entangled in a web of abuse. But she escapes and later becomes a respected designer.
The rags-to-riches storyline of the ever popular telenovela rarely changes.
Mayor Garfio Pacheco’s comments speak to how many upper and middle class Mexicans view their domestic workers. They are often treated as children, or called "la muchacha" (the girl), "la gata" (the cat) or "chacha," a pejorative for maid.
One of the most common plot devices within Mexican telenovelas is centering the story around "la muchacha," defined by Thomas M. Stephens in his "Dictionary of Latin American Racial and Ethnic Terminology" as: "female servant, usually of indigenous origin," and her interactions with the socially privileged.
Unlike in real life, telenovelas are promoting a prominent role for the female domestic worker in the predominantly middle class and wealthy families that employ her, a Cinderella story of sorts. But that is just a fairy tale.
Push for Transformation
Some groups in the country are trying to transform this though. Still in its infancy, Mexico‘s First National Encounter of Domestic Workers came together in Mexico City in December 2014. The convention was attended by hundreds of domestic workers representing organizations from Coahuila, Oaxaca, Colima, Puebla and Chiapas. The participants committed to develop a pact guaranteeing labor rights of domestic workers in Mexico in 2015, with the intent to push forward its ratification by the International Labor Organization, or Organización Internacional del Trabajo as it is titled in Spanish.
In 2011, the International Labor Organization convened in Geneva, setting articles and a preamble for Convention 189 (C189) — Domestic Workers Convention under the caption of decent work for domestic workers.
The struggles and accomplishments of protecting domestic workers globally are collected in a UN Women kit entitled "Domestic Workers Count Too: Implementing Protections for Domestic Workers." As an example, not far from Mexico, Bolivia‘s domestic workers have been organizing for decades and have been shown as an international example of the progress that can be achieved with administrative support of its government. A documentary produced by Organización Internacional del Trabajo in 2012 reflects the impact of the ratification of C189 on Bolivia‘s domestic workers.
It’s time for the world to press for equality and civil rights for the most vulnerable. Female domestic workers have been treated as a commodity in Mexico and elsewhere in the world. While the rumblings of equality percolate in Mexico, perhaps the United States and other nations can press for the liberation from servitude of female domestic workers.
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