The State of Domestic Workers in Africa

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SEATTLE — In many African countries, it is difficult for women to find employment. Patriarchal societies are still very prevalent in some of these areas, which limits their ability to have a career they desire. In fact, 13.6 percent of paid female employees make their living as domestic workers and there are more than 5.2 million domestic workers in Africa. However, this field of work typically does not offer a liveable wage or decent benefits. The state of domestic workers in Africa has many negatives, but there has been a push for change in recent years.

The Issues

Women typically go into this field of work as they are typically seen as caretakers of the home responsible for stereotypical tasks such as cleaning, cooking and taking care of children and the elderly. Having a decent education is also not a requirement for these jobs, which makes uneducated women and children vulnerable to domestic work. It is unclear just how many children participate in this field of work, but it is not an uncommon practice for them to be trafficked or forced into this form of labor when their families are in dire need of money.

Many workers also live with their employers and often experience sexual, verbal or physical abuse while working at their homes. In extreme cases, domestic workers have even been murdered by their employers.

In addition to the potential for human rights abuses, some of the most pressing issues for domestic workers include low wages and lack of benefits. Maternity leave, health care and pension provisions are just a few benefits that are normally not given to domestic workers. Carla Monterio, a domestic worker in Cape Verde, has been employed since she was 18 years old. Her struggles reflect those of many other domestic workers in African countries and beyond. “Last year, I was sick for a month and had no social security to cover my expenses or to purchase medicines,” Monterio told U.N. Women. “My salary is the minimum wage of 13000 escudos CVE (130 USD) per month; I cannot cover all these expenses.”

Push for Change

Several countries in Africa have advocated for more protections for domestic workers and better working conditions in recent years. In South Africa, particularly, a lot of progress has been made. Domestic workers now receive sickness benefits if they work at least 24 hours per month, and domestic workers were included in the Unemployed Insurance Fund in 2003. This fund gives short-term relief to employees who are unable to work due to illness, maternity leave, or adoption leave.

Advocacy campaigns and unions to protect domestic workers rights have also formed in Tanzania, Morocco, Angola, Zambia and Senegal.

The state of domestic workers in Africa is currently fairly negative. These workers need more social and legal protections, benefits and a better salary in order to have adequate working conditions. In several African countries, many domestic workers cannot afford basic necessities and are unable to leave work when an illness or pregnancy occurs. Abuse can also be prevalent when domestic workers live with their employers.

However, the future for this line of work looks more positive due to recent advocacy campaigns and unions that have addressed these issues. If more countries follow the footsteps of South Africa, domestic workers in African countries will receive more benefits and have a much better working environment.

– Maddison Hines
Photo: Pixabay

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