MUMBAI, Maharashtra, India — Roma, set in 1970, is a story about Cleo, an indigenous Mexican woman who works for a middle-class family in Mexico City. Cleo’s experiences fall in line with domestic workers’ issues for the more than 67 million women worldwide: dreadful work-life balances, cruel treatment, extended working hours and unreciprocated care. The Oscar-winning movie, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, showcases the everyday struggles of these women that go unnoticed.
The Life of a Domestic Worker
The majority of female workers move from rural regions to larger cities with hopes of better lives. However, domestic employers’ treatment of these women is often cruel and inhumane. More than 70% of domestic workers globally are employed without formal contracts, leaving them unprotected from extended hours of work for pint-size rewards. The profession is, therefore, not shielded by labor laws and social security, so the workers fall victim to abrasive handling and lack of job security.
What Did Roma Do?
Roma plays an integral role in rupturing the status quo that layered the relationships between domestic laborers and their employers. It also highlights and builds awareness of the inequalities of domestic work. The movie breaks down the notion of houseworkers being inferior to other women. The film encourages the Mexican populace to reflect inwards and consider the harsh reality of the workers. Additionally, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has proposed amendments to existing labor laws and the provision of social security for domestic workers.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and The Center for Support and Training for Household Employees (CACEH), both non-profit organizations fighting for the rights of domestic workers in the U.S. and Mexico, saw Roma as an opportunity to showcase the issues domestic workers face and to shift the public narrative that is held against them. Thus, they adopted strategies to reach out to U.S. and Mexican domestic workers, employers, government officials and moviegoers. Soon, not as many people will be able to overlook the grave reality of domestic workers.
Steps Taken to Combat Domestic Workers’ Issues
The film worked with non-profit organizations and high-profile influencers to initiate cultural conversations and reform in the way domestic workers are treated through various means:
- CACEH introduced legislation to combat domestic workers’ issues at a Congressional Screening in Mexico.
- Roma, in partnership with NDWA and CACEH, successfully managed to reach out to a large audience, primarily through Roma screenings and discussion forums.
- U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, along with other members of Congress, attended a screening organized by the NDWA in support of the U.S. National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
- Roma actress Yalitza Aparicio used her stardom to advocate for the rights of domestic workers and indigenous women around the world. She attended an International Women’s Day discussion, organized by the U.N.’s International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, that focused on the gender wage disparity.
- NDWA and CACEH spoke at Roma premieres, film festivals and award events, including the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.
- During his acceptance speech at the Oscars, with a viewership of more than 25 million, Cuarón advocated for combating the plight of domestic workers.
- The NDWA and CACEH mobilized a media coverage totaling approximately 3.5 billion viewers, making the issue pervasive and giving it a global reach.
In December 2018, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled in favor of domestic workers, granting two million workers enrollment in the social security system, offering them loftier rights and unconstrainted access to government-run daycare and healthcare systems. These improvements work largely in favor of the workers since it adds an element of official paperwork, far more privileges and the right to stand up against ill-treatment.
Mexican Envoy to the U.N. Socorro Flores Liera coined the term “the Roma Effect” in March 2019 for “helping Mexico to strengthen the government’s conviction to continue the fight for gender equality and commit to ratifying the ILO Convention 189.”
Roma, a masterpiece by Alfonso Cuarón, plays a massive role in showcasing overlooked domestic workers’ issues worldwide. But it does not stop there. Roma, with the assistance of NDWA and CACEH, sparks significant changes in the conditions these workers toil under. Without a doubt, Roma is worthy of not only praise for its cinematography but also its off-screen impact.
– Prathamesh Mantri