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12 September 2023

Household work and the care system with Rocío Echeverría 

Author: Aicha Laha @ullsdea research collaborator with KörperMagazine team

Rocío Echeverría migrated to Europe in 2017, first arriving in Germany and later settling in Spain, where she, like many other migrant women, experienced legal and social instability. She is a domestic worker and political and social activist, member of the Colectivo Micaela de la Comarca del Maresme.

How do women experience migratory mourning? 

It is that process in which you leave, not only the reality in which you have always lived since you were born, but you leave your whole circle, your references, all the people who were by your side, with whom you shared (...). I left my daughter in my country, so I think that pain... there you have acquaintances, you have an aunt, a brother... Life here is very different to life in our country, we are so inundated by a capitalist system that individualises you and in which on a daily basis you only worry about yourself rather than socialising, and that is a very strong blow that we bring with us in our migratory process and that sometimes is not considered... the vulnerability that the system throws at us in itself. It is a painful process that some find more difficult than others (...). When people sometimes talk about empowerment... "empower yourself", it is complicated because each woman has a different process of assimilation or pain and I think that this has to be understood.


Bearing in mind that women are a reference figure in the care system, how are the processes of separation experienced in family units when faced with a migration project?

A couple of years ago I took part in a documentary Cuidar entre terres, which deals with the whole issue of the global chain of care, how you leave the person you are caring for, in this case my daughter, in the care of other people. I went through a complicated process because her father did not allow my sister to have guardianship (...) the truth is that it was not the most cordial relationship, so I had to ask for the support of women mothers like me from afar who could look after my daughter at that time. So, coming here to work as a babysitter, dedicating your time to other women's children, knowing that you are leaving your daughter, your children at home or in your country in the care of other women, is a reality that... you don't realise its importance.

Rocío explains her struggle on one of the beaches of her home town, Arenys de Mar.

It is this feminisation of care that we have often wanted to make visible but which is sometimes not understood (...). It is a global reality in which women from the global south migrate to countries in the north so that, not only women eh! we have been critical in this aspect of saying "oh I take care of your children so that your wife can go out [to work]", care depends not only on the woman but also on the man. But you migrate to a country, supposedly more developed, and you realise that the patriarchal patterns are still the same... (...) you are not replacing the role that the woman should have done by going out to work, but the role of both of you.

Why are migration processes in the global South generally more complicated, and even more so in the case of women, than migration processes in the global North?

This colonising perspective has been around for a long time and for centuries. The fact that the cultures and countries of the global north have always wanted to be above the global south through violence, plunder, abuse and plundering; they have always considered themselves superior to the countries of the global south. So, this positioning, which has been encouraged by a capitalist system that says "we from the north impose the laws, the labour, economic and social conditions of the countries that we have invaded and plundered", means that the rules are managed and imposed from the global north. 


So, "you poor person, who lives in a country of the global south cannot migrate or move freely to our country, we decide who enters and who does not"; this border issue (...) has now been framed in such a crude problem due to the fact that poverty has become extreme in the countries of the global south and people need to survive, they need to get out of this hole where these countries that have developed at the cost of stealing, plundering and plundering have left them unjustly. So, borders are marked with a violent policy in which if you don't meet the requirements that are imposed, especially economic ones, violence is exercised against you... and if you enter, then you are undocumented. So, this violence exists beyond the fact that they have withdrawn their colonies from the countries they invaded.

Immigrant women in an irregular situation encounter frequent administrative and legal barriers: slowness in the homologation of qualifications, difficulty in meeting the requirements of roots, not being able to access rental subsidies or subsidised housing, etc. From your experience, how can these obstacles be overcome through governmental and social action? 

On the governmental side, it is very complicated because we already know that governments are the puppets of a capitalist system. It is in the interest of a capitalist system that there are poor people, it is in the interest of a capitalist system that there are people who are in need in order to survive, who depend on aid... they have no plans to change the law on foreigners... there is a lack of political will (...). 

This vulnerability makes it difficult for us to organise ourselves, we as a collective of migrant domestic workers go slowly because we understand the complexity and precariousness of each woman's reality, that is to say, the policies and laws that are in place at the moment make you more vulnerable, fragile and precarious because not only do they take away your right to be a citizen with a valid document to be able to travel or to have a work contract, but they also maintain a colonialist system, in which they tell you "you have to survive and work in the so-called black or precarious jobs". 

And your labour niche is dealing with families who maintain a colonising level in the sense that they tell you "I pay you whatever I want because you are in a situation where you have to survive". So, you see women who accept jobs of 600 euros working every day, and... I think this is something that is going to be very difficult to change... We continue to put pressure on the state and on policies, even though we know that it is the capitalist system that is behind the non-recognition of rights, but we also want to raise awareness among the families, who are the employers of the women in our collective. 

Policies are always going to be disguised, as they have been disguised through this recognition with convention C189 [Convention on domestic workers] of the ILO [International Labour Organisation] by not wanting to move forward with the inspection of domestic work and recognising that homes are women's workplaces.

We will continue to fight because it is a system that is very, very oppressive towards us, and that weakens the self-organising capacity of real women workers (...) We try to understand and encourage women, and provide the necessary information because it is the most valuable tool for all women.

At the level of public policy, it is difficult to make progress and provide answers, but what would be the measures that government action should take?

To begin with, a labour inspection. Just like that, pure and simple. A labour inspection that not only targets families, but also the thousands of existing companies that present themselves as care or cleaning companies, which continue and have increased the exploitation of women workers already with their documentation, with NIE. They enter these companies looking for the job stability that is so much desired and in the end they are thrown into houses in conditions of interns, in conditions of fraud... because almost all the companies make fraudulent contracts: one contract for the family and another for the worker, so in the end you find yourself with social security registrations in which the employer is the family and the worker appears as a part-time employee with salaries of 500, 600... to make very little contribution, but the company is the one who pays this woman... So these are atrocities that continue to be allowed and the administration knows it... 

We believe that a real labour inspection is a fundamental step, which they don't even want to get involved in. Then our rights in itself... it's a little monster that they are dressing up little by little, with the right to unemployment that was given to us... but that is dressed in trousers that only have one leg because they tell you: "very well, you are going to have unemployment from 2022" Now, and the women who have been working for 15 years? So they have to start paying contributions from zero? Why haven't they done it retroactively? So, those of us who have been working in the sector for years are going to have to start paying contributions from zero, as if it were the first year. So I think we need a lot of coherence, but we also need to put a lot of pressure on the capitalist system to give us rights.


Rocío proudly wearing a sweatshirt from her beloved home country of Peru.

Why are domestic and care work more accessible to migrant women than other sectors of the labour market?

Because to begin with, the domestic and care work sector is a precarious labour niche, it is a good niche to put and keep migrant women in poverty: "I do not recognise your rights, I maintain a colonialist, classist system to keep you subjugated and you do not have that recognition or those tools to be able to reach other levels in which you may want to develop yourself".

For example, I am a social communicator, I specialise in social and political marketing, but here this career... because of another problem that also stems from the precariousness of migrant women, as you said, the recognition or validation of qualifications. Although it's true that my professional career doesn't exist here, the validation takes you to anthropology... the closest thing, and at a basic level in the first year. So at my age, at 49 years old, and with a job as heavy as that of the home, I have little energy left to go back to university. So I keep what I have learned, and I try to put it into this process of self-organisation, of being able to manage an organisation in the best possible way. But, apart from the fact that it is a feminised sector, it is a sector in which the typical needy woman or mother of a family comes to do what she is supposed to know how to do, what she has done all her life... while the man is better off learning other things.


How do the loopholes in the law on foreigners contribute to the casualisation of domestic and care workers?

Well... not giving you rights is already good for them, because they need undocumented migrant women who do not claim rights from families who may not have the economic power or the purchasing power to be able to pay what a worker should be paid. So, "so as not to make these families uncomfortable and so that they demand a real restructuring of the care system policy, I prefer to give them poor women on a plate who have no rights so that they will accept whatever you want to pay them". So, the chain is completed and the wheel turns: "I stop giving you rights because I need workers who need to survive to fill these low-paid niches, so as not to harm, embitter or inconvenience those families who can't afford to cover their care needs". So, you realise that it is a vicious circle and that it is very convenient for society and for the system that there are poor women in an irregular situation and without rights. So it is going to be very, very difficult for the law on foreigners to change.


Can you explain or exemplify the intersectional discrimination faced by domestic and care workers?

Okay (...). ) It is the fact that we are discriminated against because of our genetics or our physical features, our religion... we know this especially from our Moroccan colleagues... how complex it is for them to work in the household... because of their sex, their age... when they look for domestic workers they ask you how old you are. when they look for domestic workers they ask you how old you are, in fact, they have even asked me how much I weigh... So, within our sector it is very oppressed, we believe that the intersectionality that is often talked about wants to pull the wind out of the sails of the mill to say: "we are all discriminated against" [reference to hegemonic white feminism] and we as migrant and racialised women say to them: "hey, wait a minute, the discrimination that the system discriminates against me does not discriminate against you, no matter how much you talk about intersectionality... We go through things that you have lived through in your life". It is very much about racism, about classism.


What actions are needed to decolonise housework and care from both a political and economic perspective and from a social perspective? 

For us, the first thing is to work at home before going out. We already make a lot of political demands through networks, as we say: "we get involved with whoever we want... because we don't receive economic contributions, or help...". So, I think that self-organised economic independence gives us the freedom to be able to point out without mincing our words what we see as wrong not only from a political perspective but also from the perspective of this rescue industry, of creating more NGOs, of creating more saviour entities, many of them white feminist women who take European subsidies and then give you 20% so that you can save! and organise yourself...

Rocío giving a speech at one of Colectivo Micaela's congregations.

Beyond that, it is the fact of being able to provide information. We are very sure that patriarchy has been strengthened and maintained by this hoarding of information, "I have the information and I don't share it with you because the more ignorant you are, the more I have my foot on you". We believe that many women already come with terrible misinformation and misinformation from our countries of origin, and... we are always passing on information in the chat room or in the few meetings we have. Our main mission is to give information to women so that they have more tools and at the same time to point out what is happening and what should not be happening in society.

How do you think the judiciary, mainly through rulings, can promote favourable changes in the law regarding domestic and care work?

It is all part of the will... The process of ratifying the right to unemployment was not the will of the Spanish government, this was due to a compañera from Vigo who, through her lawyer, filed a lawsuit against the state for not allowing the right to unemployment, she lost in the first instance and appealed and went to the courts of the European Union, in other words, her lawyer was persistent... and it was the European court that determined that Spain was discriminating against our sector by prohibiting us from paying unemployment contributions.

So there are already precedents, here in Catalonia too, a woman domestic worker won a case against Fogasa for a right that was forbidden to her, she was denied redress... (...) I once explained to some lawyers that they have in their hands many tools to help us, and I think it is essential that they have that sensitivity to help us, that they know the rights that are being denied to us so that we can move forward in the search for them. I think that more than the political will of the government, the judiciary has a lot of power to be able to force and push for their fulfilment.


Care services are often contracted out under the domestic work regime. How do you think the domestic work sector and the care system should be individually demarcated?

We have tried to make a table of differentiation between domestic work and care work. Unfortunately, the labour regulations within the special regime of our sector brutally mix up all the functions, and this leads to the continuity of precariousness and violence in the workplace. So you find women who do care work for two people, for example, but who also do kitchen work, cleaning and everything else, but they are paid well below the minimum wage and... there is no defence that can be based or supported by any regulation...

It is very good for the system that we are in this uncertainty, that we are in the same bag, that we continue to be precarious, and so it keeps families more relaxed and they do not demand what the government should be doing, which is a reorganisation of the whole care system policy. It's complicated... There are associations that are fighting specifically for a differentiation, especially our colleagues in the Basque country. We have not got involved in this issue, they want professionalisation within the care sector, we say that before professionalisation there must first be a recognition of rights, which we do not have, and then we can move on to a differentiation based on the professionalisation of care. It is illogical to fight for this now when you see fellow carers (...) who, having their certifications and working for companies, continue to be violated and abused with all their functions to be carried out at home and under terrible conditions (...). Also the abolition of the work of the internal regime.

How can the population be made aware of the lack of value given socially to this workforce? 

(...) We have carried out activities, for example talks... (...) and a brutal campaign in the whole village, how many people went? one, (...) only one person had the will to go and listen to the established rules that must be complied with for a woman's contract, whether she is in a regular or irregular situation. They are not interested, because they know that there are still vulnerable women... so "if you don't like it, I know that behind you there are three more who will accept what I am going to pay them".

It is a vicious circle (...) it is illogical (...) if I keep giving you precarious women who will continue to accept any salary to survive.

IMG-20230619-WA0006 (1).jpg

Colectivo Micaela's demonstration for domestic workers' rights

In what spaces have you been able to participate so far in the struggle for the visibility and dignity of domestic and care work?
We have participated in academic spaces, we have done academic programmes for example with the University of Barcelona, we have participated in activities with the Carlos III University of Madrid, with the Autonomous University as well... In these academic spaces our demands are more than anything else to make the academic area aware that it is not morally healthy to be epistemologically extractivist, to say: "we are doing research and we want to know your reality... don't you have an intern there who can answer us about...? "and then they set up a subsidised project and put in a salary for four months... We believe that the academy should go beyond this, (...) it should go beyond this.... ) it should go beyond this... it should rather encompass an understanding of how to approach the realities of vulnerable groups such as ours in order to be able to inform these future professionals of what perspective they should have, because these future professionals, both in the legal and social fields, will be in permanent contact with people from these groups, so they should have a criterion and a capacity that has to be learned and taught from the university, as sometimes it is not done... There is a desire for change, yes. 

We have covered many spaces: cultural, anti-racist, social, academic and so on. We are everywhere we can.

What changes have you noticed in your work environment and among your colleagues in relation to your advocacy work?

We, as Asociación Micaela, are proud to have brought about changes in the participation or representation of women workers at the level of NGOs or associations. 

We have made it very clear from the beginning that we will not sit down to discuss our issues with women who are not domestic workers and who present themselves as such. I think it was very common about three years ago and the level of false representation has gone down, so we feel very proud of having been very incisive all this time through our networks and of having been able to stand up and say that false representation or industrialisation or doing business with real grassroots struggles must be eliminated; in that we have made a lot of progress and coherence is on our side, although we have won many enemies and enemies... but we are happy because we have maintained coherence since we started.


You have organised yourselves and you have made your voice heard in the media, what are the current demands to continue the struggle?

Well... to obtain all our rights as workers in the general regime, to be able to cover this wide need of the labour inspection, to be able to maintain channels of dignity parallel to what is domestic work for women, there are many women who, just because this is the niche where we have a place, doesn't mean that they have to do it, There are women who come here as a matter of urgency and who wish to work in other areas, so they have every right to have doors open to other areas, and we are focused on the social and solidarity economy as a fundamental pillar for women.... that they can generate a more dignified income, and we are committed to generating projects within the social and solidarity economy so that many of us can stop knocking on the door of capitalist and ill-intentioned businesses. And to continue, to continue to point the finger at the politician or politician of the day.


Finally, would you like to comment or add anything else?

We believe that even in our precariousness we still have enough energy, enough will, we don't have the economic resources we would like to do many more things, but I think that the coherence of our automation and of looking at each other as domestic workers gives us a lot of strength. And we will continue to move forward and to point out until there is not one, but not one woman in our sector who has been abused or oppressed, and that is why we say that we have nothing to celebrate for now, until there is not one woman in the domestic and care work sector who has been abused.

KörperMagazine has been in contact with several women domestic and care workers who are or have been in a brutally precarious and abusive situation. We are very grateful that you have agreed to tell us your story.

Texto e imágenes realizado por Carlos Vidal.


Teresa Tapia 57 years old, Bolivia.

With courses as a nurse in her native land, she arrived in Spain 20 years ago completely alone after separating from her family of 4 children and her current husband. In tears she tells us how hard her separation was, especially with her youngest daughter who was only 7 years old at the time. She tells us that the first night she slept in the street and thanks to an unexpected contact she went to Caritas where she was given access to a house where she worked for her first period in Spain, earning just under 500€ a month, working 24 hours a day from Monday to Monday, without any rights, not even allowed to go out in the street and only allowed to eat once a day, all this under the command of two sisters who clearly had racist tendencies, she tells us again in tears. Today, he has a permanent job in an internal regime with two hours a day to go outside.

"I am amazed at the tactlessness and even mistreatment I have observed in the Spanish nursing home system!

"The internal regime is like a prison, regulation and inspection of work must be carried out, our work is not valued at all; I suffer from a severe identity crisis and inability to communicate when I go outside".

"You are my slave and you are here because of me!"

"Mafias within the conglomerate of the platform MIL ANUNCIOS: cleaning service contractors who directly offer you the job under conditions in which you have to accept various sexual fetishes for the owner of the house "he forced me to clean barefoot and with few clothes on while he was in the house".

Systematic sexual harassment by employers of "undocumented migrants" in the hospitality industry: "I attended an interview for a restaurant in the centre of Barcelona and when he came to show me the top floor of the restaurant while I was going upstairs, he groped me under my skirt and offered me money for sexual services".

"A colleague was not accepted in the house because she was fat, claiming that she would eat too much and incur too much cost".


Loubna (33 years old, Tanger, Morocco)
She came to Spain 3 years ago with her husband and 4 year old son (at present) where she has been working as a domestic worker since the beginning. She currently lives with her 4 year old son in the same room sharing a flat with another couple (all Moroccans), works as a domestic cleaner in 6 different houses and earns 600€. With an excellent background in law, her aim is to set up a law firm specialising in immigration law, to try to fight against the many obstacles she herself has encountered on arriving in Spain. She is doing a lot of work in support of the Moroccan community in defence of their rights, because of the oppression they suffer because of their religion.


Edith Bravo 32 years old from Lima, Peru.

After becoming pregnant at the age of 17 and after separating from her fiancé at the age of 20 due to his excesses and lack of responsibility, faced with her brother's refusal and with everything against her, she decided to migrate with her daughter to Barcelona, where she has been living in the Sant Martí neighbourhood for a little more than a year and a half.  Today she lives with her 14-year-old daughter in the same room and lives with another family of 3 people, two other tenants, two dogs and a parrot. Her daughter, Briana, is suffering from major depression and is undergoing ongoing treatment for anxiety episodes due to racist bullying at school. Edith, until very recently, was working in a care home earning well below the minimum wage, with of course no contract or employment rights, and in addition to this, despite working as a carer, she was obliged to keep the house clean as well, without this being stipulated "on paper" or in her salary. In the near future, she would like to be able to return to her former job in her home country as a commercial manager.

After collecting the testimony of these women mistreated by the system, we obtain an extract of several adjacent themes that provoke us to reflect and to intervene in some aspects that apparently do not reach the understanding of a huge percentage of the Spanish population:


Although with a progressive façade, behind closed doors in Spanish society there clearly still prevails an exacerbated covert racism; retrograde positions, lack of empathy and understanding, are attitudes that still abound in our society. On this basis, we ask ourselves, when and in what way can the effects of colonialism disappear definitively and we will all recognise each other as equals? To paraphrase Teresa Tapia "the white man when he arrives in our land is treated like a king without even knowing him, with all his rights and even more than us, and you are received with great joy, why are we treated directly like dirt, it is something I do not understand... SUDACA DE MIERDA, INDIA, MORENITA... we are the vast majority of immigrants who arrive in Spain with a great desire to work and live in conditions; and it goes without saying that, to all intents and purposes, this whole phenomenon of hatred and oppression is substantially increased when the subject is a woman, an immigrant and without papers... macho behaviour and abuse of power are more than the order of the day in this sector.

In terms of employment: wouldn't it be easier to turn the law on foreigners around, reduce the 3 years established for obtaining proper documentation, obtain a work permit, and later carry out an inspection to confirm that the expectations and the stipulated work are being fulfilled... after all, the facilitation of obtaining a work contract in order plays to the advantage of the government and Spanish citizenship. This effect confirms that, to paraphrase Rocío, "the government is nothing more than a puppet under the suggestion and mandate of big business".

Regarding the hijab: it must be understood that it is a choice, not an imposition. The status of Muslim women cannot be reduced to binaries; I am traditional and oppressed if I wear it, and modern and liberal if I do not. In the most reformist Islam, the Koran does not oblige the use of the veil, it simply calls (both women and men) to modesty and decency when it comes to showing their physical appearance; and definitely in the more political side of Islamist feminism, the hijab is a symbol of identity and rejection of neo-colonialism and globalisation. So that we understand each other, for practical purposes it is not far from the prohibition of entering with cleavage, cap, skirt or shorts that still prevails in Catholic churches, is it not?

Despite the precariousness and the thousand and one abuses that are more than present and have left a lifelong mark on these women (and which we have not wanted to emphasise in this report out of respect for the witnesses themselves), we have found in talking to them a supernatural strength to move forward, which many of us here present will never have. For example, Belén, another of the 32-year-old witnesses who currently lives in Mataró. A few years ago she was working as an orthodontist in Chile, her native country; today she is cleaning houses and looking after her 57 year old mother, her 13 year old sister and her 7 year old son. We are very surprised at how she keeps her focus on her goal of returning to work as an orthodontist in Spain, and the ease and humour with which she tells us that she does not plan to fall into prostitution, white slavery, drugs or other ways of obtaining money to get ahead. This woman has become a real beam of light for us.


Most of us well-off Spaniards are completely unaware of how quickly your life can take a 180º turn and fall into the depths of the pit, these are phenomena that we think are far away but they are more than the order of the day and abuses and violence are being committed much closer than we think. So keep up the good work comrades! You are incredibly strong women and I am sure that with the struggle you are carrying out, changes will come about, hopefully very soon.

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