Marcelina Bautista migrated from Oaxaca to Mexico City at the age of 14 and found her livelihood in domestic work. Due to the mistreatment she faced as a domestic worker, Marcelina realized that she worked in servitude and that she wanted to change this. She is now a representative of domestic workers in Mexico.
At the age of 17, on a visit to church, Marcelina came into contact with groups of Christian workers who she would work with for years to advance labor rights. After years of involvement in the global domestic workers' movement, Marcelina founded the Center for Support and Training of Domestic Workers (CACEH, as per its Spanish acronym) in 2000.
Marcelina's activism, working together with other domestic workers and strategic allies, has brought about important changes for the Mexican domestic workers’ movement over the past 20 years. Among the most recent are: a pilot program to incorporate domestic workers into the social security system, reform of the Federal Labor Law, and the ratification of the ILO Domestic Workers Convention in Mexico. Although much remains to be done, Marcelina would never have imagined at the age of 14 that labor rights would be a tangible reality for domestic workers.
Despite all the achievements in the recognition of rights, the pandemic sharply exposed the lack of sensitivity of employers toward domestic workers and the poor implementation of laws regarding their rights. Unpaid "breaks", layoffs, and an ad-hoc reduction in income and days worked have been common for the sector during the pandemic. This intensified injustices and generated devastating consequences for the emotional and physical health of domestic workers.
Government support has been very limited for the sector. Loans of MXN 25,000 were granted to workers who were enrolled in the pilot program to incorporate domestic workers into the social security system, but the vast majority still work in the informal sector. While there was an important local advocacy effort with the Ministry of Labor and Employment Promotion (STyFE, as per its Spanish acronym) to grant unemployment insurance to domestic workers for six months, only 600 workers were able to access it because it was limited to domestic workers living in Mexico City.
Because of this lack of support from the government, Marcelina’s center’s response to the current crisis has been essential for thousands of domestic workers nationwide. Despite the fact that lockdown hindered organizing, CACEH prioritized continuing training on rights, as well as training in the use of technology to meet together using virtual platforms. In addition, the center offered emotional support workshops to domestic workers to create safe spaces for listening to one another and sharing concerns among peers. CACEH also provides free legal advice to access compensation for workers who have been dismissed and to guide negotiation processes between workers and their employers. In response to the loss of income, they held various fundraising activities to support those workers most in need of food and economic support. And in the months of greatest restrictions as a result of COVID-19, they launched the #CuidaAQuienTeCuida (Take Care of Who Takes Care of You) campaign, which urged employers to continue to pay domestic workers during lockdown.
For Marcelina, the pandemic highlights the importance of organizing. Now more than ever, Marcelina calls for unity, to weave stronger networks among workers at a national level, as she believes that only together will it be possible to overcome the obstacles of the current crisis. In fact, CACEH aims to have organized domestic workers' groups in all 32 states of Mexico by 2024.
"Let's abandon our fear, let's get organized and then when we are organized, we will be able to see things differently."—Marcelina Bautista
WIEGO has worked closely with Marcelina at the global level through the International Domestic Workers Federation and we continue to work with CACEH locally in Mexico City.
Photo: Marcelina Bautista. Credit: Marcela Zendejas