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DomEQUAL: A Global Approach to Paid Domestic Work and Social Inequalities

ERC Starting Grant Project n. 678783
Principal Investigator: Prof. Sabrina Marchetti
Host Institution: Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy

Duration: 4 years
Start date: 1st of September 2016


Paid domestic workers are estimated to make up a population of at least 52.6 million men and women across the world today. Forty-three million of them are women and 7 million are children. This labour sector is particularly important in developing regions: one in four female wage workers are domestic workers in Latin America and the Caribbean, and almost one in three in the Middle East. In India, there are about 4 million domestic workers. Some countries are impacted by this phenomenon as their female population leaves to take up domestic work abroad, as is especially the case in Asian-Pacific countries, Eastern Europe and South America.

Despite its global nature, paid domestic work has different characteristics in each national and regional context. Whilst in Europe and North America, at present, it mainly concerns the employment of international migrants by households with children or elderly members, in South Africa and other formerly colonised countries it is strongly rooted in the legacy of racial apartheid; in South America, domestic work is mainly a job for racialised, indigenous and rural populations, while in India it shows the legacy of caste-based differences. In fact, there is a difference from country to country in the social groups that traditionally perform paid domestic work: migrants, low-caste people, or black and indigenous women, etc. depending on the context. These local specificities are a crucial focus of this project since they offer the opportunity to analyse how different socio-cultural contexts shape the social position of domesti workers.

Moreover, in recent times, paid domestic work has become an object of governance interventions at the global level. On 16 June 2011, the ILO passed “Convention No. 189 Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers” (C189). 17 States have already signed the Convention since 2011 and are thus committed to adjusting their labour laws accordingly. This is a truly historical step for the legal and social protection of this labour sector at the international level. Moreover, C189 is the most evident sign of the fact that paid domestic work is today considered a policy issue by several global actors, which, besides the ILO, include UN Women, OIM and the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF).


This project sees paid domestic work as an important object of analysis for scholars who want to understand the impact of globalisation on the construction of social inequality across countries. In fact, the multidimensional transformations induced by globalisation, with increased global-local and transnational interactions, an intensification of international migration, reorganisations of social classes, the urbanisation of rural and indigenous populations, and changes in gender norms, lifestyles, household organisation and welfare regimes, have had a massive impact on the situation of domestic workers across countries. 

In this perspective, the DomEQUAL project has a three-fold aim:
1. to provide new theoretical insights on transformations in the social position of paid domestic workers, focusing on the social, economic and legal 'fields' (cf. Bourdieu);
2. to contribute beyond the state of the art to feminist scholarship on the “intersectional” character of social inequalities; and
3. to explore the role of different social actors in the “strategic field of actions” (cf. Fliegstein) of labour rights for domestic workers.

This will be done through a comparison between the transformations in the situations of PDWs in recent decades (1950s-now) in the following countries: Spain, Italy and Germany in Europe; Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil in South America; and India, Philippines and Taiwan in Asia. These nine countries are interesting cases for comparison because of their different positioning within the process of globalisation, the specificities of their socio-cultural contexts, and because they have all experienced significant mobilisations for domestic workers' rights.


The project will be carried out by the PI and three post-doctoral researchers (for 3 years) based at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice (Italy), with the support of nine country-experts (for 1 year) who will provide statistical data and interview material from the nine countries under study.