UTRASD President Maria Roa Borja seeks to increase membership to better defend domestic workers’ rights. Photo: Borja Facebook page

Afro-Colombian women recently launched the Union of Domestic Service Workers (Unión de Trabajadoras del Servicio Domestíco, UTRASD), the first-ever union in Colombia created entirely by Afro-descendent women.

UTRASD President Maria Roa Borja says she hopes to increase the union’s membership so it can become a powerful actor in defense of domestic workers’ rights. “I am going to give this all my effort … for all Afro-Colombian women, so that the union moves forward and all the rights of all Afro-Colombian women are valued here in Colombia,” Borja told news channel TeleMedellín.  The new union was formed through the support of two Colombian nongovernmental organizations, Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS) and Corporación Carabantú, and the Solidarity Center.

Some 236,000 Afro-Colombians live in Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city. Of these, half are women, many of whom moved to the city in search of economic opportunities. An in-depth study of female domestic workers in Medellin by ENS and Corporación Carabantú, found that nearly a quarter of those interviewed were victims of forced displacement. Further, nearly 98 percent  of domestic workers interviewed are single heads of households with children.

“These women suffer from triple discrimination, and in the case of Medellin, almost a quarter are displaced from their territories, which puts them in a situation of greater vulnerability,” Ramon Perea, director of Carabantú, told ENS. “But it is in the workplace that they experience the greatest discrimination.” Domestic workers are especially vulnerable to workplace abuse. Around the world, between 50 million and 100 million people—the vast majority of them women—labor as domestic workers.

The study found that 85 percent of respondents do not have written work contracts. Most are not paid the legal minimum wage nor do they receive overtime.  More than half of the women surveyed reported racial discrimination at work.

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