Domestic workers are one of the groups most vulnerable to exploitation, violence, harassment, and forced labour. Today’s International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition reminds us that many women end up being trapped in abusive work situations which in some cases may amount to modern forms of slavery.

“Every day, she would tell me that I’m crazy and stupid. I couldn’t take that. But since she kept on saying that every day, I got used to it. Whenever they beat me up, I just cried in a corner”, recalls Julia , a Filipino domestic worker who suffered constant verbal abuse and physical beating for more than a year before daring to run away to the police. 

Around the world, workers who work in isolation, where nobody is watching, are particularly vulnerable to violence and harassment at work. Domestic workers are just such workers. A workforce 67 million strong, domestic workers provide essential care for our homes and loved ones; yet, they frequently suffer forms of violence and harassment, exploitation, coercion, ranging from verbal abuse to sexual violence, and sometimes even death. Domestic workers who live in the homes of their employers are especially vulnerable.

For many of them, daily abuses like lack of rest and non-payment of wages can quickly turn into forced labour. “I was trapped inside; I couldn’t go out. And I didn’t have any money. I was not paid even a single peso. Every time I would ask my employer when I could get my salary, she would say that she will think about it”, explains Julia.

“At the root of this situation is discrimination,” explains Philippe Marcadent, Chief of the ILO Branch related to Inclusive Labour Markets, Labour Relations and Working Conditions.

“Domestic workers are often not recognized as workers, and face discrimination as women, often from poor and marginalized groups, such as migrants and indigenous peoples.”

But domestic workers are organizing and leading efforts to achieve decent work. Zainab and Marcelina, two former domestic workers turned leaders of their organizations, each faced years of violence and harassment at work. Despite the difficulty in sharing their stories, they do so because it is a reality the world must know, and to encourage other domestic workers to speak out. As the ILO is currently discussing the possible adoption of a new legal instrument on violence and harassment in the world of work, domestic workers are stepping up and speaking out.