Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Another dimension of women & work


Everyday more than 52.6 million domestic workers clean, cook, and care for children and the elderly among many other tasks to maintain private households.1 Their work relieves their employers in their countries of employment to do higher status work while their remittances to their families increase consumption and GDP in their countries of origin. Gender is also a cross-cutting dimension: Women account for 83% of all domestic workers.2 Domestic work represents the single largest category of labor migration among women.3 But despite the direct care and indirect benefits they provide society they often lack social recognition and legal protection that is guaranteed to other workers. As a result of this many women are not protected from the different forms of exploitation, trafficking, or violence that is possible due to the nature of working behind the closed doors of an employer’s home.


Since arriving Santiago I have become aware of the norm of employing a nana (domestic worker) in most middle to high-income households in this city. It has been a topic that is highly discussed in Chile in relation to national labor laws, identity studies, and even entertainment.

  • Chile is ahead of other countries in its national labor laws pertaining to domestic workers. For example minimum wage for domestic workers was established in 2009 by the Bachelet adminstration, before it was well below the minimum wage. Since then it progressively increased until March 1, 2011 when domestic workers became entitled to the national minimum wage.
  • Silke Staab and Kristen Hill Maher in their field study on domestic workers in Santiago found that in the past the domestic workers were migrants from rural southern Chile whereas today more Peruvian migrant women have taken their place. Their research explored this transition from internal to international migration exploring potential economic, structural, and historical factors such as the shaping of Chilean national identity.

(these two articles can be found in Academic Search Premier)

o   Staab, Silke, and Kristen Hill Maher. “The Dual Discourse About Peruvian Domestic Workers in Santiago De Chile: Class, Race, and a Nationalist Project.” Latin  American Politics & Society 48.1 (2006): 87-116. Print.

o   Staab, Silke, and Kristen Hill Maher. “Nanny Politics.” International Feminist  Journal of Politics 7.1 (2005): 71-89. Print.

  • The 2009 film “La Nana” also explores the experience of a Chilean maid and her struggle to make sense of her place in the family to whom she is employed. Here’s the trailer:


I met with Professor Alexander Galetovic last Friday at Universidad de Los Andes last Friday. He co-teaches “Santiago: Urban Planning, Public Policy, and the Built Environment” with Professor Ivan Poduje in the spring quarter. When I mentioned to him my interest in the presence of domestic workers in Santiago he encouraged me to also learn about how women participate in the informal economy through bilateral exchange. He described his own experience meeting women who lacked mobility to travel to city centers to work due to lack of childcare, opportunity cost of time, not being able to find jobs that matched their skill and education level, etc. and thus turn to cooking and making their own goods to sell informally on the streets or to exchange with other members of the community for goods in which they needed. Later that day I found the following article on Colorlines.com that discusses informal economy in the U.S.: http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/11/got_a_hustle_to_pay_the_rent_while_jobless_youre_part_of_a_1t_economy.html


1 Luebker, Malte, Yamila Simonovsky. Domestic Work Policy Brief 4: Global and regional estimates on domestic workers. TRAVAIL, International Labour Office. Pg. 6

2 Ibid. Pg. 8

3 Harzig, Christiane. Domestics of the World (Unite?): Labor Migration Systems and Personal Trajectories of Household Workers in Historical and Global Perspective.


2 responses to “Another dimension of women & work

  1. MKahan November 11, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Irene–great post. I recently heard about a book (haven’t had a chance to read it yet) on the subject of the Informal Economy and its global impact: Robert Neuwirth, Stealth of Nations. http://www.npr.org/books/titles/141503529/stealth-of-nations-the-global-rise-of-the-informal-economyAnother one to check out is Sudhir Venkatesh, Off the books : the underground economy of the urban poorVery interesting issue!

  2. ralph eggleston March 23, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Nice video. great post. Thanks.

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