Intersectionality and the study of domestic workers’ movements in a comparative perspective


In the last decades an expanding body of studies has drawn upon the concept of intersectionality as a critical tool to explore a vast array of political projects and social movements (Cho, Crenshaw &McCall 2013: 800-804). Key questions addressed in this literature address the ways in which the intersectionality of inequalities and social positions is reflected in and shapes social movements’ collective identity, strategies and agenda; how intersectionality as a tool for interpreting reality and as a political praxis is incorporated or resisted by different collective actors across differen contexts; and the consequences of these processes in terms of inclusion or exclusion when looking at the viewpoint of specific social groups and subjects. Several scholars suggest that the mapping of the different uses, resistances and outcomes of intersectionality that social movements experience“on the ground”- beyond academia and across national borders – is an empirical task that deserves further analysis (Bassel & Lepinard 2014; Evans 2016; Irvine et al 2019; Wilson 2013). This study may be put in dialogue with the theoretical, methodological and epistemological debates on intersectionality in social and political research (Choo & Ferree 2010; Cho & et al. 2013; Hancock 2007; McCall 2005), as a way to keep connecting theorization and activism within the intersectional project (Hancock 2016; Collins & Bilge 2016). Our paper responds to these challenges by taking a comparative look at paid domestic workers organizing in nine countries (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Italy, Germany, Spain, India, Philippines and Taiwan) involved in the mixed-method ERC research project “DomEQUAL: A global approach to paid domestic work and social inequalities” (2016-2020). In these countries, domestic workers’ organizations have been led by people from the multiply-marginalized social groups (e.g. migrants, low-class, ethnic minority women) who are employed in the domestic labor sector. Their campaigns for labor rights and “ decent work” go hand in hand with claims related to self-representation and identity, and involve a challenge to the gender, race, class and other social hierarchies implicated in the cultural meaning of reproductive work and its unequal distribution at the local and transnational level. For these reasons, we take the promotion of paid domestic workers’ rights as an opportunity to explore the articulation of intersectionality in social movements and in the field of labor organizing, by focusing on interconnected – yet separated – analytical levels such as 1) the composition of the workforce employed in paid domestic work; 2) the composition and identity of the organizations campaigning for paid domestic workers’ rights; 3) the claims, activities and frames mobilized by these organizations; and finally 4) the alliances and coalition they build with other social movements and relevant actors in close-by fields (e.g. women’s rights, anti-racism, economic justice, migration, trafficking, labor rights, disability).