770.3 Migrants at the service of gender equality, framing the resurgence of paid domestic workers in the EU

Saturday, August 4, 2012: 4:35 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Pilar GONALONS PONS , Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
As women increased their participation in the formal labor market, the division of unpaid domestic work that was predicted to change has only slightly done so. In the meantime, the paid domestic work sector, which was once in decline, is expanding in Europe mostly through international migrant workers. Given the EU’s double commitment to labor force activation and gender equality, I seek to examine how these goals shape the understanding and location of the current resurgence of paid domestic work, in relation to issues of gender equality and shifts in immigration across the EU and Spain. Using both documents and interview data with political actors, this paper analyzes the ways in which discussions about paid domestic workers is linked to native women’s employment. I argue that these discourses have legitimized the expansion of paid domestic work by framing it as a strategy to attain “gender equality”. I further argue that the legitimization and promotion of paid domestic work as a strategy for “gender equality” hides a contradiction that becomes visible when we look at the intersections of such arrangement. The contradiction lies in the recognition of migrant domestic workers as workers while marginalizing them as women, and excluding them altogether from the goals of “gender equality” and work/life balance policies. My analyses show this framing to narrow the meaning of gender equality so that it applies only to a privileged group of well-educated native-born women, and to understand the increase of paid domestic work by migrants as replacing domestic labor demands on one group of women without shifting it to men or children. This narrowing of the meaning of gender equality is crucial to understand the organization of women’s employment, and a diversion form addressing the division of labor between men and women.