LISA LONGSTAFF talks to Leddy Mozombite, who organises domestic workers in Peru in the struggle against poverty and sexual violence
RESISTANCE: Leddy Mozombite (centre)at a recent conference organised by the Global Women’s Strike. Pic: Crossroads Audio-Visual Collective
I RECENTLY spoke about rape at the international women’s conference called by Global Women’s Strike.
Afterwards, I met with a fellow speaker Leddy Mozombite, who organises with domestic workers in Peru.
I wanted to know about her personal history and to learn about domestic workers’ struggles against poverty and sexual violence, and how we can support that organising in Britain.
Mozombite was a domestic worker from the age of seven, moving alone from the countryside to the capital city Lima at 14.
She had to work without pay and had no contact with her family for many years. She was given only second-hand clothes, and shoes which didn’t fit. With the help of another domestic worker she found a job in a different house.
“But,” she said, “I had no days off. I was stuck there because the woman had rescued me.”
“I went to night school, and there I started to organise with other domestic workers, and with trade unions. There are half a million domestic workers in Peru, mostly girls and women. But trade unions look down on domestic workers and refuse to recognise us as workers.”
In 2005, Mozombite helped form a union for domestic workers. Ten years on she is the general secretary of a federation called FENTTRAHOP, based in nine regions throughout Peru.
Mozombite says domestic workers are vulnerable to rape by employers because they lack money and rights. If you object to your treatment, the employer can just sack you, or make counter allegations. Like domestic violence, it happens behind closed doors.
As a union organiser, Mozombite has fought for justice for many, many, women. She mentions some: one was accused by her employer of theft to divert attention from his rape of her; another was sacked after having a child from rape; another was murdered and her rural family didn’t have the money and influence to pursue her powerful employer.
Sons in host families are encouraged to have sex with their domestic worker. As a captive in the family home, she is seen as “safe,” unlikely to have a sexually transmitted disease. Mozombite also had to challenge police officers who made sexual advances to women reporting rape, doctors who blamed the woman, and journalists who sensationalised her ordeal.
A US domestic worker I spoke to earns $20 an hour and works part-time. Compare this to Lima, where women earn $25 a day, most live in and they work six or seven days a week with no holidays.
This set-up is a recipe for rape, so campaigning for higher wages and employment rights is crucial to stopping violence. Not surprisingly, Mozombite and her federation are promoting the international petition for a living wage for mothers and other carers, which was discussed at the conference.
She read it to the great applause of her members during a major protest in March, when they invaded the prime minister’s office. They handed in a letter demanding that the government ratify International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention 189 which would give domestic workers the right to an eight-hour day, paid time off, social security and maternity rights such as breastfeeding breaks.
They called on everyone concerned with ending sexual violence and promoting human rights to support the ratification of the ILO convention. Professionals, including women, can only function each day because a poorer woman is in their house doing childcare and cleaning.
Britain too must ratify convention 189. We are calling these human rights violations to the attention of the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.
The similarities with the struggles of British women and girls are striking. Zero-hours contracts, unemployment, extortionate rents, rising numbers of children taken into care, together with austerity cuts to benefits, legal aid and refuges have made women and children even more vulnerable to rape and exploitation.
In 1976 when Women Against Rape began, our first demand was that rape in marriage be recognised as a crime. It took a 15-year campaign to change the law. We won it in 1991.
In the ’70s nobody talked about rape in the family. Some feminists told us that our campaign was so outlandish it would undermine efforts to get other types of rape taken seriously. Most married women had no independent income other than child benefit, so those who suffered domestic violence were trapped by lack of money and housing. Many stayed just to feed and house the kids. A wife was expected to cook, clean, and lay back and think of England. Police would not act against a violent husband — rape was his right and beatings were “just a domestic.”
Winning that law change paved the way for today’s mass movement. It established that rape is about consent, not your relationship with your attacker. But with two women a week murdered by partners or ex-partners, tens of thousands of children still at risk and a conviction rate of around 5 per cent for both rape and domestic violence, justice and protection are nowhere.
Women in Britain, just like in Peru, are the subject of counter¬allegations by rapists. Many have been prosecuted for harassing or stealing from their rapist, while he went free.
We are supporting women imprisoned after being disbelieved; we are helping them to appeal their convictions.
Sex workers reporting violence are put in prison for prostitution offences; asylum-seekers, accused of lying to bolster their immigration case, are detained or deported.
Coming together across international borders, we can win our rights — for everyone. And we will.
• Lisa Longstaff is a spokesperson for Women Against Rape. To contact Women Against Rape, email firstname.lastname@example.org.