When Marcelina Bautista Bautista left her indigenous Mixtec community in Nochtixtlan, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, at the age of 14 with only a primary school education and no knowledge of Spanish, she didn’t dream that one day she would end up contributing to the development of an international treaty for domestic workers’ rights.
Driven by her experience which she shares with many other women, Marcelina made the invisible visible by revealing the conditions of millions of domestic workers who do not have a contract, fixed working hours, benefits or social security.
She created a unique programme that combines education for domestic workers, their employers and civil society organisations. Her Support and Training Centre for Domestic Workers (CACEH), founded in 2000, provides management information and economic and social assessment of domestic labour and sexual and reproductive rights.
Honoured with the National Human Rights Award in Mexico, she is also recognized at a regional level for her determination as the Coordinator for Latin America in the International Domestic Workers Federation.
What do you think are the main factors that have helped you reach where you are today?
Mainly empowerment and the will to overcome. At the age of 14, instead of being content with a primary education and staying in my village with no future to look forward to, I left for Mexico City where I found a job as a domestic worker and witnessed firsthand the injustices of this socially undervalued activity. By the time I turned 17, I had already learned Spanish since my mother tongue is Zapotec. Plus, I already knew Mexico City and I didn’t want to sit and feel sorry for myself or be victimized because of the lack of opportunities. I decided to look for opportunities and I soon found support from other women and men who would become the key figures in my struggles of today.
What were the major obstacles you had to confront in order to reach where you are today?
I had to overcome many things, mainly conquering my fear and insecurity because I would always say, “But I’m a nobody”. Perhaps today I could sum it up as: I felt ignored in a job that was undervalued from both a work and social point of view. Nothing else is to be learned from staring at four walls. You can pull yourself out if you have the will and are aware that you are a human being with dreams and aspirations and not a piece of property. Indeed, the abuse from some of my employers made me stronger.
Tell us a little bit about your childhood, your ambitions and dreams. Who inspired you to achieve what you have achieved so far?
I was the third daughter among 12 sons. The first daughter died and the second went to live with my maternal grandmother, so from a very young age I had always helped my mother take care of my younger brothers. My mother was always submissive, and in addition to being a housewife she also took on additional work in the fields. I lived in a village with a lot of male chauvinism and if I had stayed, I most certainly would have been sold to a stranger against my will.
Although these were the customs and traditions, I didn’t like the violence that I witnessed against the women I knew and my female cousins because, for me, my mother was a reflection of that. One day I told my mother, that wasn’t going to happen to me. Although they had consequences on my life, these childhood experiences allowed me to take control of my future.
When I was 9 years old, I wanted to be a teacher and an uncle of mine laughed at me. When I was 15 years old, I wanted to be a lawyer but I couldn’t study because I was already working in a house and taking care of children there, so I made progress little by little. Today I am trained in and support the law which is why I am so satisfied by everything I am able to give to my fellow colleagues in the working world.
Has being a woman affected you in achieving your work goals? If so, how?
Yes, being a woman entails many obstacles, even more so in the villages. Just the simple fact of being a woman gives you more disadvantages in many areas. But ever since I was young I have taken life by the reins, and if I’ve made a mistake I’ve learned a lesson. Today I’m grateful that I decided to do things differently and overcome the abuse, discrimination and inequality and stay true to my dreams of obtaining government recognition for the domestic work we do, no longer excluding us from laws and thus understanding the contribution of our work to society.
What do you consider to be your greatest contribution to society?
“Making the invisible visible” is the motto of the organization I lead and I think that has been my contribution: ensuring that private work is today made public. Making visible what we as domestic workers do and how precarious our situation is so that this issue appears on the public agenda, but more importantly, witnessing change and the fact that we can make a difference with just our own two hands.
I also consider my contribution to be the development of the international standards for domestic workers, Convention 189, and I ask that its ratification be the contribution of the Mexican Government.
What message would you like to give to young women? What should they learn from your experience?
Do what they like to do, take their own decisions and listen to the experiences of others, taking in everything that can help them. Female leaders have been my inspiration, my tribute to everyone today who has played a key role in my struggles and in my life.
What message would you like to share with the rest of the women and children who are inspired by your work?
Stay strong! Like myself, you want a change and from wherever we originate from, our efforts will join together to bring about peace and non-violence in the name of human dignity and hope. Thank you for keeping this hope alive for other women around the world.