Community work is essential work
COVID-19 and domestic workers in Argentina
In our country, the people employed in care industries continued to work during the pandemic: their activities were considered essential by the government. However, domestic workers had to comply with all mandatory lockdown measures, their leave paid by their employers.
Due to the conditions under which they do their job, domestic workers are left in a particularly vulnerable position in this context of crisis during the pandemic. According to a report by ILO, this can be explained through many reasons: the high number of female heads of low-income households responsible for kids and teenagers, the poor work conditions tied to informal labor, the lack of compliance with labor rights and the high risk exposure in both the workplace and the trip to and from home, among many others.
However, some measures were enforced by the State to counteract the negative effects of the pandemic: social welfare programmes and allowances were strengthened and a new benefit, the Emergency Family Income (IFE), included domestic workers as eligible to receive it. The National Committee for Domestic Workers (CNTCP) increased the minimum hourly and monthly wage for domestic workers. Unions have also launched many campaigns to inform their workers about their rights.
Essential workers and popular feminism: Natalia Zaracho and her activism
Natalia Zaracho works in Villa Fiorito (Buenos Aires), as part of its popular economy. She's a leading figure in Frente Patria Grande and participates in Movimiento de Trabajadores Excluidos (Movement for Excluded Workers). During the latest elections, she ran for Congress for the party "Frente de Todos."
When she was 13, she was forced to drop out of school and start working as a cardboard collector. What she learnt then, together with her experiences in organization, helped her become a member of the board of directors of the cooperative Amanecer de los Cartoneros.
As part of her activism in popular feminism, she set up mate rounds and care spaces to offer support and listen to women enduring domestic violence: "There's so many feminist practices taking place at grassroots levels. We do apply sorority here although it's not always recognized as such because lots of women here don't identify as feminists."
During the pandemic, she participated in many activities promoting healthcare and soup kitchens in her neighborhood. In an interview for Barricada TV, she stated: "As social organizations, we have to help people through these hard times and advocate for a Comprehensive Human Development Plan: it proposes the creation of 4 million jobs, the urbanization of low-income neighborhoods and the creation of new living spaces with basic amenities included. It's important to plan and not just patch things up as they break down."
Women's community organizing and the Ramona Act
Community work in low-income neighborhoods during the pandemic has already taken several lives. Among them, we remember two exemplary women: Ramona Medina, a leading figure at La Garganta Poderosa, and Carmen Canevari, a soup kitchen worker from Flores (Buenos Aires).
Ramona's death at age 42 was a turning point for community work. She worked as a paperwork expediter for people with disabilities and managed the healthcare section at the Women's Community House in her neighborhood. Some time before her death, she had publicly denounced the lack of access to clean water in her neighborhood, which made it impossible to perform basic hygiene tasks.
In an interview for Tiempo Argentino, journalist Maby Sosa talked with women volunteering at different kitchen soups. Cinthia, from Villa 31 B, explained the safety measures she has adopted:
"We have our own protocols. We work in groups of 5 and try not to socialize. We are super careful because we don't want to have to close the kitchen. We receive donations thanks to the Codo a Codo campaign which provides us with hygiene and safety products."
After Medina's death, fellow workers promoted the Ramona Act: it grants allowances for $5000 during a whole year to essential workers from social organizations (who are mostly women). In Cinthia's words: "Women get up at six in the morning to peel tons of potatoes and onions so that families can get a meal. Then, we have to go back home, have a shower and take every precaution not to become infected."