“The power structure [in our region] is macho, white and old,” said Creuza Oliveira, President of the National Federation of Domestic Workers of Brazil. Creuza’s speech during the ECLAC-UNDP Regional Conference on Social Development brought many ministers and country delegates – men and women – to tears.
Her words give witness to the experience of African descendants, who make up around 30 per cent of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean. Throughout the region Afro-descendants face discrimination and experience disproportionate levels of poverty and social exclusion. Often they face multiple and intersecting forms of inequity based on other factors such as gender, religion or disability.
Creuza became a domestic worker when she was only 10 in Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia. Working long hours during the day and studying at night “whenever the boss allowed”, she managed to finish elementary school by age 16 and high school by 32, she told me in an interview in Lima, Peru.
Black women compose 62 percent of the domestic work force in Brazil, according to official figures. More than 70 percent do not have a formal contract. Moreover, 60 percent of women who die giving birth are black. And in the last 10 years the number murders of black women increased 54 percent, according to official data.
To draw attention to these alarming figures, over 20,000 women took to the streets during the March of Black Women on 18 November in Brasilia, calling for the protection of human rights and encouraging society to value the Afro-Brazilian culture. UN agencies including UNDP backed the march, and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka joined the event, calling for the protection of women’s rights.