18 May 2021

Women on the Home Front: Venezuelan Domestic Workers and the Acquisition of Architecture

McGill, Montreal

Respondent: Daniela Sannjinés (ETH Zürich)

Traditionally, and until recently, Venezuelan domestic workers and their children, if they had any, lived in a dedicated area of their employers’ home. The workers’ bedrooms are usually very small and located at the back of the house, and directly connected to the laundry, kitchen and food delivery quarters. Some of these rooms did not even have daylight or natural ventilation. The spaces assigned to live-in domestic workers perpetuate misguided preconceptions about working women and segregated them from the rest of the household. In short, the manipulation of domestic architecture created a hostile living environment for these women perpetuating social misconceptions about their role and place in society.

Over the last decades, a large percentage of domestic workers have moved into a home of their own. This migration has almost eradicated the tradition of live-in domestic workers in Venezuela. Low-waged and unable to access formal credit, domestic workers still found avenues to homeownership. Life savings, personal loans from their employers or other family members went to the procurement of small land plots, building materials and slowly constructed their homes. Nevertheless, in most cases, they benefited from government housing loans.

In 2011, at the zenith of his popularity, President Hugo Chavez severely criticized the domestic workers’ very restrictive employment and living arrangements. For this, he introduced a Special Law for the Dignity of Residential Workers and recognized them as plausible social housing beneficiaries. In his impatient pursuit to improve social housing, Chavez and his advisors disregarded previous government housing experiments, resulting in record-low performance. Also, the President’s obsession with expediting the housing process sustained the detrimental practice of building in the peripheries without adequate transportation and services, hindering access to the city. Domestic workers seemed to be trading the back of their employers’ house for the back of the city.

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