Read the Spanish version of this report here.
Angélica López looks from across the road at the first apartment she called her own in Buenos Aires, a room located in a house that is painted white, in the Almagro neighborhood. It has windows, and a pastel green railing that matches a palm tree that peeks out over an interior patio.
She lived here in 2016, after having migrated from Peru to Argentina with a family for whom she worked. When that job came to an end, López looked for another one to survive. In the house painted white, they were all workers — people from Peru, Paraguay and Argentina who toiled in factories, or cleaned homes, just like her. López felt safe in Almagro. The bell rang every time someone entered the gate, and she walked the streets with ease.
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But her job didn't last, and her rent kept increasing, making it unattainable. López had to move to a lower-income neighborhood, Villa 1-11-14, where she rents a room that she shares with her eldest son, a student. The pandemic made her life even more difficult — the only job she could sustain was cleaning one house, two days a week, charging by the hour. The 10,000 Argentine pesos ($100 USD) that she earns per month are not enough, and she had to resort to a soup kitchen room during the harshest months of the quarantine.
“We have little chance to prosper,” said López, 52, that day in Almagro at the end of April.
But realities change and López, like many of her companions, is in search of that: possibilities and prosperity. She is part of a wave of women workers who are struggling to be seen and recognized by a society and an economic system that depend on their sweat. Every morning in Argentina, thousands of women undertake a journey, crossing the invisible borders that separate us by highway, by train or bus, leaving one home and entering others.
According to the Argentine government, around 1.4 million people worked in the "domestic sector" before the pandemic. They are almost entirely women (99 percent), representing 8 percent of the country's workforce and 17 percent of all working women. Almost half are the sole breadwinners in their homes. The vast majority — 76 percent, according to official data — work in informal conditions — that is, without retirement contributions, and without guarantee of payment in case of illness or other labor rights.
For a sector in already unsustainable conditions, the pandemic created an absolute emergency. In response, women workers began to organize themselves collectively, and among themselves, forming new unions that give them the mic to amplify their demands.
"As much as [the political class] did not want to see mobilizations, there must be, and it will see, because in what way do you make the government listen to your protest, your claim, your concern?" said López. “They won't pay me if I get sick. We have no guarantee anywhere. So if you're wrong, you have to pretend, and go. Because if I don't die from Covid, you're going to starve. "