Girl domestic worker in Conakry.

© 2007 Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

Around the world, millions of girls and women leave everything they know behind – their homes, their families, often their countries – to cook, clean, and care for children as domestic workers in other people’s homes. Tomorrow, for the first time, a global treaty for domestic workers goes into effect, giving them rights that other workers take for granted – including a weekly day off, regular hours of work, a minimum wage, and overtime pay.

The Domestic Workers Convention  is the product of long and hard-fought struggles by domestic workers to gain dignity and respect. In many countries, labor laws actually exclude domestic work, leaving workers at the mercy of their employers. As a result, many domestic workers have been subject to horrible exploitation and abuse – long hours without rest, unpaid wages, physical and sexual abuse, forced labor, and even being locked in employers’ homes. For over a decade, Human Rights Watch has documented these conditions.

In just the last few years, remarkable changes have taken place in dozens of countries. Eight (Bolivia, Italy, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, and Uruguay) have formally ratified the new convention, making it legally binding in their countries, and others – including Germany and Colombia – have nearly finalized the process. Just last week, the Swiss Federal Council announced it is supporting ratification of the convention also.

Other countries are changing their national laws to recognize the rights of domestic workers. In Zambia, the government increased the minimum wage for domestic workers, increasing their base pay by 68 percent. In March, Brazil amended its constitution to ensure better working conditions for domestic workers.

These reforms represent a huge change from just a few years ago, when few countries paid attention to the rights of domestic workers.

Domestic workers have worked long and hard for their rights. Tomorrow is a great day to celebrate their progress.