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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La parole aux invisibles du travail

Giving Voice to Invisible Workers

Translated Saturday 13 March 2010, by Helen Robertshaw and reviewed by Henry Crapo

By Nadine Jasmin, academic and project manager at the association “Éclats de Voix”

How do we talk about the “invisible work” of women? Would it be a provocative thing to do, when 80% of women are actively employed? When they study, earn a living, become researchers, businesswomen and lawyers? Contrary to daily evidence, women are still widely discriminated against as workers. They constitute the majority of poor workers, for 80% of very low salaries (less than €650 per month) are earned by women.

Despite pay equality laws, women’s salaries are still 25% lower than those of men. This is hardly surprising, when we know that 80% of part-time jobs are occupied by women, they spend four hours per day on domestic tasks and only one in two women work after the age of fifty. What can we say about the 2-3 million female salaried employees who are victims of moral and sexual harassment at work? So, what can we do? Get angry? Commission reports? Issue new laws? Or tackle the problem head-on, like Colette, Khôkha, Salematou and Manuela?

They work as art restorer, secretary and house cleaner. Through the association “Éclats de Voix” [literally “Raised Voices”], they are using their voice and pen to speak about their work and the condition of women in the workplace. A total of 147 suggestions have emerged from this series of interviews, first-hand accounts and workshops, brought together in a book: Exploitées? Le travail invisible des femmes  [1].

What do these women suggest? Taking full stock of the inequalities between women and men in the workplace. Helping to change the self-representations of men and women in order to alter the distribution of roles, which is still deeply unequal, at work and at home. Fighting against the invisibility of women’s work by encouraging women employees to speak up. Inventing new methods and new ways of thinking and acting in order to tackle these issues together.

They also suggest investing skills, time and money in informing and training stakeholders in the world of work; encouraging employers to adopt good practices, punishing bad ones and promoting good ones. They propose that we follow the example of international legislation that most fully protects women’s rights; and support the weakest groups: unemployed and under-qualified women, women without work papers…Raising the status of women’s work through social and financial recognition.

These suggestions are not a manifesto but a subject for debate. They’re an appeal, with the aim of mobilising all women and men in order to transform perspectives and practices related to women’s work, strive towards real equality and together build the work and society we dream of.

[1Nadine Jasmin, “Exploitées ? Le travail invisible des femmes” ("Exploited? The Invisible Work of Women"), published by Les Points sur les i, €14.90.

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