Meet the women’s economic justice advocate who empowers Florida domestic workers

Santra Denis returned from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November with a clear reminder of how women around the world are more similar than different.

Denis attended COP26 as executive director of the Miami Workers Center (MWC), a Miami-Dade County-based organization that supports low-income communities and low-wage workers, especially black and Latin women. , in South Florida. Reflecting on the phone with Global Citizen on the conference, which aimed to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, as indicated by the 2015 Paris Agreement, and to promote mitigation, adaptation and the financing of climate change, a phrase came to Denis’ mind: “Poto Mitaine.

“It’s Creole for what they consider women to be for society – we are the pillars of society,” she said. “All over the world you will see women jostling and bustling about.”

“There were communities – indigenous communities, black communities – and the majority of those communities were represented by women who care for the elderly but also work the land. They know the country. They know what it means to plant and harvest. And they understand how to be one and in tune with the environment.

The goal of COP26 was to get countries to dramatically reduce their carbon emissions and achieve net zero by 2050, and Denis said there is an opportunity to promote women’s economic justice in this agenda. by moving more extractive industries to care work.

Care work, which includes babysitting, eldercare, cleaning and cooking, and more domestic work and may or may not be paid, is considered low-carbon work that has little impact. or no negative impact on the environment, she explained.

“There is a huge opportunity for us to grow this industry to provide living wages, to provide a platform for people to grow in their careers and specific roles. ”

Everyone relies on caregivers at every stage of life, from infancy to old age, Denis explained. Her daily struggle is to create an economy that sees and values ​​care work, which is often invisible as it is mostly done by women, especially women of color.

“Without this work, this nation stops,” Denis said. “These are people we need to support. That’s what economic justice means to me, that the people we know make this country work, our communities work, we support them and provide them with opportunities to thrive.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, as women were forced out of the workforce to care for their families and constitute the majority of essential workers, it became difficult to ignore that their contributions are the backbone of the society. MCW initiated organizational work in response to the crisis and the increased need for economic justice. In June 2020, the organization published the study “Black Immigrant Domestic Workers in the Time of COVID-19” with the Institute for Policy Studies. MCW has also prioritized the protection against expulsion of its members since March 2020.

According to Denis, being a single mother is one of the main predictors of deportation risk and she wants to change the deportation narrative.

“It is mothers with children who are expelled,” said Denis. “Once you face an eviction that stays with you, it has lasting impacts on your ability to rent again on your ability to even own a home at any given time.

“We know that psychologically it has an impact. It also has an impact on children. These are things that remain in our communities forever. Many of our tenants and members are being evicted from homes they cannot live in anyway because the conditions are so terrible. We are talking about infestations [and] owners who have not done any maintenance on these buildings [in] always.”

Women tenants face harassment, and refusing landlord advances can in some cases lead to discrimination and eviction even if a family is not behind on their rent, she added.

In Miami-Dade County, the majority of households are headed by women, and ending cycles of poverty begins with empowering these women, Denis said. But for many MWC members, childcare is a challenge that bothers them. With school leaving at 2 p.m. – three hours before most parents leave work at 5 p.m. – women are forced to compromise.

“They have to work fewer hours to coordinate childcare as mothers. This has a significant impact on their ability to generate the income they need to get out of poverty, ”said Denis.

A MWC member wants to go to night school, but doesn’t know if she can afford it as she has two young children and must choose between working full time or picking up her child from kindergarten.

Denis, whose mother is a Haitian domestic worker, uses her lived experience as a black woman born in the United States to advocate for her family and community.

“As the black child of Haitian immigrants… working class immigrants… you still see the injustices our communities face. And I am able to stand up for my family, my loved ones and to be that voice when often people do not necessarily feel that they can use their voice because of their immigration status or because they feel that spaces are not for them, ”said Denis.

A background in public health sparked her interest in organizing work at university, at a time when she said, like most people, that it had become more politicized. Working with his mentor, Dr. Cynthia Chestnut, who was a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 1990 to 2000, representing the 23rd District, Denis was exposed to the disparities between the different populations of Gainesville, Florida.

“I have to be in spaces with her, really seeing how being a woman, a black woman, in leadership positions also allows you to bring your community with you and make sure that the decisions made reflect them and are theirs as well. beneficial. , said Denis.

One of the biggest challenges Denis faces today is knowing that she does not have the same networks or resources as her colleagues, especially when it comes to ensuring the availability of community interventions and running campaigns. successful.

“My community is not rich when it comes to dollars. Fundraising in this role is often very difficult. Numerous studies have shown that blacks, when in a managerial position, have less confidence in money and receive less. In terms of pressure and responsibility, it’s a lot to bear, ”explained Denis.

“But also, we’re always up for the challenge and we do it in style and we find a way to laugh and dance through it. When I think of black people in general, we always know how to find our way. “

MWC is a beneficiary of the Ms. Foundation for Women, a nonprofit foundation that strengthens the collective power of women for social, economic and reproductive justice. The foundation’s emphasis on having members of affiliated organizations focus, anchor and take care of themselves encourages Denis to take time to take care of himself, which for her means dedicating Sunday has quality time with her friends.

While her job can be demanding, for Denis, it’s rewarding to organize women whose experiences touch close to home.

“Seeing domestic workers standing up for themselves, speaking out against wage theft, seeing them push each other, that brings me so much joy,” she said.

Denis thinks that creating a more equitable world for women is not a pipe dream. Policies that guarantee childcare, flexible working hours and paid parental leave could ease the burden on women in the labor market.

“I think there is work to be done, and I don’t think it is difficult,” she said. “Can we have the political will? It’s not that we can’t do it. And it is worrying.

Denis would like to see the private sector and industries that employ a lot of women, such as the hotel industry, show greater corporate social responsibility. And maintaining an intersectional approach to community interventions is crucial.

“There are similarities with people who are women,” she said. “But once you dive in, dive deep into a race, into immigration status, sexuality, etc., you really start to see disparities in what people are going through.”

The members of the MWC, for example, who are predominantly black and BIPOC, have found themselves in Miami through everywhere, from the Caribbean to southern America to Central America. Denis pointed to the results of the Urban Institute’s “Color of Wealth” study, which found a large income gap between white and black Hispanics.

“It can’t be one size fits all, especially with all the different jurisdictions people live in,” Denis said.

Ordinary citizens can also ease the burden of caring for women.

“Think about the women in your life; think about how you present yourself to them, ”Denis said. “Think about all the work that they do on their own and govern yourself accordingly, understanding that they are people too. Pay close attention to the work on the invisible lives of women and make a conscious effort not to overdo it. “


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