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Matahari Women Workers’ Center

Fighting Violence Against Domestic Workers and Building a Solidarity Economy of Care

Background

Matahari Women Workers’ Center is a Boston organization comprised of women of color, immigrant women, and families, aimed at ending gender-based violence. Founded in 2002 by Carol Gomez, Matahari initially focused its efforts towards addressing the impacts of human trafficking and interrelated community violence. In these early years, Matahari strived to provide women of color, many of whom were immigrants, with the resources and support systems needed to create safe and healthy lives. 

From Community Service to Community Power

In 2009, Matahari undertook a process of revisioning and restructuring, away from a service delivery model and towards a base-building, member-driven organization. Today, Matahari centers the needs and interests of nannies, au pairs, and other domestic workers. Domestic workers, and particularly women of color, have historically been subject to the most extreme forms of violence, exploitation, and oppression. At the same time, domestic workers have played pivotal roles in the success of social movements. Community organizer Daniel Gonzalez-Jatar explains, “domestic workers were essential to the success of the Civil Rights Movement, and specifically to the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts. Without black domestic workers, that literally would not have happened.” 

Today, Matahari continues this legacy by building power in order to change policies and improve working conditions through organizing campaigns, outreach and education, and deep relationship-building. One significant campaign that Matahari was centrally involved in resulted in the passage of the Massachusetts Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. As a result of years of organizing and struggle, in 2015 Massachusetts became just the fourth state to create legislation that provides labor rights and standards—as well as recourse for abuse, harassment, and discrimination—to all domestic workers, regardless of immigration status. 

Matahari is committed to a multi-racial, multi-lingual organizing approach. All meetings and outreach are conducted in at least both English and Spanish and translations into other languages are also common. Addressing language barriers is the essential, first step towards fomenting deep, caring 

relationships that can build community and collective power. Says Gonzalez-Jatar, “something that is really special and beautiful is watching folks who are told that they shouldn’t be in a relationship with each other or told that they are in these [cultural] bubbles….the non-black Latinx community, the Asian community, the black community, and the Afro-Latinx community…engage with those dynamics. Frankly, working with women of color and immigrant women…those are the folks that know most about what’s happening in the world.” 

Solidarity and Economies of Care

Matahari is a Malaysian word that literally translates as “eye of the day”, and means “the sun.”  If the sun is what gives and sustains life, then there is no more fitting name for an organization built by and for women who fill their days doing life-sustaining, care-work. Raising children, maintaining households, caring for the elderly, this work is essential to the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities—it is essential for reproducing society. As Gonzales Jatar plainly puts it, “there is no future without child care and caregiving.”

It is a perverse feature of our dominant economy that, instead of being revered, care-work is radically undervalued, derided as undesirable, and sometimes not even recognized as “work” at all. Capitalism—and capitalists—thrive in large part through the vast amounts of value produced by underpaid or not-paid-at all workers who provide this life-giving labor.

  

   

A solidarity economy—an economy that values care, community, and mutual interdependence—is our future. For Matahari joining the Solidarity Economy Initiative cohort and becoming more involved in solidarity economy organizing is part a process of of visioning and working towards a more just and caring world. It is part of moving from reacting to ongoing crises to directing “resources to understanding what alternatives can look like and exploring that with each other.” Matahari leader Estefani Oliveira explains that, in dialogue with other members of the SEI cohort, Matahari is “brainstorming a lot about what our ideal jobs are. How do we want to empower the community? I think the main thing is figuring a way of being part of this economy, but [in a way that is] not as perverse as capitalism.” And, for Matahari, these alternatives—things like collective or cooperative businesses—are also vital for building collective power that might bring an end to gender-based 

A solidarity economy—an economy that values care, community, and mutual interdependence—is our future. For Matahari joining the Solidarity Economy Initiative cohort and becoming more involved in solidarity economy organizing is part a process of of visioning and working towards a more just and caring world. It is part of moving from reacting to ongoing crises to directing “resources to understanding what alternatives can look like and exploring that with each other.” Matahari leader Estefani Oliveira explains that, in dialogue with other members of the SEI cohort, Matahari is “brainstorming a lot about what our ideal jobs are. How do we want to empower the community? I think the main thing is figuring a way of being part of this economy, but [in a way that is] not as perverse as capitalism.” And, for Matahari, these alternatives—things like collective or cooperative businesses—are also vital for building collective power that might bring an end to gender-based violence of all kinds. “Domestic worker organizing: in order to have mass organizing and leverage,” Gonzalez-Jatar relates, “folks need to be building alternative workplaces that are more [collective] because [otherwise] it’s such an isolating form of work.”