Reminiscing about the slavery era: Why the new maids’ law was necessary

Domestic worker Marina Santa Elisiario
Domestic worker Marina Santa Elisiario

Note from BW of Brazil: Much has been written about the new domestics law that extended new rights to the millions of people that work in domestic services in Brazil. The post below is yet another sincere testimony as to the reason why these changes were long overdue. Many have written about the connections between domestic work, exploitation, class/racial privilege of the middle-upper class and Brazil’s history as a slave nation. The “open letter” was penned in response to a group of about 100 women, all mothers, who formed a group they called an “anti-terrorism” group against maids who they viewed as demanding too many rights (1).  In many ways, the condescending tones of the complaints by these women echo the sentiments of slave holders in the 19th century as abolition came closer and closer to becoming a reality. 

Reminiscing about the days of the Casa Grande e Senzala (Big House and the Slave Quarters): open letter to the nanny anti-terrorism group

By Luana Diana dos Santos Tolentino *

“Our escrevivência (writing experience) cannot be read as a story of “lulling the big house to sleep”, but to disturb them in their unjust sleep” –  Conceição Evaristo

I received from my comrades, Blogueiras Feministas (Feminist bloggers), a story published on the Estadão website last Sunday, March 27 – “Mothers group create anti-terrorism group against maids.” According to the report, a group of elite, São Paulo women founded five years ago the GATB – Grupo Antiterrorismo de Babás (Nannies’ Anti-terrorism Group). In the “statute” of the organization include measures to be taken against “insolences” of nannies, housekeepers and maids.

For the ladies of the GATB, the demands for labor rights in which every worker or employee are entitled are no more than petulance and a lack of education. Here, is the testimony of one of the members of the Group:

“My nanny came with a story without rhyme or reason, that I owe her all paid holidays because there is a law now where she got that right. I’m a little stunned with the attitude, disappointed with the lack of education and gratitude for all I’ve done for her, but I would like to know if I am required to pay. When we think we have a great nanny, here come the bombs!”

In order to help ensure that there are no doubts among the ladies of the GATB, I direct a few words at them:

Dear ladies,

I think that you ladies, representatives of high society in São Paulo, possess an elevated level of knowledge. Amid the afternoon teas, shopping in the malls and basic gossip, I’m sure at some point you must remember that slavery ended. It’s already been almost 123 years of abolition, hasn’t it?!

Unfortunately, May 13th was not able to bury the past of slavery in our country. The memories of that period are present everywhere. In police violence against the black population, the slowness in relation to the implementation of the quota system in higher education and precarious access to basic services guaranteed by the government. Domestic work is also part of this historic process of invisibility and disrespect to Afro-Brazilians.

Recently, the IPEA, the Secretaria Especial de Políticas para as Mulheres (Special Secretariat of Policies for Women) and UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) conducted a joint study on paid domestic work. The data certainly are imperceptible to many of you: the majority of domestics are black, receive low pay, and only 25% have registro em carteira (official work contract) (2), which show the existing discriminatory aspect of this type of occupation.

At the slightest sign of doubt as to how obligatory or not are the payment of working days exercised on holidays, I suggest something very simple to you: just remember that maids are also people. Why should women who wash, iron, cook and take care of all house cleaning receive different treatment than other workers? So that we don’t get any kind of uncertainty, in 2006, through the pressures of social movements, came into force Law 11.324, which guarantees to domestics a base salary, 30 days of vacation, weekly days off and maternity leave. Are you ladies acting in accordance with the law?

Don’t take it personally complaints from your employees. As a teenager, I was a maid, a nanny and a housekeeper. I know closely the motives of many discontents. I worked in a huge house. I imagine it being very similar to yours. There were so many things to wash that my feet cracked to the point of bleeding. I felt enormous pain. I could hardly wear shoes. And that wasn’t all. I was accused of a crime that I did not commit: my boss said I had eaten apples that were in the refrigerator. With no right to defense, I received a sentence: extreme vigilance during 10 hours of work. I cried in the corners; a cry of anger, hatred and revolt. Soon my tears gave way to the conviction that I would not keep subjecting myself to such humiliation.

What you perceive as ingratitude and arrogance is nothing but an act of insubordination. Just like you ladies have not forgotten the lessons left by the sinhás (3) of the Casa Grande (4), we also learned how to fight and resist as black women of the slave quarters. I am sure that the women who serve you don’t need sympathy and pity ladies. They only want a living wage, fair working conditions and the right to aspire to a better life.

I hope that I have contributed in some way. In fact, more than putting an end to your doubts, I wanted to teach you to treat with dignity and respect those women who often are responsible for the education of your sons and daughters. I would like to eradicate all this racism that exists within you. A more difficult task than cleaning windows without leaving stains. As Dr. Fatima Oliveira said, “the overcoming of racism requires an ethical housecleaning.” Apparently, not everyone is willing to do it. It’s easier to push the dirt into the maid’s closet.

Source: Viomundo


1. See the article “Mães criam grupo “antiterrorismo” contra empregadas (Mothers create anti-terrorism group against maids)” in the March 27, 2011 issue of the Estadão newspaper in São Paulo (in Portuguese).

2. Registro na carteira de trabalho or log in formal employment: Will be noted the information concerning the Contract of Work, as the date of admission, type of remuneration (fixed salary or by commission), payment method, function, bank deposit FGTS term of the contract, will be for a definite term contract, experience, duration and possible renewal.

Unregistered work is against the law

Many companies hire – including minors – without any record backlog, alleging that may well pay better wages. There is no advantage to work without record, although companies say otherwise – because, with this type of contract, they no longer contribute to the INSS, FGTS etc., And only pay the employee hours worked.

3. Term used by slaves in reference to the wife of the slave owner

4. Casa Grande: During the slavery era, the house where the slave master resided. An exact translation of the term in English, Big House

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Nannies and maids: relations that perpetuate racism and sexism
Brazil has most maids of any country in the world; a legacy of slavery, oppression and social inequality, middle and upper classes want to keep it that way

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About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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