Work in progress is the title of an initiative designed and created within the organisation The Voice of Domestic Workers (previously Justice for Domestic Workers). The project aims to put the power of campaigning more readily in the hands of all of those involved in the group. We help members identify with the organisation’s cause by allowing their own experiences and opinions to shape campaign messages. Our aim is to innovate through awareness of simultaneous personal and organisational development.
At the centre of the initiative is an emphasis on hashtag culture that helps build a living archive of VODW activities for others to connect with and witness the group's work. By encouraging participants to share what we do, we contribute to the collective voice of the VODW organisation and help group members and their peers to have a louder voice to speak out.
Domestic workers exist worldwide as a workforce employed to perform household duties in other peoples homes. According to the International Labour Organisation there are at least 67 million domestic workers throughout the world and 83% of them are women.
In spite of the vast population of this workforce, it is a sector that is often both overlooked and discriminated against by society and the law. Exploitation within the industry is commonplace and is often considered to be part of what is known as Modern Slavery. As a result of the lack of recognition that the industry receives, the name “invisible workforce” is often used to describe the working community. In many cases, domestic workers are migrants commonly forced to migrate in search of better economic opportunities. This context can often give rise to issues of isolation and extreme vulnerability.
There are hundreds of domestic workers around the world organising and campaigning to be recognized like any other type of worker, fighting for the entitlement to workers rights and benefits. As a result of pressure, some legislation reforms have been instigated in several countries, allowing more benefits for domestic workers. Independent organisations are present on a global scale and many actively seek to work together to increase their effectivity. The Voice of Domestic Workers is one such organisation. A support and campaign group for Migrant Domestic Workers in London.
I have been aware of the existence of Domestic Workers my whole life and more recently by learning about the many organisations around the world creating interesting collaborations with artists, filmmakers and other creatives in support of their cause, I saw the opportunity to contribute and collaborate as a designer.
I met VODW and started attending the group’s Sunday meetings. Sundays is usually the only day most of the members have as a day off from their busy working week.
Getting to know each other helped us to build trust and gave me a more personal insight into the lives of some of the group members. I interviewed some of the ladies, learned more about their stories and experiences. I went to their events and outings and also started to participate and having a more active role in their usual group activities and workshops. My aim was to have a better understanding of the way VODW functions and the way they create impact.
I first started collaborating as a graphic designer for some of their events promotionals but what really gave me opportunity to know the ladies better was by attending their Mind and Wellness workshop, where by singing, dancing and exercise the group members have fun and de-stress from their working week. I began a very good working relationship with their tutor with whom I often discussed ideas both his own and mine.
The group is very energetic and a lot of fun, every Sunday my Facebook feed would be full of pictures they took of themselves having a great time. I started to map what I learned about the structure of the organization and shared this with the group leaders who were interested to see their work layed out that way.
I also felt at this point it was important to focus my project. I had learned a lot about the plight of the domestic working community at large and also heard about challenges faced by the organisation. I had even begun to hear the individual stories of group members themselves. I decided to scale down the scope of a complex array of issues and centre the project around the organisation.
I had noticed the strengths of the group and the difficulties that they face when organizing together. One thing caught my attention in particular, there seems to be two forms of positive energy within the organization. One comes from the drive for activism and campaigning, and another that is more associated with socializing and support, more to do with having a good time and the buzz of being part of a community.
It became apparent that there is an imbalance between these two aspects of group activity. Many members connect with the social and support work of the group and less are drawn to being involved in activism and campaigning. This happens for many reasons, some members have more free time than others, some aren’t allowed official roles within the organization due to migration status and others are simply not interested in becoming activists.
I saw the opportunity to look for a way to work with this positive Social Energy in order to strengthen the links between the activism and campaign drive and the social side of the community.
Some important things to consider were: - Rather than repeating campaign slogans, the content needed to come from the group members themselves. - Seeing if their interest in Social Media could be used as another campaign strategy. - Very important to do this while making use of the group’s social positivity within our activities.
I teamed up with their tutor from Body Mind & Wellness Workshop. We decided on a plan to develop an experimental workshop program and we looked into ways of merging the kind of activities that group members love and were already familiar with, together with a general topic of the VALUE OF WORK. Throughout the world domestic workers are campaigning to change the perception of domestic work as a low skilled, second class job. We wanted to know more about what work means to the J4DW members specifically.
We brainstormed exercise ideas and pre planned the workshop structure, always keeping in mind that we wanted to let the group's own input guide the exploration of the subject and that we wanted the experience to be shared on social media by the participants. Over the course of the workshop program we explored the theme of the value of work through a range of mediums, acting, role-play, improvisation, games, drawing, photography and social media.
During the first workshop we used ‘role playing games’ to explore the concept of THE VALUE OF GOOD WORK. Each group was given a situation where different professionals had to resolve a challenge i.e. a teacher dealing with a struggling student, a doctor dealing with a nervous patient. We discussed what skills were necessary in order to overcome the challenge. Key words such as TRUST, PATIENCE, COMMUNICATION, TEAMWORK and RESPECT came up and we discussed in which way they are related to domestic work. The group brainstormed the idea of developing these themes into a campaign message. The idea of a hashtag #worthofwork was the conclusion.
This first workshop served as a basis and gave us a theme to elaborate on throughout those that followed, also they helped us decide how long the activities should last in order to maintain interest and which activities were most likely to have more participation, especially when language barriers where an issue.
During the following weeks we explored numerous concepts. A prominent one was the boundary between workers and family. Many of them are nannies and sometimes there are blurred lines between work and family life . We created scenarios of daily situations that could represent their own experiences and thoughts.
Another topic explored was necessary working conditions, by choosing real job adverts and discussing the important positives and negatives of each. Additionally an effective exercises was when members created adverts for their ideal employer in the same way as someone would look for an employee. It was an effective conversation catalyst and gave us an important impression of how respect is considered such a crucial aspect of what domestic workers value. It was often mentioned that they are willing to earn less as long as treated with respect and as part of the family.
During every workshop we tried to deliberately encourage photo taking and the idea of sharing our activities on social media with the hashtag we had devised together in the first exercise. Hoping to form a way for everyone to communicate the campaign message devised by the group to a wider audience.
After the workshop program we saw small signs of people beginning to use social media in a way that related more to campaigning during group activities. But it definitely needed more active encouragement. The organisation also independently arranged as part of their IT workshop, some classes specifically about posting and sharing hashtags on social media platforms. This was completely unconnected to me.
Alongside these exercises we also combined activities using play, songs and games and focusing on the value of communication and trust in team building. It was very interesting to see members taking lead roles and displaying skills that have not been visible before.
After running the workshop program I shaped what we had learned into a design proposal: The concept of a new initiative designed and created within VODW was developed. The title for this is 'WORK IN PROGRESS – moving toward a new outlook for domestic work'.
In the same way as the campaign development we prototyped, the initiative focuses on understanding the value of good work as its main objective. It seeks to encourage group members and peers to have a voice and speak out, putting the emphasis of campaigning more directly in the hands of everyone involved within the organisation. It aims to help members identify with the organisation's cause by voicing their own experiences and opinions to shape campaign messages. More than a campaign strategy, Work In Progress aims to become a core part of all the work within the group. Collaborating with existing classes and activities to help develop a campaign ready attitude among all members. It will also actively seek out opportunities to create new collaborations with others to explore its principles.
Having the opportunity to work in collaboration with a community with such a positive and energetic attitude even in the face of serious challenges and in a country far away from their own was truly an inspiration. ¨Work in Progress¨ refers to the idea of working or progressing towards reshaping the perception of domestic work and the fight for better working conditions. However it also reflects that this is not a finished product, but an ongoing one that can still be developed from numerous angles. My hope would be that the project could continue to live on and be reiterated by group members themselves and have some lasting value as part of the ethos of the organisation.
To learn more about The Voice of Domestic Workers (formerly Justice for Domestic Workers) visit them at: www.thevoiceofdomesticworkers.com
To learn more about the project in detail feel free to read the full report and process presentation via the link below, if you would prefer drop me an email to email@example.com for a download link.