“What you want is a slave and not a domestic worker!” cried Rosita Acosta, President of the Domestic Workers’ Association in Costa Rica in 2007 during parliamentary discussions of a proposed bill that aimed to limit domestic servants’ working hours to eight a day. This was her protestation in response to women MPs who rose against her, arguing that they could no longer participate in politics if their domestic servants did not work extended hours.¹
To get more women political leaders, we arguably need models of politics that accommodate care. But where to start – and how? There are no great models of care-sensitive polities, and are we assured of a virtuous circle: more women in politics = more care-sensitivity = more women in politics? I suspect not. When it comes to getting a more care-sensitive politics, part of the problem is a profound deafness to the concerns of unpaid care work.
Mariz Tadros argues that the lack of attention to care needs creates very real barriers to the participation of women in formal politics. Using research from various countries, she shows how women who get involved in community and local politics either do not run for a second term or do not move from informal participation to formal full-time elected positions. Those who do enter formal politics and stay there tend to be women with no unpaid care responsibilities or those who have the resources to delegate care to paid workers or to extended family. The result is a tendency for class bias among the women who are in formal representative politics.
The case of the Costa Rican domestic workers perfectly illustrates the need to shift the debate beyond numbers to consider how inclusive and representative our political systems truly are – at all levels.