Brasilien: Lenira Maria de Carvalho

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written over half a century ago and we still see a lot of inhumanity. Most of us are not aware of the right to preserve our dignity.

— Lenira Maria de Carvalho

Lenira Maria de Carvalho (1932), in her childhood, had to take care of children instead of playing with dolls. Just like her mother, she faced a working day of 12 hours in exchange for food and a place to sleep. She did not put with that situation. Along with other young women, she took on the task of increasing awareness in the districts of Recife. In 1988, she founded a Union that provides judicial support to 50 maids per day.

For over 50 years, Lenira Maria de Carvalho has pursued ideals to conquer rights for domestic workers. Lenira was born in a sugar-cane plantation farm inside Alagoas. Her mother worked in the big house, the farm owner's house. Without a father and with no house to call her own, she shared a bed with her mother and sister and she ate left-over food. “My mother worked her whole life and never saw any money.” Lenira moved to Recife, when she was 14, to work as a maid for her mother's boss' son. She managed to enroll in a night school run by nuns, where she concluded elementary school. Her awakening to militancy occurred when she was 24 years old and attended meetings at the Juventude Católica Operária (JCO)–a group of young catholic manual workers. As a missionary in the JCO, Lenira helped organize state and regional meetings. In 1964, with the military coup, came the repression. She was taken into prison. After, she continued mobilizing maids. In the 1970s, she founded the category's association. She traveled to other states and met many leaders to make sure that their rights would be recognized in the 1988 Brazilian Constitution. “We got the right to vacation, to receive prior warning before getting fired, to be paid a 13th salary at the end of each year and to continue getting paid during maternity leave. Lenira and her partners inaugurated the Domestic Worker's Union in Recife, which sees about 7000 people a year. She was elected president of the Union. She also wrote a textbook called ‘The Social Value of Domestic Work.’ Now, 72 years old, she is tireless. Currently, she fights to be able to give domestic workers the right to their own house and to a fair retirement.

Sindicato dos Empregados Domésticos da Região Metropolitanado Recife