Essential, Yet Expendable: Brazilian Black Women and Domestic Work in the Age of COVID-19


  • Jaira J. Harrington



At the intersection of racial, gender, and class marginalization, Brazilian domestic workers are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. At the height of the global pandemic, their essential worker status forced this group to commute and work in the homes of their employers instead of sheltering in place. Routinely discriminated against, undervalued, and stigmatized, Black Brazilian women are overrepresented in this profession. Black women employed as domestic workers are exponentially burdened by the political, social, and economic costs of this deadly virus. To meet the demands of these unprecedented times, this article takes on the following format: (1) a survey of the scholarly literature on Brazilian domestic work, with special attention to race and gender; (2) excerpts of a testimonial interview from Creuza Maria Oliveira, president of the national domestic workers’ union (FENATRAD), on the status of this work in Brazil during COVID-19; and (3) an intersectional assessment of Black women’s vulnerability during the pandemic through the lens of domestic work. Domestic workers’ experiences during COVID-19 reflect the ongoing challenges for all Afro-Brazilians, while providing a nuanced example of how gender and class influence the necropolitics of the virus’s impact.