Us-Feeling How we promote empowerment

“That little bit of housekeeping takes care of itself, says my husband. That little bit of housekeeping can’t be that bad, says my husband. Why women complain so much is completely beyond me, says my husband.” (translation of a German classic — you’re welcome!)
Valeriana Johanna von Koczian.png 658 KB

These were the words of Johanna von Koczian when she — with much irony — addressed the lack of appreciation expressed towards women’s housework in her 1977 song “Das bisschen Haushalt... sagt mein Mann”. In that same year, Germany brought into force the “First Law concerning Marriage and Family Law Reform”. Behind the somewhat unwieldy title was the (warning: more irony) “visionary” idea that marriage should no longer be subject to a prescribed division of tasks and chores. Until then, a woman was only entitled to work if this did not lead to conflicts with her domestic duties as a wife and mother — in other words, not at all.

And today? 44 years later, around 75 percent of unpaid care work (which includes housework) is still done by women. Isn’t it therefore misleading, if not brazen, that Valeriana proclaims “empowerment” while sending their employees to clean? This is our attempt at an explanation.

We are aware that even today housework and general cleaning work still rests on the shoulders of women. And this is especially the case the lower the social status. If, say, Woman A can’t keep up with their housework chores, then she will (this is going to be an irony-packed article) “in the ideal case” have enough money at her disposal to pay Woman B to do the work for her.  Woman B is likely to be a member of a minority and lack recognised vocational training, making her (there’s that irony again) THE ideal cheap labour force. So, what makes our employees different from Woman B?

  • We’re not about the means, but about the end. We did not set out to start a cleaning business. Our goal was to find a way to help minority women escape the isolation of a life restricted to the home, the supermarket and few acquaintances into which they often slip. At Valeriana, we aim to break up this dynamic and enable greater participation in society.

  • We do not believe that cleaning is menial work. Our employees are taught and trained. They are aware of the importance of their duties and how much skill it requires. It is precisely not just “a little bit of housekeeping”. When done right, it is almost a science to itself.

  • We believe that care work not only deserves a wage but a fair wage. We help our employees understand that the work that they have been doing unquestioningly without compensation has material value. With a gross wage of 28 francs per hour, we value their work on average 20 to 30 percent more than as is usual in the industry. Together with the training and the courses, we reinvest a total of 80 percent of all of our income directly into our employees.

  •  We view Valeriana as a starting point. Our goal is not to keep our employees in a (often) poorly paid field of work that does not correspond to their full potential. That is why we focus on German language courses and training that will enable them to find their way around Switzerland better. And we focus on personal relationships, too, both among women and with our customers, because we believe that this can lead to new opportunities. In that way, we are happy about every woman that decides to leave us at some point because a new opportunity has presented itself for her — and because there are still so many women out there that could use our help to get started. 

We know that a lot has happened since Johanna von Koczians’s song came out and that a whole lot still needs to be done. We don’t presume to be the solution to all problems. But we do believe that given the current circumstances we are doing the best we can to contribute to making things better.

On that note, happy Women’s Day! And maybe we’ll soon hear “That little bit of housekeeping, we can do together, says my husband” on the radio!

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