International Women's Day Means More Than Looking Beyond -- It Means Looking Below

03/06/2015 11:50 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2015

It's Women's History Month, and Sunday we will celebrate International Women's Day. It's the time of year where we remember women and all our accomplishments, our struggles, our fierceness and our gains. The time of year where women in corporate settings are honored and organizations hold events galore to award the women warriors on their boards, in the media, in their work and maybe in their movements.

This month we celebrate the collective contributions and the economic, political and social achievements that women (and those who identify as women) have gained. The commemoration of the rights first recognized over 60 years ago in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. These rights are now enshrined in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Violence Against Women Act and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

This view from above encourages women to lean in, not back or downwards. Yet that view remains obstructed for many women who are working longer hours for less pay and often in more hostile conditions.

The view from above ignores the realities of working women down below, particularly women of color, immigrant women, poor women, and any combination of the above. The very present and painful realities of millions of immigrant women and women of color who are employed in precarious, temporary and unsafe labor every day and subject to abusive practices and treatment by their employers is a reminder to reclaim the other name of March 8, which is International Working Women's Day.

According to the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, women make up just under half of the national workforce, but account for nearly 60 percent of those making minimum wage and 73 percent of tipped workers. Among low-wage workers, immigrant women are even more vulnerable to having their labor exploited or trafficked, the result of their often vulnerable economic and immigration status.

The workplace issues that women continue to struggle against -- among them wage inequity, unpaid wages, workplace harassment, unemployment, gender-based violence -- are magnified for immigrant communities. Workplace discrimination issues disproportionately affect immigrant workers for a number of reasons, including language barriers, poverty and fear of retaliation, which often prevent low-wage workers from seeking legal assistance or contacting governmental labor and law enforcement authorities.

Latina immigrants are overrepresented in the lowest paying job sectors -- such as food service, laundromats, agricultural workers, cleaning services or as domestic workers -- with jobs that fail to offer structured paths to improve their social mobility. These types of low-wage jobs typically provide little to no employment protections, flexibility for time off or predictable schedules. On top of that, federal workplace protection laws haven't always included professions that have historically been dominated by women of color and immigrant women, such as domestic work or home care workers.

Because of both the precariousness nature of some types of low-wage work and the isolation and desperation, a climate ripe for harassment and discrimination is created where immigrant women's vulnerability and fears of deportations, separation from their children and families, shame and fear of economic loss are exploited and abused. In New York, one in every three domestic workers has reported feeling harassed and abused at work by their employer, and they attribute such abuse to either race or immigration status.

Workplace justice for low-wage immigrant women workers is a fundamental principle of International Working Women's Day. Eliminating occupational segregation and all forms of employment discrimination while guaranteeing safe and appropriate working conditions is a founding principle of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. The conference, also known as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and is being highlighted by the United Nations as a platform to revisit this upcoming March 8.

While the world is watching and celebrating the incremental progress of the promise of equality, let's direct that attention to the on-going systemic and rampant abuses that low-wage immigrant women and women of color continue to experience at the hands of employers. Let's remember what International Working Women's Day is about, and lift up the voices of those too often voiceless. Porque no hay justicia sin Latinas.