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The ongoing coronavirus pandemic underlines the urgent need for safety nets for domestic workers.

Few workers have cause to celebrate May 1, International Workers' Day, this year. COVID-19 has been accompanied by another pandemic - of job loss and economic insecurity. Domestic workers, primarily women, have particularly precarious jobs and often do…
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Rofhiwa Mlilo is a 40-year-old single mother who sells sex for a living in a small town in South Africa. Unlike the alternative of picking fruit on local farms, sex work provides her with enough money to support her two children. Mlilo,…
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Why Sex Work Should be Decriminalized

How did you find sex workers willing to talk about their work despite it being illegal in South Africa? It’s very difficult to gain sex workers’ trust without connections to people already actively supporting sex workers. For one, because their…
Sex workers wearing masks lead a march to mark International Sex Workers Rights Day in Johannesburg March 3, 2011
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The South African Human Rights Commission has released a scathing report on the damage mining in the country is posing to human rights. The conclusion paints a dark picture: "[T]he mining sector is riddled with challenges related to land,…
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Kwamboka W. was still in primary school when she had sex with her first boyfriend. She had no information about contraception and didn’t use any protection. Three months later, she was shocked to learn that she was pregnant. She was even more shocked when…
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Victoria J. married in 2009 at age 14, and became pregnant shortly after. “I started labour in the morning on a Friday …. The nurse kept checking and saying I would deliver safely. On Monday she said I was weak. “The doctor decided to operate on me. (…
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It’s an occupational hazard when you work on women’s rights, to routinely face women who have been subjected to unspeakable violence, horrible beyond anything you could imagine.  As a young lawyer in South Africa in the 1990s, one of first my clients was…
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Mothers giving birth are dying while the debate about standards in the public sector continues.

Busisiwe was in labour for 36 hours but was turned away twice from a community health centre. When she was finally admitted, she gave birth to a boy and was discharged six hours later. Two days later she returned, feeling weak. Again she was turned away…
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Like many white South Africans of the time, I grew up in a home with a domestic worker who washed the dishes, made our beds, ironed our clothes and cleaned up after us. Emily, whose surname I never knew, lived in the small servant’s quarters behind our…
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Three years ago, the African Union began a continent-wide campaign to reduce the number of women who die when pregnant or giving birth. Called the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa, its slogan is "Africa cares: no woman…
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Liesl Gerntholtz says even though there are huge violations against some domestic workers, there has been progress. (SABC interview) Liesl Gerntholtz, the Director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, says one of the major problems…
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I met Nonkulelo* while interviewing women in the Eastern Cape about their experience of pregnancy and the public health system. She told me about her daughter, Fezeka*. A week after 20-year-old Fezeka had delivered a baby girl at a local health facility…
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South Africa's tourism website describes the country as the "land of good times and friendly people". Sadly, Araya Y, a pregnant Somali refugee living in Port Elizabeth, did not experience this side of the country. Instead, when she went to a government…
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Nomsa, a 20-year-old woman from Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, showed me a scar on her thigh. She said it came from a wound inflicted by a nurse at a community health centre in 2010. The nurse, Nomsa said, used a pair of scissors "to make me open my legs…
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United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a simple but profound message in her United­ Nations speech in Geneva last week. Her message: human rights are indivisible and governments cannot selectively withhold rights. “Because we are human…
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Dr. Eddie Mhlanga, South Africa’s chief director of maternal and women’s health, has movingly written about how he, as a conservative Christian, changed his mind on whether abortion should be a crime. When he was a young doctor, a colleague died in his…
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This week, different groups around the world are observing World AIDS Day and the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, on December 1 and 3 respectively. Rarely have the two been observed together. At least until this year. Events hosted at UN…
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There must be a better ambassador for SA

South Africa is rightfully proud of its Constitution. It is hailed as one of the most rights-respecting in the world. It was also the first in the world, and still one of very few, to explicitly prohibit unfair discrimination on the basis of sexual…
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Jacob Zuma was inaugurated as the new president of South Africa on 9 May, with his party, the African National Congress, having achieved a resounding victory in the recent elections. In what has been described as the most competitive election yet to take…
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