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Myrtle Witbooi, a pioneering leader of the domestic worker movement, died on January 16 in Cape Town at age 75. Under South Africa’s apartheid rule, she began to organise women in the garage of her employer and went on to become president of the first global union led by women. For 52 years she advocated for the rights of domestic workers, upholding her presidency in both South Africa’s national union of domestic workers and the International Domestic Workers Federation, throughout her struggle with a rare form of bone cancer. Ms. Witbooi’s experience as a domestic worker under apartheid guided her life on the front lines of both a national and global movement to recognise and protect women once considered ‘servants’ without rights. She fought for domestic workers’ first legal protections in South Africa’s democracy, which set basic conditions of employment and allowed over 100,000 women to receive maternity and unemployment insurance over the past twenty years.
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