Media Statement: Workers Day

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01 MAY 2019

Since its inception, a key objective of the Women’s Legal Centre has been advocating for the rights and protection of vulnerable women in the workplace. There is much to be said about the current struggles of women and work in South Africa, where we find that unequal gender and power relations lead to the marginalization and vulnerability of women, and socio-economic drivers continue to leave black women in the most vulnerable position in society. We still find gender disparities in terms of employment where women only occupy 1 in 3 managerial positions and even fewer senior positions. Furthermore, the women who do occupy managerial and senior positions are still largely white.

Black women make up a large part of the poor and working class, locked into cycles of poverty. They are bound to casual labour where they are paid the least but work the longest hours. For women, casualization of labour impacts on their rights to organize, on their family life, as well as their vulnerability to sexual violence in the workplace. We recognize the impact of intersectionality on women’s work experiences, and acknowledge the struggles faced by all vulnerable workers including farm workers, migrants and domestic workers, lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, and women from both rural and urban areas. This includes unfair discrimination; emotional, verbal and physical abuse; manipulation by employers; sexual harassment and more.  On this workers day, we acknowledge that while our Constitution addresses worker’s rights, the realization of these rights on the ground are often not sufficiently met and implemented. There is still much to be done in terms of achieving substantive equality with regards to women’s rights in the workplace.

On this note, we call for rights to be applied equally to all workers and for women to be protected in their workplaces. We call for the decriminalization of sex work, in order for sex work to be recognized legally as work. We acknowledge the struggles of sex workers, who are majority women, including the abuse faced by both clients and police, and the restrictions they face in accessing their given rights, and accessing justice because of the criminalization of their work choices.

In the workplace, women are still left at a disadvantage, unprotected and vulnerable. The high levels of sexual harassment that occurs in the workplace is symptomatic of toxic patriarchal cultures which must be addressed. It is unacceptable that women do not feel safe and protected in their workplaces. On this workers day, we recognize the victims of sexual harassment and abuse which stems from such cultures in the workplace – those sitting in both silence as well as those who have chosen to speak out.

We recognize that women have unique struggles in the workplace. We recognize the important role that African feminist litigation plays in advancing the rights of women in the workplace, and working towards eradicating those struggles. We pledge to continue using this to fight for women to have equal rights in the workplace. We call on government, the private sector and all employers to take a feminist approach in their laws, policies and processes to ensure that women are sufficiently protected in the workplace.

For further enquiries, contact Aisha Hamdulay at or