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Leader of the International Domestic Workers Federation Is Coming to Old Dominion University on Nov. 19

By Diana Muia

South African labor rights activist Myrtle Witbooi will be at Old Dominion University on Nov. 19 to speak to students about labor rights of domestic workers across the globe and the ratification of the United Nations law to protect domestic workers.

Witbooi is the President of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF). The IDWF is the only female-run global union that works to protect domestic workers across the globe. Witbooi has been working as a labor activist for 50 years to help ensure rights for domestic workers.

Jennifer Fish, chair of the Women's Studies Department at ODU, went to Switzerland alongside Witbooi to document the 2011 International Labor Organization (ILO) convention at the United Nations in Geneva. Witbooi had helped lead the international alliance of domestic workers as they took direct part in making this first international policy protection for migrant workers.The ILO is a United Nations agency that works to advance social justice for workers by setting international labor standards.

Based on her research with the convention in Switzerland, Fish created a documentary film, "C189: Conventional Wisdom," which follows domestic worker leaders from 50 organizations in their fight for human rights protections. Of the experience, Fish said, "It was life changing, it was so inspirational to see the commitment of these women fighting for their rights. Their activism, for them, became a life calling."

Convention 189 is the first ILO convention in which workers enjoyed representation. At the convention, IDWF secured clearly defined work contracts, fair living wages, social security and maternity benefit protections for migrant workers. The UN passed the law protecting domestic workers but it can only be enforced if a country ratifies the law. To date, 26 countries have ratified the United Nations law protecting domestic labor workers.

Witbooi is coming to Old Dominion in hopes of spreading awareness of labor rights for domestic workers across the globe. She will be speaking at the National Women's Studies Association in San Francisco and Georgetown University to share the work of women activists worldwide and get more countries in the UN to ratify the law.

"She is the first person I ever interviewed when I did my Ph.D. research in South Africa. She is an amazing human rights figure and we are so excited to have her here at ODU," Fish said.

To get more insight on Witbooi and the labor rights movement, watch her speak at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 19 in the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies or check out the documentary "C189: Conventional Wisdom" online.

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