Photo © Meri Hyöky / Text by Leila Hall
‘Mareitumetse Mokhoro spends many lunch hours standing outside the gates of textile factories in Maseru. The short lunch break that factory workers get is her only chance to meet with them. As a regional organiser for the Lesotho Clothing Allied Workers’ Union (LECAWU), her work is to represent the interests of factory workers: to ensure that they are paid and treated fairly, and to offer legal assistance in cases where they have been mistreated.
“Factory workers in Lesotho are oppressed and underpaid,” she explains. “They receive the minimum wage, but it isn’t enough for them to survive on. They are often insulted or treated badly. Most of the cases that we deal with are unfair dismissals or underpayments.”
Mokhoro is no stranger to the hardships that factory workers face. She spent eight years working in a textile factory in Maseru, before becoming a full-time employee of LECAWU in 2008.
“As a factory worker, I was treated badly by my employers because I spoke out about the problems that workers face. So I decided to fight outside of the company, so that management has no control over me. Now I have a voice. I can openly say: workers are mistreated.”
In particular, Mokhoro seeks to represent the rights of factory workers who are women. Since 2014, she has acted as the Coordinator of a special Women’s Committee that brings together representatives from different trade unions working in the textile sector in Lesotho.
“Life is especially hard for women in the factories. In some factories, only men get promotions. There is also a difference in salaries. Some men earn more than women, even when they are doing the same job.”
Outside of her professional life, Mokhoro has herself encountered many challenges and difficulties. Her husband passed away in 2007, but at the time of his death the couple were already separated. She has now built her own house and is raising four children: two of her own and two who are adopted.
“I want to help other woman because I’ve realised that I myself as a woman have to be protected. Men always think that they are the heads of households, but despite this they don’t look after us, they don’t care for us.”
“Women in Lesotho are very strong. Most factory workers do not have husbands, and they earn very little money. But still, they are able to build houses and send their children to school. Even if they are poor, they don’t give up.”
“I want women to be independent. I want women to face challenges and to overcome those challenges. I want them to be strong so that they can rule this country. I want to say to women in Lesotho: rise up, struggle, and fight for your rights!”