“Confront your inherent biases on a daily basis”

Posted on June 24, 2020

We profile human rights activist and senior attorney Anjuli Maistry (33), who urges youth to be part of social change through self-reflection and by taking small but significant actions.

Older generations should spend more time listening to young people rather than speaking over them or ridiculing them as being “too soft”.

This is according to Anjuli Maistry (33), a human rights activist and senior attorney at the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria. She obtained her BA LLB degree from the University of Cape Town and a master’s in Law (with specialisation in child rights) from UP.

She says it is critical to ensure that youth are “heard and believed when they speak about issues that affect them. This is especially the case when it comes to issues of mental health, which older generations continue to stigmatise”.

Through her career, Maistry has been defending the rights of the vulnerable – refugees, children and women – and was among the Mail & Guardian’s 2018 list of 200 Young South Africans. At the Centre for Child Law, her work entails litigating to challenge laws that have the effect of denying children their basic rights and that do not promote the best interests of children. These have included cases where children were denied the right to attend school because they are undocumented or because they have disabilities.

Maistry says law is a particularly useful tool for social change. “That is why I chose to study it and practise it. It is incredibly fulfilling, particularly when you can look back over your work and see a tangible difference.” 

She previously worked for Lawyers for Human Rights and the Legal Resources Centre, where she completed her articles under the wing of lawyers with constitutional rights litigation expertise. This is also where she spent time focusing on refugee rights and environmental rights.

“Change starts within the person who wishes to make a change,” is her message to South African youth. “Some of the key issues that South Africa is plagued with include continued racism on a systemic level, gender inequality and gender-based violence, to name only a few.”

She urges youth to confront their inherent biases on a daily basis. “Support the things you care about on a small level. If you care about ending racism, commit to supporting black-owned businesses. Read books by black people, and watch films made by and starring black people.”

As for gender-based violence, she urges young people to keep their friends in check when they make jokes that make light of violence against women. “Unlearn any biases on that front. Unlearn harmful language such as ‘boys will be boys’. In order for South Africa to truly be rid of these scourges, they must be gone from the places where they live – within us.”

To students, she has this to say: “A strong academic record is incredibly important for your future. Not only does it assist in ensuring job security in an incredibly saturated market, but it also increases your chances of getting into programmes to further your studies at a later stage in life when you thought your grades were no longer important.”

She recognises that this can be difficult for some students who do not have access to the same resources such as textbooks, which are expensive. Also, students with mental health issues might not have access to continued counselling and medical assistance. “In addition to trying to obtain good grades, make sure you are aware of every resource that your university has to offer you to make sure you can get ahead.”

- Author Primarashni Gower

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