Our inaugural guest on the new podcast series, Driving Change: Made In Africa, is Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, or Dr. T, as she is more commonly known. Dr. T is a woman of many talents. She is a medical doctor who is now serving as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health. She is the first woman, the first African, and one of the youngest people to ever serve in this capacity. She is also the best-selling author of the book, Dr. T: A Guide to Sexual Health and Pleasure.
Dr. T is someone who seems at home in every space she enters, whether she is with sex workers in a tiny clinic or with heads of state at the UN General Assembly.
She began her career as a medical doctor in the rural Eastern Cape of South Africa where she specialized in sexual and reproductive health, HIV care, and youth-friendly services. She was inspired to become an activist by her experiences growing up in apartheid South Africa, as well as by the experiences of her young patients.
Today, she is bridging her clinical experience with the policy world. “My role is to assist [the United Nations] with my knowledge of being a clinician and assist them in understanding how it is on the ground. One of my biggest frustrations, especially in global health, is the absence of the nurses and the doctors from the policy tables from the global institutions.”
Dr. T is dedicated to treating everyone she meets as a whole person who deserves to live with dignity. The work is personal to her. She says that she sees herself as the first beneficiary of her activism; she isn’t just working in the abstract.
To this end, she is unafraid to walk away from spaces that are not serving her needs or do not fit her values. After resigning from one prominent post, “it was all support,” she recalls. “There’s also that trust that I am always clear on what I’m fighting for. And so the fight is not lost, because I’ll be useful in another space. I’m happy to not know where I get the audacity to just, you know, up and change my life.”
Dr. T also offers hard-won career advice. “I’d say find one thing that moves you and be good at that thing,” she says. “And, and have clarity in terms of why. And if your answer is to save someone else, you’re probably doing something wrong. No one needs saving. We just all need to be active in removing the systems that already exist, that oppress people. People have an inherent desire to survive and to thrive.”
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