Joyce Piliso-Seroke was born in Crown Mines, Johannesburg, on 11 July 1933. She completed her matric at Kilnerton High School in Pretoria and holds a BA degree, a Diploma in Communication and an Education Diploma from the University of Fort Hare.
After a year, she gave up teaching to pursue social work, studying a postgraduate course in Wales. On her return to South Africa, she worked for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). She soon became National Secretary, addressing international YWCA conferences in Africa, Europe and the United States where she spoke about the ravages of apartheid.
In 1975, she was appointed to the Executive Committee of the World YWCA in Geneva, Switzerland, a position she held until South Africa erupted in protest in 1976.
She was later re-detained and kept at the Fort. After her detention, she was Vice-President of the World YWCA from 1983 to 1995. She co-ordinated programmes and projects in eight YWCA regions in the country, networking with women’s organisations and activists on campaigns such as the Women Against Oppression Campaign.
When her passport was confiscated by the Special Branch and she could no longer travel abroad to address YWCA groups and anti-apartheid movements, she co-produced two documentaries with a South African residing in London, which were shown abroad.
From 1992 to 1993, she served on the Transvaal Board of the National Co-ordinating Council for Returnees, spearheading YWCA programmes for returning exiles countrywide.
In 1996, she joined the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). She was part of the TRC hearings held countrywide to investigate gross human rights violations and to establish support structures within the communities for victims of such violations.
She was appointed Chairperson of the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) by the President on 1 March 1999 and was reappointed in October 2002 for another five years. She was a trustee of the Eskom Development Foundation.
She has made a distinguished contribution to combating gender oppression and exploitation, to peace and reconciliation, and the struggle for a non-racial, just and democratic society.