On her selection as an icon Steirn comments, “Govender is an icon as she embodies an individual who makes it their personal crusade to stand by what is morally just and in the best interests of society. Govender is a brave woman who has triumphed in a political and social climate that once undermined South African Indian women and she continually fights against racism, the ills of capitalism, prejudice and gender inequality.”
In an intimate conversation with Steirn, Govender talks about how she was very aware of injustice, poverty and inequality from an early age. “I wanted to end poverty by the time I was 40 years old and I want to reach nirvana by the time I turn 60.” She believes there are many women, like herself, and young girls who innately understand that inequality is wrong and unjust, and that the perpetuation of gender stereotypes restricts our freedom to be fully human.
At the inception of South Africa’s democracy in 1994, she served as an African National Congress Member in the National Assembly where she convened the gender and economic group of the finance committee and chaired Parliament’s committee on women and is widely respected for her role in advancing gender responsive budgets.
In Parliament’s 1994 debates she initiated the South Africa’s Women’s Budget and led the Women’s National Coalition, which mobilised two million women to influence the drafting of the Constitution. As Chair of Parliament’s Committee on Women, she ensured that most of its priorities aimed at advancing women’s rights and gender equality were enacted.
Govender resigned in 2002 and on leaving the ANC, Govender reflects that there was too much silence on the grave issues of HIV and AIDS and the party was losing the heart of what the ANC embodied. She was the only member of Parliament to register her opposition to the arms deal in the Budget vote, and after asserting that her party had to address the horrific impact of HIV/Aids on women and girls, she comments, “You need to recognise when you can no longer make a difference in the space you’re in and to find another space where you can do that, to continue to contribute.”
Govender believes that South Africa has a bright future ahead. “I think that there are many organisations and people in our country who are connecting all the dots.” She concludes, “Being South African to me means understanding our shared humanity as a part of the whole world.”
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