We are excited to formally announce the Sonke Feminist Leadership Fellowship. Pregs Govender joins Sonke as a senior fellow from February 2021 for a 2-year period.
The aim of the fellowship is to establish an Institute for Transformative Feminist Leadership (ITFL). The Institute will create a space for feminists to focus on transformative leadership and have the space and time to write and share their stories. The Institute will utilise popular education methodologies, especially storytelling, and will utilise blogs, podcasts, and visual stories. The first year of the fellowship will focus on the development of the course outline and materials and the second year will pilot the ITFL.
Pregs Govender is a feminist activist, writer, educator and the author of Love and Courage: A Story of Insubordination. Pregs qualified as a teacher in 1981. She initially taught at schools and at the University of Durban-Westville (now UKZN), where she also worked at the Institute of Socio-Economic Research, before joining the union movement. She was elected National Educator of SA’s majority-women clothing union in 1987. The curriculum, materials, and workshops she developed contributed to women being elected into leadership and helped secure a mandate from 100 000 racially divided workers to join the non-racial federation, COSATU (by merging to form SACTWU).
Pregs researched and wrote a feasibility study into a Workers College and was asked to lead its establishment at The University of the Western Cape. The Workers College program strengthened worker leadership and many of its graduates moved onto leadership positions in the union movement. In recognition of this initiative, Pregs received the Ashoka Fellowship.
Between 1992 and 1994, Pregs conceptualised and managed the Women’s National Coalition (WNC) campaign for SA’s 1994 Women’s Charter for Effective Equality, that mobilised an estimated two million women whose demands influenced democratic SA’s Constitution and legislation.
As an MP, Pregs proposed SA’s ‘Women’s Budget’ in Parliament’s 1994 budget debates. She initiated a research partnership with NGOs that produced the Women’s Budget Books. In 1994, Pregs co-edited SA’s Country Report on the status of women to the Beijing Conference. As a member of Parliament’s Finance Committee and as Chair of Parliament’s Women’s Committee (JMCIQLSW), she helped ensure the 1998/99 National Budget committed to the Women’s Budget. Selected as the ANC’s ‘woman speaker’ in Parliament’s launch of SA’s neo-liberal economic policy, GEAR, Pregs refused, arguing that it would impact negatively on people who were poor, especially women.
The JMCIQLSW ensured that 80% of its feminist legislative priorities were enacted by 1999. These included the Domestic Violence Act, the Maintenance Act, the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act and changes to labour legislation that advanced women’s rights in the workplace. In 1996, her pro-abortion speech, that argued for ensuring reproductive choice in the context of political, economic and social rights, received a standing ovation in the House. In 1999 she chaired hearings into implementation of legislation, highlighting obstacles including judgements that ruled that those who rape family members posed less of a threat to society.
In 2001 she was the only MP, across party-lines, to oppose the Government’s arms deal in the Defence Budget Vote, arguing that SA’s priority was creating an equal, just and peaceful society. In 2001, Pregs chaired public hearings on HIV/Aids when Cabinet’s denial of treatment resulted in numerous deaths. Her report to the ANC Caucus broke its silence on treatment. Her HIV/Aids report highlighted gender inequality as a key driver. It critiqued pharmaceutical companies for using patents to value corporate profits above people’s lives. She resigned from Parliament in 2002 after tabling the JMCIQLSW’s final gender-based violence (GBV) report.
Between 2007 and 2009 Pregs chaired the Independent Panel Assessment of Parliament, many of whose recommendations were implemented, including strengthening Parliament’s oversight power.
As South African Human Rights Commissioner and Deputy Chair (2009-2015), Pregs promoted meaningful public participation and implementation of the Promotion of Access to Information Act. She argued for the implementation of the SAHRC’s socio-economic reports and secured a country-wide status report and action plan from the Presidency on water and sanitation. Her commitment to ensuring women’s rights were respected as human rights resulted in the SAHRC training it’s senior managers in gender mainstreaming.
As a freelance writer and educator, Pregs conceptualised and conducted education programs including Parliament’s first Africa-wide conference on gender and economic policy. She trained parliamentarians through workshops of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Association of European Parliaments for Africa (AWEPA). Pregs advised feminists in local and international organisations and helped conceptualise and facilitate curriculum workshops for feminist leadership networks such as the International Feminist University Network.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pregs co-facilitated informal bilateral dialogues between progressive economists and sectors such as Labour, to advance the proposals addressed in a letter to the President initiated by the Institute for Economic Justice and signed by progressive economists, including the late Vishnu Padayachee. She has chaired feminist hearings on GBV and served on social justice initiatives such as the global panel on Human Dignity chaired by Mary Robinson. Pregs currently serves as a Patron of Gun-Free SA. As an independent writer Pregs has authored popular articles and book chapters in local and international publications. She has written and delivered keynote addresses to organisations including the Rural Women’s Movement and the United Nations. Awards recognising her writing and popular education for transforming paradigms and strengthening solidarity movements include an Honorary Doctorate in Law and another in Philosophy, the Inaugural Ruth First Fellowship, the AWID Inspiration Award and the Thousand Currents Fellowship.
“I’m deeply honoured to receive the Sonke Feminist Leadership Fellowship. Sonke has done path-breaking work on gender justice across SA and the rest of the African continent and is often cited as international best practice. I look forward to developing the project for which I’ve been awarded the Fellowship with Sonke’s thoughtful, skilled and experienced team and in solidarity with other partners. I plan to use the Fellowship to create space for feminists to reflect on and write their stories. When feminists share their stories, they make visible what is often hidden away and voice questions that have often been ignored or silenced. Through the process they can contribute to deepening consciousness, envision alternative solutions and create stronger movements. They can help subvert the old racist, sexist, and capitalist narratives that underpin a violent global world order of political, economic, and social inequality and injustice. Such stories help us see new possibilities for our present. They help us imagine and realize the peaceful, just and equal world we wish to create for ourselves and for our world,” said Pregs on her fellowship with Sonke.
Sonke is extremely excited by this collaboration and look forward to working with Pregs over the next 2 years. During this process Pregs will be working in collaboration with several civil society organisations. We are certain that this work will contribute to developing women’s leadership in South Africa and regionally.
Heather van Niekerk