Hill Climbers: Staffer Works for Social Justice

Posted October 14, 2011 at 4:25pm

Inspired by her parents, Fayzan Gowani has always been interested in pursuing social justice issues.

“Politics and religion were always on the table to talk about,” said the new assistant to the chief of staff for Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.).

Gowani’s father, who immigrated from Pakistan and works in the finance industry, spends his free time working in the family’s Los Angeles community.

“He does a lot of social work in our community … trying to create positive relations with the Muslim community and the non-Muslim community,” she said.

Gowani’s mother, who had immigrated from Tanzania, is a psychologist, a career path Gowani considered exploring.

“I was really inspired by her,” she said.

In high school, Gowani pictured herself becoming a social psychologist and wanted to focus on issues pertaining to women and youth. She helped organize a biannual retreat where students and faculty members could come together.

As a woman of color who identifies with the gay community, Gowani said she could be considered a triple-minority.

“I looked for spaces to talk about that,” she said.

Gowani went on to the University of California at Berkeley, where she studied cognitive science and global poverty. While there, Gowani watched as friends struggled in a failing economy.

It was then she fully realized her commitment to change things for the better.

“OK, it’s time to stand up for something,” she said she decided.

During college, Gowani helped teach a student-run women’s empowerment class on Berkeley’s campus, where she encouraged other female members of the campus community to discuss women’s issues in a safe space.

Since moving to Washington, she has, with another Berkeley alum, continued teaching women’s empowerment.

Gowani also spent a summer teaching math and English in rural Tanzania. She said her time there and her interactions with the people she taught helped inspire her to seek work on the Hill.

She remembered observing how policies formulated in the United States were affecting the people of rural Tanzania and “seeing how much more they know about the news than maybe a regular voter here.”

“After a lot of grass-roots work, I realized I needed to learn how things work on the federal level,” Gowani said, explaining her move to the Hill. “This really isn’t something you can learn from a textbook.”

She began working in Honda’s office as an intern this past June and was promoted to assistant to the chief of staff in August.

Despite being the first Congressional office she has worked in, Gowani thinks it’s a good fit.

“I love his values and what he stands for,” she said of Honda, who supports comprehensive immigration reform and maintaining good relations with the American Muslim community.

Although she doesn’t plan on working in politics forever, she’s keeping a few things in mind while she’s here.

“We can get caught up in wearing a suit every day and looking sharp and forgetting that there are people who will never own a suit in this country,” she said. “We need more people who remember that.”

Submit news of hires and promotions on Capitol Hill to Hill Climbers here.