He made history in May after being elected as London’s new mayor. Sadiq Khan, 45, the son of a Pakistani bus driver, became the first practicing Muslim to lead a major Western capital city. Since he took office Britain has undergone a major change with the Brexit vote, but Mayor Khan has not let the disappointing results slow down his work.
He campaigned on a platform of “hope over fear”, reminding us of how Barack Obama ignited an entire country with his message of change, hope and “yes we can” in 2008 which saw him break a barrier to become the first African American elected President of the United States.
“This election was not without controversy and I am so proud that London has today chosen hope over fear and unity over division. Fear does not make us safer. It only makes us weaker. And the politics of fear is simply not welcome in our city,” said Sadiq Khan in his acceptance speech.
He campaigned on a platform that was aimed at tackling the gender pay gap and sexual harassment and assault. On International Women’s Day, while on the campaign trail, he announced he would be a proud feminist in City Hall claiming he would put gender equality at the center of his work.
He has pledged to do an annual audit of employees at City Hall to ensure fair pay, and also fight for more affordable childcare.
“I am putting the fight for gender equality at the very heart of my manifesto for all Londoners. It is unacceptable that in London, one of the world’s greatest and most progressive cities, someone’s pay, career prospects and their safety are still dependent on their gender,” he said, while also adding why equality was a personal issue for him.
“My amazing mum sewed clothes for 50 pence a dress to bring in extra money for our family. It was low paid, insecure and difficult work. I want my daughters – and all women in London – to have a better future, and not to have to make the same sacrifices that my mum made for us. Our manifesto outlines real plans to close the gender pay gap, to give girls growing up in London the skills they will need for the jobs of the future, and to tackle violence against women and girls,” he said.
This is the kind of leadership we want to see more of globally, and in an interview with Britain’s Red Magazine, Sadiq spoke to journalist Decca Aitkenhead in depth about why feminism is an integral part of his political leadership. Decca writes that a lot has been made of the Mayor’s Muslim faith, especially in the British press, but that there is so much more to this man that just his religion.
“Perhaps most importantly of all, he is proud to call himself a feminist…More than half of Khan’s top jobs have gone to women and, in July, he published City Hall’s first ever gender pay audit. Is he making a deliberate point?” she asks.
The answer is yes. He wants to break down misconceptions about the word feminism which is why is uses it liberally.
“There’s a new thing about being scared to use the F-word but I don’t get it. Why would you be? If you believe women should earn the same as men, and be able to achieve whatever they can, you’re a feminist,” he stated.
Similar to what Canadian PM Justin Trudeau did in late 2015 by making half his cabinet women, Sadiq says the myth about gender inequality in government occurring because of the lack of female talent is just ridiculous.
“I like to surround myself with talented people – and it’s not true there aren’t talented women out there, it’s not true. It’s not because of lack of talent, but because you’ve got lazy men not looking for talented people. And it’s clear to me that mayors can do a huge amount; we can create a culture and lead by example,” he said.
He also recognizes the importance of representation for young girls, because as a young Pakistani boy growing up in the UK, seeing men in positions of power who looked like him was a big deal.
“When I was a 16-year-old boy it made a difference to me to see Keith Vaz, Bernie Grant and Paul Boateng in parliament. They looked like my neighbors, my friends’ dads, my dad. And so it does matter, symbolic representation matters, and it will make a difference to my daughters,” he said.
We shouldn’t have to wait for men to have daughters to understand the need for equality, but it seems that is the magic formula, as we have seen President Obama talk about his own two daughters in an essay for Glamour magazine titled “This is what a feminist looks like”.
Growing up Sadiq recalls how him and his 6 brothers and 1 sister were treated equally by his parents. He remembers all his siblings pitching in with the cooking and cleaning, especially while their parents were working.
“It was always a surprise to find households where the boys were playing football and doing the fun stuff, and sisters and mum were doing the cooking and cleaning. That was never the case in my household. We never thought we were superior because we were boys. You should meet my sister. There’s no way my sister would have allowed that to happen,” he said.
But it wasn’t until he became a dad to two girls that the penny really dropped in regard to why gender equality matters a lot.
“It’s like feminism on steroids when you become a dad of daughters, because you want them to be able to do whatever they want to do. But the evidence tells us if you are a girl you’re less likely to be able to fulfill your potential. Women earn 81% of what men earn – and this is 2016 in the world’s most progressive city, right? The total number of women MPs elected from 1918 to now is still less than the number of male MPs in parliament today. And so the bad news is that, had I had sons, they’d probably have better life chances than daughters. That’s one of the reasons why I’m obsessed about leading by example and being a feminist in City Hall,” he said.
While he has grown up being shown examples of gender equality by his family, all it takes is a basic amount of awareness of the problems still existing in society today. Yes, there have been an incredible amount of gains for women, however there are still ways to improve and discriminatory problems to change.
If his London Mayoral win wasn’t big enough news, his first act in office was to make a law banning advertisements on public transport that demean women and make them ashamed of their bodies. Remember the outrage over Protein World’s “Beach Body Ready” ads? Yeah…they’re gone for good!
“I’m not going to apologize for wanting to live in a city where people respect each other. The point is, it’s all about context… If you’re watching TV, you can turn over the channel. But if you’re standing on a platform at a tube station surrounded by lots of people and there’s a massive poster there, you can’t avoid it,” he said in response to a question about how some Londoners may have seen this act as “big government”, or in some extremist circles the idea that he was imposing Muslim ideals with this law.
We love the “sorry not sorry” attitude from him in regard to wanting girls to grow up in a world where at least ONE aspect of London society doesn’t overwhelm them with messages about how they are not worthy. And the awesome thing is that this message extends to men, because there are far too many harmful messages about toxic masculinity that men and boys should not feel they need to live up to.
Also on the topic of London transportation, Mayor Khan wants to tackle the issue of public safety, an issue which has become one of grave concern among women in the city.
“You speak to most women and if they’re being honest they’ll tell you they’ve been touched inappropriately in a tube carriage, name called, felt unsafe,” he said, before adding that he refuses to implement a female-only carriage because that doesn’t actually tackle the root of the problem.
UK organization Everyday Sexism, created by writer Laura Bates, has become a beacon of leadership for the way they have exposed just how rampant harassment and sexism is for women in the UK. It initially started as a site where women could share their personal experiences and before too long exploded from the amount of women who feel they finally found a place where they could raise their voice in solidarity about what they went through. It has become so popular that Laura has written a book and given a TED Talk, and the site is expanding to the US.
What is abundantly clear is that Sadiq Khan has his finger on the pulse of what is important to women in London, and is setting a great example of what political leadership needs to look like. He is also passionate about immigration, and despite the Brexit results showing Britain voted to “leave”, he wants people to know London resoundingly voted “remain”.
“One of the reasons why London’s the greatest city in the world is because of the contribution made by immigrants. We’d be a city of goat and sheep were it not for immigration,” he said.
This is what leadership looks like, and without a doubt, the London Mayor can join President Obama by claiming “this is what a feminist looks like”.