Growing up, I was surrounded by strong women. My parents emigrated from Pakistan to London just before I was born, and my early impressions of the world were shaped by them both. While some of you might know my dad was a bus driver, my mum worked as a seamstress to support our family income. Mum had no time for traditional gender roles – we all pitched in. She encouraged all her children – me, my seven brothers and my sister – to pursue our dreams without thought for our gender.
The example set by my mum created a firm foundation. Equality of opportunity has been at the core of my political beliefs. No one’s life chances should be limited, or their career dictated by who they are or where they come from. In 21st-century Britain, it cannot be right that your gender or your sexual orientation should determine where you go in life.
Over the years, I’ve learnt so many valuable lessons from women I’m fortunate enough to call my close friends and family, as well as the many campaigners who have dedicated their lives to fighting for gender equality, social justice and an end to racism, causes that we must recognise so often compound injustice when left unaddressed.
I’ve worked with many talented women during my career, who have continued to demonstrate that the more steps we take towards true gender equality, the more we all benefit, from great lawyers and parliamentarians like Harriet Harman and the late Dame Tessa Jowell, to my dear friend Baroness Doreen Lawrence. Her struggle to secure justice for her son Stephen and her strength in the face of adversity has been remarkable, and reminds us of the obligation we all have to call out and challenge inequality wherever we find it.
It’s the contribution of women of all ages, ethnicities, faiths and backgrounds that helps to make cities like London so great. But I know we can be even better if all of us, both women and men, strive to make our city and country a beacon for gender equality.
Here in City Hall, more than half our deputy mayors are women, as are 10 of the 16 members of our Business Advisory Board. Our current deputy mayor and deputy mayor for education and childcare Joanne McCartney, our deputy mayor for policing Sophie Linden, our deputy mayor for the environment Shirley Rodrigues, our deputy mayor for culture Justine Simons and our deputy mayor for transport Heidi Alexander inspire me daily with their determination to improve the lives of all Londoners. Businesswomen like Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn, Dame Vivian Hunt, managing partner at McKinsey & Company, and Shalini Khemka, the founder of E2Exchange, a company that connects entrepreneurs, make a huge contribution to our city’s success, not just in their own right but also by ensuring that women in business have access to opportunities that will help them succeed.
During my term as mayor, we’ve appointed the first-ever woman Metropolitan Police commissioner, Cressida Dick, and the first-ever woman London Fire Brigade commissioner, Dany Cotton. Both Dany and Cressida provide leading services that play a crucial role in keeping all Londoners safe. But their work also has a profound impact in that it shows girls and young women that they can lead in any sector. As high-profile women in positions of influence, they’ve underlined the importance of positive role models and the necessity of setting an example.
In my role as mayor of Manchester I feel privileged to be able to use my position to honour inspiring women across our capital. This includes launching a new campaign called Behind Every Great City to promote gender equality. This campaign coincided with the centenary of the first women in our country winning the right to vote, and gives us an opportunity to remember the women who marched through Manchester rallied in Trafalgar Square and campaigned tirelessly for women’s suffrage. I’m pleased we have been able to recognise them and their efforts by commissioning the first statue of a woman, the suffragist campaigner Millicent Fawcett, to stand in Parliament Square.
The statue now stands proudly facing the Houses of Parliament and serves as a powerful statement of our values, what we stand for and what we celebrate. There are so many important women in our history whose stories have yet to be told, and it’s crucial we correct this imbalance, not only in order to make women more visible in our public spaces, but to inspire future generations, like my two teenage daughters.
Despite growing up at a time when there is still an unacceptable gender pay gap, and when women are underrepresented at the highest levels of business, politics and the media, I’m proud that my daughters have an unshakeable conviction that they can and will succeed. One of my favourite photos is of my daughters with Hillary Clinton, who told them that ‘the only way to get sexism out of politics is to get more women in to politics’, and there is something so powerful about their optimism and their faith in a fairer future, resolute that they will not be held back.
If our city and country is to become a leader in fighting for gender equality, we must remember that equal rights is not just a fight for women, but for us all. We have made great progress already, but we can’t be complacent. We have a long way to go, but what gives me hope is the inspirational women in my life, who are challenging gender stereotypes, smashing glass ceilings and blazing a trail for the next generation.
This article appears in the November 2018 edition of LouisvuittonShop UK. to make sure you never miss an issue.