Sadiq Khan: The proudly feminist London mayor who is fighting for women to be safe from domestic violence

"Why should a girl or woman change the clothes she wears because there is some pervert acting inappropriately?" he asks.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is popular. So popular that you have to fight for his time, even when you have a pre-booked interview slot.

We’re at Croydon’s Family Justice Centre because he has just announced that he is investing an additional £15 million to tackle a rise in violence against women and girls in London. Wearing his standard navy suit and just-casual-enough open-necked white shirt, Khan moves slowly across the car park to where I’m standing. At every step, there is someone who wants to bend his ear and take a selfie with him.

“Did you get a decent picture of me with the Mayor?” I overhear a flustered local politician ask an equally flustered aide, while said aide scrolls manically through their phone. Not many politicians spark this kind of reaction, but despite the controversies dogging the Labour Party, Khan has made such an impact that he’s often spoken of as a potential future Prime Minister.

We’re here to talk about the fact that violence against women and girls is rising. City Hall has just published research showing that domestic abuse offences increased by 63 per cent in London between 2011 and 2018. Last year alone, 29 women were killed in domestic violence incidents; 15 per cent of all recorded sexual offences take place in the capital. The Mayor’s office says that demand for support services is rising, while Government funding for them has been cut.

I put it to Khan that it’s all very well pumping money into services to support victims of violence, but I’m worried that it’s like putting a plaster on a broken leg if we’re not also dealing with the causes. He nods vigorously.

“Blokes, in particular, I think have a bigger role to play.”

There is, he says, a perception problem when it comes to who is responsible. He gives the example of upskirting:

Why should a girl or woman change the clothes she wears because there is some pervert acting inappropriately? The same goes for domestic and sexual violence; I’ve heard too many people say, ‘Why didn’t she leave him?’ or ‘Why did she go back to him?’

“I hear too many people questioning her behaviour and not his.”

New proposals on expanding sex and relationships education are a step in the right direction of changing attitudes, he adds.

“It’s really good that the curriculum is changing to teach boys about their behaviour. One of the things that happens now, which didn’t happen when I was growing up, is the access to porn on your phone. Boys are now seeing a sort of behaviour that is not normal. You and I know, as sensible adults, that it’s not normal behaviour, but if you’re a boy of a certain age, you think that’s how men behave and that’s how women behave, and that worries me.”

Khan’s working on a public awareness campaign about violence against women.

“We need to do more in schools and we need to do more in relation to targeting the perpetrators. Some of the funding we’ve announced today [does that]. I am sick to death of victim-blaming, of people saying that girls and women should change their behaviour. That’s probably where me being a dad comes into it. Why should my girls change their behaviour simply because there are some blokes who act in an outrageous manner?”

Sadiq Khan. Image: Getty Images

Does he worry about his two daughters, aged 17 and 19, going out?

“We need to understand, as men, that a disproportionately high number of victims of crime are girls and women,” he says.

“Being a dad and having daughters, you don’t want to be too paternal, you want to give them autonomy, but also you worry about their safety – of course you do. But I want them to be street savvy, to have their wits about them, to know when to cross over the road to avoid somebody if they need to.”

In many ways, Khan has put his money where his mouth is. While MPs have only recently been given the right to a proxy vote – as used by Tulip Siddiq after the birth of her baby – in October, the Mayor implemented a forward-thinking policy at City Hall that gives extra paid leave to staff whose babies are born prematurely. With his own children, he was hands-on, he says.

“From changing nappies to feeding the kids, being up at night-time when they were younger because my wife was working full-time as well, I wanted to be hands-on. They’re a part of you.”

Does he think his “proud feminism” is, at least in part, down to being a father of two daughters?

“That’s a really good question,” he says, appearing to acknowledge that I’m asking him something always asked of women in public life.

“I think it is, subconsciously. I’ve always said that having daughters has turbocharged my commitment to feminism. I sometimes feel like my girls put me on steroids. I want to accelerate change.”

This story was first published on our sister site, Grazia.

Sadiq Khan at a vigil at the East London Mosque, following the terror attacks in Christchurch on March 15.

Sadiq Khan is also London’s first Muslim mayor. This week he attended a vigil at the East London Mosque to honour the victims and those affected by the terror attacks in Christchurch on March 15.

He said he is “troubled” that the alleged Christchurch mosque attacker took inspiration from politicians. Without directly naming Donald Trump, he called on leaders to stop normalising far-right extremism.

“There is a responsibility on all of us to be very careful in the language we use,” he urged.

He said diversity in London was a strength, not a weakness. “We don’t simply tolerate it – we embrace and respect it.”

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