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UK’s ‘shadow minister against rape’

- Labour reserves first-of-its-kind post for Indian-origin MP
Seema Malhotra

London, Aug. 30: Seema Malhotra, one of the new crop of promising MPs, could well become Britain’s first “minister against rape” if Labour wins the next general election in May 2015.

This is because her party leader Ed Miliband has just appointed Seema “shadow minister for preventing violence against women and girls”.

It is an unusual appointment, the first of its kind in Britain and perhaps in Europe as well. To be sure, the UK has had ministers with responsibility for women’s affairs but this is the first time someone is being given sole charge of dealing with the issue of violence against women.

Seema is a personable 42-year-old married Punjabi woman who won the constituency of Feltham and Heston in a by-election in 2011 on the death of its sitting MP, Alan Keen. Her majority was 6,203 on a turnout of 23,299, compared with Keen’s 4,658 on a turnout of 48,526. So she should retain the West London seat, which has a fair number of Asian voters, next May.

Seema was born in Hammersmith in west London and grew up locally in Osterley and Feltham. She read politics and philosophy at Warwick before going on to earn an MSc in Business IT at Aston University.

Miliband explained his key appointment: “I am delighted that Seema has agreed to become Labour’s first ever shadow minister for preventing violence against women and girls. She undoubtedly brings real expertise to this important role. Her appointment is another indication of the importance a Labour government will place on tackling violence against women and girls.”

Miliband emphasised that his shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, “has rightly put this at the heart of her vision for the home office and I look forward to continuing working with her and Seema to ensure a Labour government can make a real difference to the lives of the victims of these terrible crimes.”

There was backing for the appointment from Cooper, who happens to be married to shadow chancellor Ed Balls.

“Seema will be a huge asset to the shadow home affairs team,” said Cooper. “She has always been a champion of women’s equality — from her campaigns promoting the work of women in business, to her hugely successful presidency of the Fabian’s Women’s Network, which has done so much to improve representation of women and ethnic minorities in politics and public life. I know she will bring all her experience and energy to lead our important work developing a strong policy platform to tackle violence against women and girls.”

In her new post, Seema “will champion the needs of all victims of rape, domestic and sexual violence, as well as FGM (female genital mutilation), forced marriage, trafficking and prostitution,” according to a Labour Party statement.

She “will also play an important role in shaping Labour’s Women’s Safety Commission, working with (fellow MPS) Vera Baird and Diana Holland, to develop proposals for legislation to tackle violence against women and girls, which will be prioritised by a Labour government. This will include reforms to the criminal justice system; measures to improve women’s safety; prevention of violence against women and girls.”

Seema has hitherto headed the business group in her party since her background has been working with finance in the City.

Seema expressed pride in the appointment and said: “It is significant that Labour has made this issue such a priority and I look forward to working with colleagues to try and make a real difference to women who have experienced huge trauma in their lives.”

“The level of violence against women in Britain and indeed the world is shocking and too little is being done to prevent these crimes, support the victims and bring the perpetrators to justice,” she added. “I will be looking to change this and look forward to working with Ed and Yvette to make sure a Labour government offers a real alternative to women and children trapped in cycles of violence.”

According to the Labour Party, “89 per cent of the victims of intense, prolonged domestic abuse are women”.

It quotes data from the Office of National Statistics whose survey last year “recorded 473,000 victims of sexual offences — 404,000 of these were women. It is estimated 85,000 women were raped last year and 12,000 men were raped. One in five women has been victim of a sexual offence since the age of 16. And 12.9 million incidents of domestic violence were recorded against women last year, compared to 2.5 million against men.”

Forced marriages, now a criminal offence, are a particular problem in some minority communities.

Asked once about her favourite karaoke song, Seema replied: “Gloria Gaynor’s I will survive. Such a classic. Perfect for a girl’s night out.”