May 15, 2010
Britain appoints first Muslim woman minister
By our staff writer
Pakistani-origin Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, the newly appointed
chairperson of the ruling Conservative party, was on Thursday made a Minister
without portfolio, the first Muslim woman to serve in a British Cabinet.
It's not immediately clear what her responsibilities will be, a spokesman for
the government said. In opposition, she was the Conservatives' point person on
"community cohesion and social action."
The thirty-nine-year-old is a leading campaigner for awareness and stronger
legislation on issues like racial justice, forced marriages and prison
Warsi was also the politician the party put forward to take on far-right
politician Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, last year.
She clashed with Griffin and mainstream politicians on "Question Time," the
BBC's flagship political discussion program, in October.
She blasted him as a "thoroughly, thoroughly deceptive man" who "demonizes
Islam, just as he demonizes Christianity."
"Mr. Griffin here preaches extremism in the name of Christianity and brings
that faith into disrepute as well," she said.
Having stood up to the white far right in London, she came under attack a month
later by protesters who threw eggs at her in the town of Luton, north of
Warsi was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire in 1971 to Pakistani parents, who
emigrated from Gujar Khan, Pakistan, and was the fourth out of five daughters.
Her father ended up running a bed manufacturing company, which earns £2 million
a year, after starting life as a mill worker.
She was educated at Birkdale High School, Dewsbury College, and the University
of Leeds, where she studied Law (LLB). She attended the York College of Law to
complete her Legal Practice Course and trained with both the Crown Prosecution
Service and the Home Office Immigration Department.
Warsi made a dazzling first appearance at the Cabinet when on Thursday she
arrived to take her seat at the Government's top-table wearing a multi-toned
pink shalwar kameez featuring a matching dupatta or chunni -- the long scarf
worn over the shoulders. The outfit is a traditional form of dress for women in
Pakistan, and also in India.
She stated it was "humbling" to join the government, after taking part in new
Prime Minister David Cameron's first full ministerial meeting, AFP reported.
"For anybody to serve in government is a privilege," said is the Conservative
Party's chairwoman, after Cameron held his first Cabinet meeting in 10 Downing
Street, two days after being appointed premier by Queen Elizabeth II.
"But to be born the daughter of an immigrant mill-worker in a mill town in
Yorkshire, to have the privilege of serving in Cabinet at such an important
time in Britain's history I think is terribly humbling," she told the BBC.
Warsi will get a salary of 137,294 pounds per annum like all other ministers.
Only Prime Minister David Cameron will get 144,520 pounds per annum.
Warsi, who is the first Muslim woman to sit in the UK Cabinet, has been
politically involved from her early college days when she was elected as the
Vice President of the Students Union at Dewsbury College.
She was a member of Cameron's shadow Cabinet, a former vice-Chairperson of the
Conservative Party and adviser to Michael Howard.
After qualifying as a solicitor, she worked for John Whitfield, the last
conservative Member of Parliament for Dewsbury, at Whitfield Hallam Goodwall
solicitors and then went on to set up her own specialist practice, George Warsi
solicitors in Dewsbury.
She has worked overseas on a research project for the Ministry of Law in
Pakistan and is currently chair of the Savayra foundation, a women's
empowerment charity based in Pakistan.
Warsi describes herself as a "northern, working-class-roots mum" -- says she
joined the Conservative Party after being inspired by her father.
As the youngest member of the House of Lords, on the recommendation of David
Cameron, she was conferred the title of Baroness of Dewsbury in 2007.
The Tories came top in elections last week but failed to win an absolute
majority. Cameron took office after five days of tense negotiations with the
Liberal Democrats, the third-placed party which emerged as kingmaker.
Photo: British Minister, and chairperson of the Conservative Party, Baroness
Sayeeda Hussain Warsi arrives for first Cabinet meeting of the new
Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition Government in Downing Street, central
London on May 13, 2010. (Getty Images
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