The UK’s first hijab-wearing mayor has resigned from the Labour party citing racism and a “system that allows white men to have what they want, when they want”.
Somalia-born Rakhia Ismail said she had stepped down because she felt she was marginalised as a woman of colour and was not taken seriously by some male colleagues.
After leaving her ceremonial post as mayor of Islington, north London, late last month Ismail has informed Labour members of Holloway Ward that she is resigning as councillor after eight years.
She said: “I’m saddened deeply that the party I thought was for justice and fairness and ‘for the many’ is the opposite, from my personal experience.
“Therefore, I find it hard to represent Holloway Ward as a Labour councillor because I was battling with a party system that simply allows white men to have what they want, when they want.”
Listing reasons for quitting the party, Ismail pointed to a letter she received in February 2019 inviting her to Labour’s first national women’s conference which, beneath her address, was printed the word: “Somalia.”
“What has my birthplace got to do with this invite? I was shocked,” said Ismail.
Ismail also claimed she was initially blocked out of the official mayoral Twitter account and alleged Islamophobia among some colleagues which she felt was behind the decision by the council not to organise an event to mark the major Muslim festival of Eid in 2019. Islington Council, however, say the event was cancelled by community representatives due to organisational challenges and issues with public liability insurance
Ismail also alleged that a Labour colleague shouted at her for tarnishing the reputation of the area after she highlighted to the media the issue of knife crime and was reduced to tears after being told to be quiet during a Labour group meeting.
“It felt like me as a BME woman that I had no voice. In the end I thought what’s the point?” she said.
A Labour Party Spokesperson said: “Cllr Ismail’s decision to resign is disappointing especially coming so soon after her term as Mayor of Islington, having served the borough admirably through an incredibly challenging time.
“Islington Labour has a diverse and talented group of councillors serving their community. The Labour Party takes any allegations of discrimination received extremely seriously, which are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures.”