Lawyer, businesswoman, campaigner and Conservative politician, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has held many roles, however she is best known for being the first Muslim to serve in a British cabinet.
Born in West Yorkshire to immigrants of Pakistani origin, Sayeeda studied law at the University of Leeds, gaining an LLB, and trained with the Crown Prosecution Service then the Home Office Immigration Department, before setting up her own specialist legal practice. She has also been a long-term racial justice campaigner and was instrumental in the launch of Operation Black Vote, a not-for-profit national organisation that works towards greater racial justice and equality throughout the UK.
Her father, a former mill-worker and bus driver who set up his own business, instilled in Sayeeda values of freedom, responsibility and aspiration. Inspired, she became involved with the Conservative Party and it was there, in 2004, that she became Conservative Party Vice Chairman for Cities and Diversity and advisor to the party leader, Michael Howard.
In 2005, she stood as a Parliamentary candidate in Dewsbury. In 2007, she was elevated to the House of Lords aged 36, making her the youngest peer in Parliament. Later that year she travelled to Sudan and famously helped to secure the release of the British teacher Gillian Gibbons who was on trial for blasphemy.
In 2010, Sayeeda Warsi was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron as Minister without Portfolio, becoming the first Muslim to serve as a Cabinet Minister.
The iconic images of her on the steps of No 10 Downing Street in a shalwar kameez (a traditional ethnic outfit) were beamed around the world. She was also appointed as Chairman of the Conservative Party – the first Asian to chair a major British political party, a position she held from 2010-2012. Also in 2012, Sayeeda was made Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities.
Outspoken and challenging on the issues that many people seek to avoid, she has become an interesting and distinct voice on topics previously considered taboo. She led the government's campaign to criminalise forced marriage and spoke out on the sexual grooming of children by gangs.
A fierce political campaigner, Sayeeda drove the campaign against adopting the Alternative Vote system ahead of the May 2011 referendum, winning what she called 'the mother of all elections' by a ratio of two to one. She also spearheaded the party's Social Action agenda both domestically and internationally, setting up Project Maja, which has brought politicians and volunteers together to deliver projects in the poorest parts of Bosnia, Herzegovina, Bangladesh, and Turkey.
Sayeeda is a Trustee of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and Chair of the Baroness Warsi Foundation. The Foundation focuses on three programme areas; social mobility, gender equality and freedom of religious belief. She is also a Trustee of the Savayra Foundation, a UK registered charity which works in Pakistan to empower widows, divorcees and orphan girls through skills, education and other poverty relief programmes.
Sayeeda is passionate that education is the opportunity that makes anything possible. She is committed to widening access to Higher Education for all.
Her business background and passion for the manufacturing sector in particular have made Sayeeda a champion for British business both at home and abroad. She has been a major driver of three start-up companies; one in the service sector and two in manufacturing, all of which have developed into vibrant and successful SMEs.
In January 2015, Sayeeda Warsi was nominated for the Muslim Woman of the Year award at the British Muslim Awards.
She is an International Advisor to Australia Catholic University, a Visiting Professor at St Marys – the oldest Catholic university in the UK, an Advisor to Georgetown University, Washington D.C, and Pro-Vice Chancellor at the University of Bolton. She has also been awarded Honorary Doctorates from Aston, Birmingham City, and Bolton universities, as well as from the University of Law.
Her 2017 book, The Enemy Within: A Tale of Muslim Britain, was described by The Telegraph as “vital reading for decision-makers in Whitehall and Fleet Street. It shows that we need more of the quality that terrorists signally lack: empathy with those different from ourselves.”
Drawing on her own unique position in British life, as the child of Pakistani immigrants, an outsider who became an insider, she explores questions of cultural difference, terrorism, surveillance, social justice, religious freedom, integration and the meaning of 'British values'.