Nimco Ali: Government’s advisor on women’s safety says her street harassment law is being blocked

The Government’s advisor on women’s safety has expressed frustration about how her proposals to criminalise street harassment have been received

Nimco Ali, an independent advisor to the Government on preventing violence against women, has claimed that her demands for street harassment to be criminalised are being blocked.

She said that there has been “pushback” to her proposals.

Who is Nimco Ali?

A friend of Boris and Carrie Johnson, Nimco Ali was appointed by Home Secretary Priti Patel to advise the Home Office in 2020.

The Somali-born social activist moved with her family to Manchester aged four, but she underwent female genital mutilation in Djibouti while on holiday aged seven.

“I only met somebody in my community that wasn’t cut a few years ago and she came from Sweden,” she told the BBC in 2011. “I didn’t know anybody from the Somali community that wasn’t cut. Women are oppressing themselves believing ‘it’s my culture’.”

Nimco Ali has spoken of ‘pushback’ against her street harassment plans (Photo: Getty)

This experience led her to form the Daughters of Eve organisation to help girls at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) and push for the practice to be stopped.

In 2019 she co- founded The Five Foundation, a global partnership to end FGM.

She was appointed by Ms Patel in October 2020, with a remit to formulate a strategy to reduce violence against women and girls.

Ms Ali wants behaviour including wolf-whistling, catcalling and staring persistently to be made a crime punished with on-the-spot fines.

The Government announced a crackdown on sexual harassment in July 2021, with its strategy developed after a public consultation taking in evidence from 180,000 people, the vast majority during a two-week period following the murder of Sarah Everard.

What did Nimco Ali say?

Ms Ali told the BBC’s Political Thinking with Nick Robinson podcast she had experienced “pushback” over her campaign.

“For me, I would specifically love (for) public sexual harassment to become a crime.”

“One of the things that I’ve seen is that a department and a Secretary of State can have an opinion and then there can be other things (where there is) pushback,” she said, before clarifying the pushback came from “other people”.

“And Cabinet responsibility is a thing – so that’s why I’m saying ‘as a thing’, it’s not just individual, so I do think that there is at times a very masculined conversation where the Government, in how Government and institutions work, so we need to be able to address that,” she added.

What has the Government said about women’s safety?

As part of the crackdown launched last year, the Government said it would not rule out creating new laws over street harassment, saying: “We are looking carefully at where there may be gaps in existing law and how a specific offence for public sexual harassment could address those.”

At the time, Ms Patel said: “The safety of women and girls across the country, wherever they are, is an absolute priority for me.

“It is unacceptable that women and girls are still subject to harassment, abuse, and violence, and I do not accept that violence against women and girls is inevitable.

The Government said at the time also said it would not rule out creating new laws over street harassment, saying: “We are looking carefully at where there may be gaps in existing law and how a specific offence for public sexual harassment could address those.”

It also vowed to look at whether street design features could help improve personal safety in public, while it will also pilot an online tool called StreetSafe, allowing members of the public to anonymously highlight locations where they feel particularly vulnerable.

The announcement also contained measures including a public campaign “focused on creating behavioural change” which the Government hopes will challenge misogyny in society, as well as pledges to ensure police know how to effectively respond to allegations.

Marketing executive Ms Everard, 33, was kidnapped, raped and killed by off-duty Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens in March 2021 as she walked home, and prompted a widespread outpouring of grief and demonstrations over concern for women’s safety.

Last year’s Government announcement received a mixed response from campaigners, with Rachel Almeida from Victim Support saying: “Only system-wide, societal change will end violence against women and girls.

“It is vital there is a shift from the ‘victim-blaming’ culture and poor police treatment for victims that has contributed to dismal justice outcomes for the majority of survivors.”