Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Strong recommendations around women’s rights to the UK Government as part of the Universal Periodic Review

During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) examination of the UK Government on May 24th some clear recommendations and areas of concern around women’s rights, and equalities in general, were raised by the 60 countries who questioned the UK.

Gender equality was at the core of the examination and these issues were picked up by a number of states from Australia to Angola. However, the Government failed to address many of these concerns in its response and hardly mentioned women’s rights at all.

More information can be found here and the agreed report will be available here. Below is a summary of some of the key recommendations:

Women’s rights
  • Continue efforts in the promotion of women’s rights (Indonesia)
  • Give priority attention to the questions of gender equality and discrimination against women (Uzbekistan)
Violence against women and girls
  • Sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (France and Australia)
  • Continue efforts to combat discrimination on any ground and violence against women and girls (Cuba)
  • Adopt a national strategy to combat all forms of violence against women and girls (Brazil)
  • Take more effective measures to combat all forms of violence against women and girls and to ensure that the perpetrators of violence are taken to justice and punished (Malaysia)
Forced marriage
  • Assess the impact of the minimum age limit for overseas spouses or fianc├ęs on the prevention of forced marriage and review its policy in this regard (Slovenia)
Human trafficking
  • Increase efforts to combat trafficking in persons, particularly to protect women and children (Spain)
  • Continue making progress in applying the strategy on trafficking in persons adopted in July 2011 (Colombia) 
  • Implement the EU Directive on trafficking in human beings by April 2013 (Australia)
  • Standardise anti-trafficking responses across the UK insofar as possible given the devolution of law enforcement powers, and appoint a rapporteur in each devolved authority to make critical assessments and improve the UK’s overall anti-trafficking response (United States) 
  • Take all measures to ensure that all trafficked people are able to access the support and services they are entitled to, including free legal aid and access to their right to compensation (Greece)
Women in prison
  • Consider incorporating the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders as part of its policy on the treatment of women prisoners (Thailand)
Reproductive rights
  • Ensure by legislative and other measures that women in Northern Ireland are entitled to safe and legal abortion on equal basis with women living in other parts of the UK (Finland)
Equal pay
  • Adopt government policies and legislation to address the pay gap between men and women (Sudan)
  • Consider policies and legal provisions to encourage equal pay practices (India)
  • Review national legislation to ensure equality and non-discrimination (Egypt)
  • Ensure that the reform process of the Equality and Human Rights Commission does not affect its independence in conformity with the Paris Principles
  • Strengthen measures aimed at reducing serious inequalities in access to health, education and employment, which still exist despite the adoption of the Equality Act (Spain) 
  • Consider strengthening policies to combat discrimination in all areas, notably in education and employment (Morocco)
  • Strengthen data collection and maintain disaggregated data to better understand the scale and severity of hate crimes towards women, immigrants, religious minorities, persons with disabilities and children (United States)
  • Provide more resources for reforming the welfare system in order to make it better able to tackle poverty and worklessness, and reduce negative impact on social vulnerable groups (Viet Nam)
  • Guarantee the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, particularly health, education and adequate housing (Cuba)
Other relevant areas
  • Publish the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry on the establishment of a regulatory regime for ethical media (Angola)
  • Share best practices of tackling the situation of the Roma and Traveller people through the EU Framework of National Roma Integration Strategies adopted in 2011 (Hungary)
The UK Government now has three months to look over the recommendations and decide which ones it will accept, reject or partly accept and are due to report back on this in September. This will then be an opportunity for the voluntary sector to present some clear ideas for implementation and action around the adopted recommendations.

Many of the recommendations that came out of the UPR process will be useful for other treaty monitoring, such as the CEDAW Convention which is coming up in 2013, and it was useful to note that many countries had looked at the recommendations from previous treaty bodies when compiling their questions.

This included a specific recommendation to remove reservations to the CEDAW Convention from Greece and references to 2008 CEDAW concluding observations on women in prison and female genital mutilation (FGM). It was also good to see how many of the issues in the UPR submissions from the UK voluntary sector had been picked up and were reflected in the final recommendations.

Therefore, we can see that the UPR and other treaty processes can work closely together and reinforce each other to build stronger obligations and recommendations for action around human rights that government’s cannot ignore.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The CEDAW Working Group: bringing an inspiring group of women together

Over the last year, WRC have been gathering evidence from all over the country to feed into our CEDAW shadow report. The UK is coming under review in 2013, and the Government Equalities Office (GEO) has submitted their report to the Committee. It is our job in the women’s sector to ensure that the Committee gets a full picture of the state of gender equality in the UK, and so we at the WRC are bringing together a shadow report, which will be submitted in response to the GEO’s report.

To ensure the shadow report is as accurate and as inclusive as possible, in addition to using the Convention to its best effect, WRC set up the CEDAW Working Group in 2009, where women from a large range of organisations meet every four months for training, to work on the report, and to discuss how best to ensure that CEDAW is reaching everyone it needs to.

Last Monday’s meeting was the first that I had attended, and it was really exciting to be part of a group so committed to improving gender equality in the UK. And not just gender equality, but equality across the board. With representatives from ROTA, Eaves Housing for Women, BIHR, Sisters of Frida and the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain to name but a few, issues of multiple discrimination were consistently addressed. As a group, we have been working to ensure that no minority group is ignored in our report, and so have ensured that NGOs from outside the women’s sector also get a chance to feed into the report. This dialogue has given us the additional opportunity of ensuring that issues specifically affecting women are in the forefront of the minds of organisations writing shadow reports for other international conventions, for example the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Another way to raise the voices of women in the UK is involvement in the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Some CEDAW Working Group members attended the CSW this year, and, while they reported that there were great elements to the event, the representation of women from the sector in the UK is very low. With strategic planning for next year’s event, where the focus is violence against women, we hope to be able to join forces with international organisations and maybe hold an event and will also use this global platform to disseminate information about women’s rights in the UK and how we are using CEDAW.

At a time when women in the UK are being given such a raw deal by the Government, it is really inspiring to be part of a group of such fantastic women devoting their time to maintaining and developing the gains in gender equality that have been won over the past decades. In the coming months we will be working to create a really strong shadow report for the CEDAW Committee, and using CEDAW, alongside as many other international conventions as we can, to ensure that the Government is fully aware of its obligations to protect and improve women’s equality.

Ava Lee, CEDAW Intern, WRC

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Women’s sector looks to the Universal Periodic Review to hold UK Government to account over its record on women’s rights

On May 24th 2012, the United Kingdom’s human rights record will come under scrutiny in the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This examination, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008 to improve the human rights situation in each of the 193 UN member states, is similar to a peer review in that it consists of other member states assessing the state under review and providing recommendations for improvement. As this will be the UK’s second UPR, there is now evidence that many of the recommendations from the previous review, particularly those relating to women, have been ignored. The UPR is an opportunity to highlight the disproportionate effect that the coalition Government’s austerity measures are having on women, and we hope that the Government uses the examination to prove it is genuinely committed to promoting women’s rights.

The Government’s submission provides a section on how it is ‘Promoting Gender Equality’ following a recommendation to “integrate fully a gender perspective in the next stages of the UPR review”, but it’s sole UK wide example of this is the Women’s Business Council and the provision of £2 million support for women setting up and expanding businesses in rural areas. Given that a total of £13.2 billion has been taken from women’s incomes already in the cuts to benefits and tax credits (more than twice as much than has been taken from men) £2 million directed at women in a position to run their own businesses does nothing to improve gender equality for the increasingly large numbers of women facing unemployment and poverty. We hope that the UPR will compel the Government to provide answers for this.

Another recommendation that came from the UK’s previous UPR, was “to set up a strategic oversight body, such as a commission on violence against women, to ensure greater coherence and more effective protection for women”. Unfortunately no such body has been put in place, and while the Government has adopted a national strategy to address violence against women (which does not cover the devolved administrations of Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales) there is no co-ordinated four nation strategy in place. On top of this, the lack of commitment by the current Government to provide ring-fenced funding for frontline women’s VAWG services is raising serious doubts about the sustainability of support currently provided for survivors of gender based violence; quite the opposite from providing “more effective protection for women”.

Additionally, the Government’s report does not sufficiently address the effect the changes to legal aid will have to VAWG survivors, even though new research has shown that at least 46% of domestic violence cases will be ineligible for legal aid because the evidence they will be required to present is dangerously restrictive. Further cuts to legal aid will force people to represent themselves in court, which will result in some women survivors having to face cross-examination by the perpetrator of the crimes committed against them. While the situation for survivors of domestic violence is clearly unacceptable, there is also grave concern that the commitment at policy level across all four nations only covers DV, leaving survivors of all other forms of gender based violence (including rape, FGM, forced marriage, stalking and other forms of violence) with little access to support.

And, even after Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to sign the EU Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence on International Women’s Day, it is still yet to be signed and a long way from being implemented.

It is vitally important that these and other issues affecting women in the UK are raised at the UK’s Universal Periodic Review this May. Following the UPR, the UK will be examined by the UN CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women) Committee in July 2013. CEDAW’s sole focus is ending discrimination against women and we look to both of these examinations to call the Government to account on its current policies which are having a dramatic and disproportionate impact on women in the UK. 

Ava Lee, CEDAW Intern, WRC