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

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