23 July 2018

Human rights are women’s rights, and our work at BIHR shows that too often women’s human rights are not being sufficiently protected in the UK. So today, we welcome Pressing for progress: women’s rights and gender equality in 2018 from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The report notes particular concerns around violence against women and girls, also reflected through the evidence we received as part of our civil society consultation for the Universal Periodic Review at the UN. Shared concerns include: better support for survivors of domestic violence, higher prosecution and conviction rates for violent crimes against women and girls, and funding for women’s services.

Other women’s rights concerns highlighted by the report include, but are not limited to, protection and support for victims of gender-based violence, harassment and abuse (in general, but also in specific environments such as in school, in the workplace, in detention); access to civil justice; participation in political and civic life; adequate standard of living and social security; and equality in education and career opportunities.

Importantly, the EHRC’s report also emphasises the importance of ensuring that there is no regression in equality and human rights protections after Brexit. The report further recommends the integration of international rights of women at the domestic level, especially those enshrined in the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Welcoming the EHRC’s report, Sanchita Hosali, Director of the British Institute of Human Rights, said:

“All women and girls in the UK should be and feel safe from violence, abuse and harassment, yet for too many of us this is not the case. 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was agreed, we must continue to make progress on ensuring everyone’s dignity is respected and overcome the everyday inequalities woman and girls face. Pressing for Progress recommendations provide an important roadmap for making this real.”

 

Background summary on Pressing for Progress:

The report analyses the protection of women’s rights and makes recommendations in 10 themes, summarised below:

  1. Enhancing the status of international human rights in domestic law

The UK government should integrate in its domestic legal framework international rights of women, particularly those enshrined in the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). While a number of CEDAW rights are given partial effect through the Equality Act 2010, the Human Rights Act 1998 and other legislation, policies and programmes, the UK should develop a coherent plan for achieving the full realisation of international rights of women at the domestic level, and this level of protection must remain of a high standard after Brexit.

  1. Participation in political and civic life

The UK government should actively encourage all women, particularly those sharing other protected characteristics, to participate in democracy and politics through outreach initiatives, and continue to investigate ways of reducing barriers to women’s participation. The government should also take action to improve women’s representation on public boards, particularly at chair level, and in the judiciary.

  1. Gender-based violence, harassment and abuse

The report identified that women, particularly those with learning disabilities and mental health issues, are much more likely than men to experience particular forms of violence, such as sexual offences, domestic violence and so-called ‘honour-based’ violence. The government should improve the reporting and recording of violence against women and girls, and ensure that support is available for all forms of abuse, including the specialist needs of disabled women, Black and ethnic minority women, and those with complex needs.

The government should address harmful practices (female genital mutilation, forced and child marriage etc) and implement a comprehensive, coordinated and properly funded strategy to align national practices to international human rights standards, and protect the rights of all women, including women with learning difficulties.

  1. Access to civil justice

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) has potentially had a disproportionately adverse impact on women, by making legal aid no longer available in most private family law, housing and debt matters, and thus limiting women’s access to justice. The UK government should assess the quality and human rights impact of LASPO provisions on women, survivors of domestic violence and other groups sharing protected characteristics, and adopt legislation addressing all such inequalities.

  1. Human trafficking and modern slavery

The report identified weaknesses in the provisions of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and recommended its review and amendment. The report highlighted the need to introduce a legal duty to support victims of modern slavery with clear minimum standards in England and Wales prior to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

  1. Detention and asylum

The UK Government should consider the distinct requirements of women in prisons, and develop gender-specific diversion schemes for women, that could help reduce the use of custodial sentences.

The Government should ensure that immigration detention is used as a last resort, and commit to setting a maximum limit of 28 days on the length of time an individual can be held. The Government should improve screening and strengthen detention policies to ensure that women who have experienced rape and gender-based violence, pregnant women or women who have mental health conditions are not held in immigration detention, and take steps to ensure women detainees receive adequate healthcare services.

Furthermore, the Government should ensure that refused asylum seekers and people with insecure immigration status have their right to healthcare upheld, by ensuring that healthcare staff, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and the organisations that support them, have a good understanding of health-charging regulations and eligibility requirements. The Government should also amend the Immigration Rules to ensure the protection of victims of domestic violence.

  1. Adequate standard of living and social security

Welfare and tax policy changes made between May 2010 and January 2018 have had a disproportionate adverse impact on women’s, especially ethnic minority women’s, rights to an adequate standard of living and social security. The UK Government should review the level of welfare benefits to ensure that they provide an adequate standard of living for women in households who rely partially or wholly on transfer payments. The UK Government should also assess the impact on women of the Universal Credit, household benefit cap and living standards restricting the entitlement to Child Tax Credits, and implement measures to address any unjustified discrimination.

  1. Just and fair conditions of work

The UK Government should monitor, and improve through concrete steps, women’s access to secure employment with just and fair conditions, including for groups with comparatively low employment rates such as ethnic minority women and disabled women. The Government should introduce a mandatory duty on employers to take reasonable steps to protect workers from harassment and victimisation in the workplace and adopt a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment and harassment at work. The UK Government should take steps to tackle women’s persistent occupational segregation in typically low-paid roles and sectors and monitor the enforcement of the National Living Wage and its impact on women’s pay and standard of living.

  1. Highest attainable standard of health

The UK Government should ensure that gender-specific health services are provided to all women, including disabled and transgender women, including mainstream sexual and reproductive healthcare and maternity services.

  1. Equality in education

The UK Government should ensure that careers guidance and work experience opportunities tackle gender stereotypes and encourage a wider range of subject and career choices for women and girls from primary school onwards. The Government should make personal, social, health and economic education mandatory in its entirety, in all schools and educational settings from key stages 1 to 4, with a curriculum that offers comprehensive coverage of human rights and equality issues, and ensure that statutory reproductive and sexual education meets the needs of all young women and girls, and other groups with protected characteristics. The Government should monitor bullying and prejudice-based bullying, sexual harassment and violence in schools, and ensure that schools staff are trained in preventing and tackling all forms of bullying. The Government should require schools to gather, record by protected characteristic and use the information on bullying to develop and evaluate their anti-bullying strategies.