Standing by Human Rights for women’s sake

Who benefits if we backtrack on human rights? The only beneficiaries of such a move, as we see it, are the government, as it makes it even harder for us to hold them to account for ensuring women’s human rights.

The women’s sector have long been arguing for women’s rights in a human rights framework. Many of the hard won successes for some of the most vulnerable, marginalised and voiceless women in the UK have come through the persistent use of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), shadow reports and related machinery, the Council of Europe human rights machinery and the UK Human Rights Act. For instance, these measures resulted in CEDAW recommendations to government which led to the Sojourner pilot project for women with no recourse to public funds, and later the destitution domestic violence concession. While still fraught with problems, we in the women’s sector know to celebrate these rare, small and incremental successes!

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has just published (19 February 2015) the report of its inquiry last year to examine UK progress towards ratification of the Istanbul Convention (the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence). This is a vital convention that can help ensure adequate, proportionate and resourced services for the women’s sector if properly implemented. The UK has not yet ratified it.

Some headline points are summarised below which reflect the evidence received by the Committee from women’s organisations, including Eaves. You can find the full report here – do use it for policy, lobbying, campaigning and advocacy. Asylum Aid has summarized key points that relate to insecure immigration status, and women’s rights to access and justice. This was a key plank of the evidence the committee received from the women’s sector. The committee shared the shock of the women’s sector that Ms Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, and its causes and consequences was prevented from accessing Yarls Wood Immigration Detention Centre.

Headline Findings

Prevention, Department for Education, Media and Awareness Raising
The UK government should engage much more comprehensively, strategically and holistically with a prevention agenda as outlined by evidence from the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) whom the Inquiry cited: “The Department for Education, key to taking forward prevention measures, has yet to deliver on its role”. The inquiry also called for more wraparound, sustained, long-term and comprehensive education and awareness raising campaigns. The Inquiry also addressed issues such as media reporting of VAWG and singled out the BBC for censure: “We were greatly disappointed that our publicly funded national broadcaster, the BBC declined all invitations to give evidence to this inquiry”.

Localism, commissioning and specialist services
The Inquiry stressed that the Localism agenda does not serve the VAWG agenda well and that local commissioning has had drastic and damaging effects on vital, effective, specialist, particularly BME, services. The Inquiry highlighted the dangers that measures such as universal credit and the “bedroom tax” present for women facing violence.

Women with insecure immigration status: “the protection gap”
The Inquiry covered these issues at some length. It highlighted that UK government language and action on human rights, sexual violence and violence against women and girls overseas needs to be similarly a domestic focus. It drew attention to a number of key issues including that women in the UK, irrespective of their immigration status, are entitled to equally access safety and justice. It also highlighted the culture of disbelief and the prejudicial impact of fast track removal procedures in immigration where it concerned a woman who was a survivor of violence. It also highlighted the need for support for no recourse cases and particularly the lack of refuge access for this group.

Domestic and Sexual Violence: HMIC, the judiciary and access to safety and justice
The Inquiry highlighted the shocking findings of the HMIC report into UK policing and domestic violence and drew attention to a failure to learn the same lessons, a failure to effectively deliver multi-agency protection and support, a shortage of specialist services, and the culture of disbelief. Indeed more broadly the JCHR inquiry highlighted the gulf between law and policy as opposed to practice and implementation. However, the inquiry also referenced recent court action suggesting that this may open the way to a higher standard of accountability in policing. The report also highlighted serious concerns, in particular citing Vera Baird Q.C. and Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, about the judiciary: “We have a highly male-dominated judiciary who frankly are not, as I understand it, trained in domestic violence and in my experience do not get it at all.” The Inquiry also highlighted the serious and damaging effect of legal aid cuts on women’s access to justice.

Faith and access to safety and justice
The Inquiry highlighted that a number of services are delivered by faith based individuals or organisations and that this is an area that may benefit from further examination. It recognized some important support from these sources. However, it also highlighted that there are broader consequences where faith based provision may deter some women from accessing services or where close-knit, faith-based communities could make it hard for some women to seek help. The Inquiry recommended a stand alone inquiry into how faith can in some cases be a barrier.

Inter Ministerial Group
The Inter Ministerial Group on Violence Against Women and girls, while a useful forum, has insufficient powers to be really effective in driving the agenda on VAWG. The inquiry called for a more dedicated, resourced and empowered body with teeth to be able to drive this agenda.

Our success stories

Thank You

29th August 2014

“Dear Eaves, I want to thank your organisation from my heart as you support and help people who really need… read more

Sarah, 19 from UK

30th July 2014

When I was 15 I had to leave home as things were very difficult. I used to sneak into my friends’ houses an… read more