The women’s sector looks to the Universal Periodic Review to hold the UK Government to account over its attack on women’s rights
By Charlotte Gage and Ava Lee, Women’s Resource Centre
On May 24th, the United Kingdom’s human rights record will come under scrutiny by other member states in the United Nations (UN) Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This is an opportunity for the Government to show if it is genuinely committed to promoting gender equality and for current women’s rights issues in the UK to be raised.
This examination, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008 to improve the human rights situation across all member states, will be the UK’s second UPR; however there is now evidence that some recommendations relating to women’s rights from the previous review have been ignored.
In the 2008 review one of the recommendations stated that the UK should “integrate fully a gender perspective in the next stages of the UPR review”, but the only UK-wide example the Government gives in response to this is the formation of the Women’s Business Council and the provision of £2 million to support women setting up and expanding businesses in rural areas. This is an inadequate response, considering that £13.2 billion has already been taken from women’s incomes in the cuts to benefits and tax credits (more than twice as much as has been taken from men) , and that women’s unemployment currently stands at 1.13 million, the highest it has been for 25 years.
Under these circumstances, £2 million directed at women in a position to run their own businesses is a far cry from demonstrating any commitment to promoting gender equality to the increasingly large numbers of women facing unemployment and poverty. The Government must provide answers for this and address the fact that austerity measures are disproportionately impacting on women.
Another issue of concern is that even after accepting the recommendation “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”, the Government has done the reverse, closing The Women’s National Commission in 2010 and adopting a national rather than four-nation strategy to address violence against women and girls. In fact there is a lack of any kind of gender architecture and clear structures to enable women’s issues to be addressed.
Under new proposals, at least 46% of domestic violence victims will be ineligible for legal aid because the evidence that they will be required to present is dangerously restrictive, and each of the four nation’s strategies focus solely on domestic violence, leaving survivors of all other forms of VAWG with little access to protection. The Government has also still not signed the EU Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence which shows a lack of commitment to and understanding of the importance of these issues.
Cuts to frontline women’s services are also raising serious doubts about the sustainability of support currently provided; and are clearly not ensuring “more effective protection for women”. Over 3 million women and girls across the UK experience gender related violence each year, with signs of an increase in response to higher unemployment and debt, and yet one in five frontline women’s services are facing closure. The response of the Government through the Localism Act has been a move towards privatisation and large service contracts which push out smaller specialist women’s organisations and lead to the loss of historic expertise and experience, and ultimately to vulnerable women not accessing any services at all.
It is vital that these and other issues effecting women in the UK are raised at the UK’s Universal Periodic Review and that the Government is held to account. Women’s and human rights organisations submitted reports to the UN and the summary of stakeholders’ information includes specific references women and employment, women in the criminal justice system, violence against women, women’s representation, and reproductive rights. Hopefully this will lead to some strong recommendations.
In July 2013 the UK will also be examined by the UN CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women) Committee specifically on its women’s rights record. Currently the women’s sector is compiling a comprehensive shadow report on women’s rights in the UK which will go to the UN committee and help them to make recommendations for action to the Government which women can then use to lobby to ensure that they are realised.
Both these examinations will be a chance to highlight to an international audience how current government policies are having a disproportionate and damaging impact on women in the UK. Hopefully this will also be a chance for strong recommendations to be made to ensure that the Government cannot continue this attack on women’s rights and upholds its international obligations.
For more information on the Universal Periodic Review and to find out more about on the Women’s Resource Centre’s work visit www.wrc.org.uk