Britain is failing women

How the UK was criticised for being in breach of key elements of a UN convention relating to tacklin

Britain has come under fire for being in breach of key elements of a United Nations convention relating to tackling violence against women.

The CEDAW Committee (the UN committee on the elimination of discrimination against all women) didn't mince its words in condemning the UK government, branding its shortcomings "alarming" for a developed country.

The convention is not concerned so much with equal treatment, but with equal access and equal benefits. It acknowledges on its own the framing of a gender neutral policy - meaning one that neither favours men nor women but treats both equally - may not be enough to deliver fair treatment for all.

Support for women to rebuild their lives after sexual violence must be a right, not a privilege determined by where women live and the services in their locality. There must be greater recognition of the importance, and protection of, women-only space for victims of sexual violence

The CEDAW Convention promotes two approaches to equality. First, the convention stresses the importance of equality in relation to women's equal access to the resources of a country.

Representing National Rape Crisis England and Wales, the irony about the resources didn't escape us. Our organisation continues to be underfunded, lurching from one financial crisis to another.

Since our return from the United Nations in mid July we have been waiting in anticipation for the CEDAW Committee's concluding observations on the UK Government's oral and written reports.

It is so rare for us to experience an official committee acknowledging, understanding and validating women's concerns that we want to draw attention to selected edited highlights in the hope we ensure the UK government meets their CEDAW obligations:

    Non-governmental organizations

  • The Committee notes that changes in the allocation of Government funding from needs-based to 'commissioning' frameworks, and the gender
    neutral interpretation of the Gender Equality Duty, have negatively impacted on funding to women's organizations and the provision of
    'women-only' services, in particular domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centres. Despite the establishment by the Government of an
    interim short-term emergency fund, the Committee notes with concern the impending closure of a number of rape crisis centres, as well as of
    domestic violence shelters, women's health organizations and black, minority and ethnic women's organizations.
  • The Committee recommends that the State party ensure that non-governmental organizations are able to effectively contribute to the
    continuing implementation of the Convention. It urges the State party to provide increased and sustained funding to non-governmental
    organizations and other civil society groups involved in the area of women's rights. It also recommends that the State party ensure that the
    interpretation and application of the Gender Equality Duty does not negatively impact on the provision of 'women-only' services or restrict
    the activities of women's organizations. It further recommends that the State party conduct an impact assessment of its 'commissioning'
    frameworks on the funding of women's organizations. The Committee requests the State party to include information on funding of
    non-governmental organizations and women's organizations in its next report.
  • Violence against Women

  • The Committee is concerned about the continuing prevalence of violence against women and girls, including domestic and sexual
    violence, and about the low prosecution and conviction rates of sexual violence cases. The Committee remains concerned about the absence of a
    comprehensive national strategy and programme to combat all forms of violence against women and girls. The Committee notes with concern the
    lack of adequate support and services for victims, including shelters, which is compounded by the funding crisis facing non-governmental
    organizations working in the area of violence against women and the forced closures of a number of such organizations
  • The Committee urges the State party to accord priority attention to the adoption of comprehensive measures to address violence against women
    in accordance with its general recommendation 19 on violence against women. The Committee calls on the State party to ensure the full
    implementation of legislation on violence against women, as well as the prosecution and conviction of perpetrators. In line with its previous
    concluding observations of 1999, the Committee also calls on the State party to adopt and implement a unified and multifaceted national
    strategy to eliminate violence against women and girls, which would include legal, education, financial and social components. The Committee
    recommends the expansion of training activities and programmes for parliamentarians, the judiciary and public officials, particularly law
    enforcement personnel and health-service providers, so as that they are sensitized to all forms of violence against women and can provide
    adequate support to victims. It recommends the expansion of public awareness-raising campaigns on all forms of violence against women and
    girls. The Committee also recommends the establishment of additional counselling and other support services for victims of violence,
    including shelters, and requests the State party to enhance its cooperation with and support, in particular adequate and sustained
    funding, for non-governmental organizations working in the area of violence against women.

So there it is, and The United Nations recommending the sustainable long term funding of Rape Crisis Centres, an end to Rape Crisis Centre closures.

Violence against Women is one of the main causes and consequences of women's inequality. The question is will the government meet its international obligations and become CEDAW Compliant? It has to report to CEDAW again in 2009 and 2011.

We're holding our collective breaths...

Show Hide image

The French millennials marching behind Marine Le Pen

A Front National rally attracts former socialists with manicured beards, and a lesbian couple. 

“In 85 days, Marine will be President of the French Republic!” The 150-strong crowd cheered at the sound of the words. On stage, the speaker, the vice-president of the far-right Front National (FN), Florian Philippot, continued: “We will be told that it’s the apocalypse, by the same banks, media, politicians, who were telling the British that Brexit would be an immediate catastrophe.

"Well, they voted, and it’s not! The British are much better off than we are!” The applause grew louder and louder. 

I was in the medieval city of Metz, in a municipal hall near the banks of the Moselle River, a tributary of the Rhine from which the region takes its name. The German border lies 49km east; Luxembourg City is less than an hour’s drive away. This is the "Country of the Three Borders", equidistant from Strasbourg and Frankfurt, and French, German and French again after various wars. Yet for all that local history is deeply rooted in the wider European history, votes for the Front National rank among the highest nationally, and continue to rise at every poll. 

In rural Moselle, “Marine”, as the Front National leader Marine Le Pen is known, has an envoy. In 2014, the well-spoken, elite-educated Philippot, 35, ran for mayor in Forbach, a former miner’s town near the border. He lost to the Socialist candidate but has visited regularly since. Enough for the locals to call him “Florian".

I grew up in a small town, Saint-Avold, halfway between Metz and Forbach. When my grandfather was working in the then-prosperous coal mines, the Moselle region attracted many foreign workers. Many of my fellow schoolmates bore Italian and Polish surnames. But the last mine closed in 2004, and now, some of the immigrants’ grandchildren are voting for the National Front.

Returning, I can't help but wonder: How did my generation, born with the Maastricht treaty, end up turning to the Eurosceptic, hard right FN?

“We’ve seen what the other political parties do – it’s always the same. We must try something else," said Candice Bertrand, 23, She might not be part of the group asking Philippot for selfies, but she had voted FN at every election, and her family agreed. “My mum was a Communist, then voted for [Nicolas] Sarkozy, and now she votes FN. She’s come a long way.”  The way, it seemed, was political distrust.

Minutes earlier, Philippot had pleaded with the audience to talk to their relatives and neighbours. Bertrand had brought her girlfriend, Lola, whom she was trying to convince to vote FN.  Lola wouldn’t give her surname – her strongly left-wing family would “certainly not” like to know she was there. She herself had never voted.

This infuriated Bertrand. “Women have fought for the right to vote!” she declared. Daily chats with Bertrand and her family had warmed up Lola to voting Le Pen in the first round, although not yet in the second. “I’m scared of a major change,” she confided, looking lost. “It’s a bit too extreme.” Both were too young to remember 2002, when a presidential victory for the then-Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, was only a few percentage points away.

Since then, under the leadership of his daughter, Marine, the FN has broken every record. But in this region, the FN’s success isn’t new. In 2002, when liberal France was shocked to see Le Pen reach the second round of the presidential election, the FN was already sailing in Moselle. Le Pen grabbed 23.7 per cent of the Moselle vote in the first round and 21.9 per cent in the second, compared to 16.9 per cent and 17.8 per cent nationally. 

The far-right vote in Moselle remained higher than the national average before skyrocketing in 2012. By then, the younger, softer-looking Marine had taken over the party. In that year, the FN won an astonishing 24.7 per cent of the Moselle vote, and 17.8 per cent nationwide.

For some people of my generation, the FN has already provided opportunities. With his manicured beard and chic suit, Emilien Noé still looks like the Young Socialist he was between 16 and 18 years old. But looks can be deceiving. “I have been disgusted by the internal politics at the Socialist Party, the lack of respect for the low-ranked campaigners," he told me. So instead, he stood as the FN’s youngest national candidate to become mayor in his village, Gosselming, in 2014. “I entered directly into action," he said. (He lost). Now, at just 21, Noé is the FN’s youth coordinator for Eastern France.

Metz, Creative Commons licence credit Morgaine

Next to him stood Kevin Pfeiffer, 27. He told me he used to believe in the Socialist ideal, too - in 2007, as a 17-year-old, he backed Ségolène Royal against Sarkozy. But he is now a FN local councillor and acts as the party's general co-ordinator in the region. Both Noé and Pfeiffer radiated a quiet self-confidence, the sort that such swift rises induces. They shared a deep respect for the young-achiever-in-chief: Philippot. “We’re young and we know we can have perspectives in this party without being a graduate of l’ENA,” said another activist, Olivier Musci, 24. (The elite school Ecole Nationale d’Administration, or ENA, is considered something of a mandatory finishing school for politicians. It counts Francois Hollande and Jacques Chirac among its alumni. Ironically, Philippot is one, too.)

“Florian” likes to say that the FN scores the highest among the young. “Today’s youth have not grown up in a left-right divide”, he told me when I asked why. “The big topics, for them, were Maastricht, 9/11, the Chinese competition, and now Brexit. They have grown up in a political world structured around two poles: globalism versus patriotism.” Notably, half his speech was dedicated to ridiculing the FN's most probably rival, the maverick centrist Emmanuel Macron. “It is a time of the nations. Macron is the opposite of that," Philippot declared. 

At the rally, the blue, red and white flame, the FN’s historic logo, was nowhere to be seen. Even the words “Front National” had deserted the posters, which were instead plastered with “in the name of the people” slogans beneath Marine’s name and large smile. But everyone wears a blue rose at the buttonhole. “It’s the synthesis between the left’s rose and the right’s blue colour”, Pfeiffer said. “The symbol of the impossible becoming possible.” So, neither left nor right? I ask, echoing Macron’s campaign appeal. “Or both left and right”, Pfeiffer answered with a grin.

This nationwide rebranding follows years of efforts to polish the party’s jackass image, forged by decades of xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic declarations by Le Pen Sr. His daughter evicted him from the party in 2015.

Still, Le Pen’s main pledges revolve around the same issue her father obsessed over - immigration. The resources spent on "dealing with migrants" will, Le Pen promises, be redirected to address the concerns of "the French people". Unemployment, which has been hovering at 10 per cent for years, is very much one of them. Moselle's damaged job market is a booster for the FN - between 10 and 12 per cent of young people are unemployed.

Yet the two phenomena cannot always rationally be linked. The female FN supporters I met candidly admitted they drove from France to Luxembourg every day for work and, like many locals, often went shopping in Germany. Yet they hoped to see the candidate of “Frexit” enter the Elysee palace in May. “We've never had problems to work in Luxembourg. Why would that change?” asked Bertrand. (Le Pen's “144 campaign pledges” promise frontier workers “special measures” to cross the border once out of the Schengen area, which sounds very much like the concept of the Schengen area itself.)

Grégoire Laloux, 21, studied history at the University of Metz. He didn't believe in the European Union. “Countries have their own interests. There are people, but no European people,” he said. “Marine is different because she defends patriotism, sovereignty, French greatness and French history.” He compared Le Pen to Richelieu, the cardinal who made Louis XIV's absolute monarchy possible:  “She, too, wants to build a modern state.”

French populists are quick to link the country's current problems to immigration, and these FN supporters were no exception. “With 7m poor and unemployed, we can't accept all the world's misery,” Olivier Musci, 24, a grandchild of Polish and Italian immigrants, told me. “Those we welcome must serve the country and be proud to be here.”

Lola echoed this call for more assimilation. “At our shopping centre, everyone speaks Arabic now," she said. "People have spat on us, thrown pebbles at us because we're lesbians. But I'm in my country and I have the right to do what I want.” When I asked if the people who attacked them were migrants, she was not so sure. “Let's say, they weren't white.”

Trump promised to “Make America Great Again”. To where would Le Pen's France return? Would it be sovereign again? White again? French again? Ruled by absolutism again? She has blurred enough lines to seduce voters her father never could – the young, the gay, the left-wingers. At the end of his speech, under the rebranded banners, Philippot invited the audience to sing La Marseillaise with him. And in one voice they did: “To arms citizens! Form your battalions! March, march, let impure blood, water our furrows...” The song is the same as the one I knew growing up. But it seemed to me, this time, a more sinister tune.