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...