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NGO ORAL PRESENTATION UNITED KINGDOM Presented at the 55th CEDAW Session, Geneva July 8-19 2013

Presented by Ms. Charlotte Gage on behalf of the UK CEDAW Working Group

Madam Chair, distinguished members of the committee. My name is Charlotte Gage representing the members of the United Kingdom [UK] CEDAW Working Group.

Many of the critical issues raised by CEDAW in 2008 remain unmet and there has been regression in some key areas. Across England and Wales we are seeing a disregard for women’s equality and a threat to human rights in general. Intersectional discrimination also increases their vulnerability.

I would like to summarise our main points under three broad areas.

First point:
The Government’s austerity programme has had a disproportionate impact on many women(1) and fails to understand the immediate substantive impacts on women’s lives. Policies around welfare benefits and other support are disproportionately impacting on the most vulnerable [measures such as Universal Credit(2) are not gender neutral and will see women trapped in violent relationships] and pushing more women into poverty and insecurity.(3) [A survey in 2012 found that one in five mothers miss meals so that their children can eat]. Many women have been made destitute as a result of government policy. [Gender issues are not fully considered in the asylum system and specific categories of women with ‘no recourse to public funds’ are not covered by recent changes].

The public sector, which women are more reliant on for services and employment(4) and where equality protections are stronger, is being radically scaled down. The high cost of childcare(5) [which is the highest in Europe,(6) coupled with the widespread closure of Sure Start Centres(7)] leads many women not to seek work at all [while female unemployment is at a 25 year high(8)] and the gender pay gap is still far too wide.(9)

Access to justice has been removed entirely. Through recent major legal change free legal aid has been removed for women suffering discrimination and violence in most areas of civil law [for family law, employment, debt, immigration and more, women are the highest users of legal aid]. No ability to exhaust domestic law renders CEDAW meaningless.

Second point:
The localisation of social welfare and healthcare and changes to the National Health Service are exacerbating the inequalities in healthcare support and provision for women [women rely on health services most e.g. maternity and care services which are being cut] and women’s specific health needs are not addressed. [More women than men still report debilitation mental health problems(10) and there are specific health issues which affect women because of their immigration status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, women in prison, women with disabilities or those living in poverty. There are GPs who illegally perform FGM]. There is also a danger that women’s reproductive rights will be rolled back with government support.(11) [Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), which impacts on sexual health and confidence, is no longer compulsory and schools are not safe for girls(12)].

Violence against women and girls still occurs in England and Wales at epidemic proportions and measures have been insufficient with recent policies [which have led to high unemployment and increased debt] creating an increase in violence(13) and impacting on women’s safety as support services are being cut.(14) [The lack of government support for women’s NGOs, despite demonstrating value for money,(15) and the decentralisation of power to local authorities who are also facing huge cuts, means that local services for women are closing(16) at a fast rate leading to a lack of appropriate, accessible provision for many women].

Third point:
There is a lack of implementation of a gender-sensitive framework of equality and non-discrimination and no continuous monitoring or evaluation of the implementation of laws or measures. The lack of disaggregated data collection means that women’s inequality cannot be addressed now or in the future. [Collection of information through methods such as the census has been reduced].

The national women’s machinery in the UK has been dismantled [despite it being an exemplar of institutional engagement with women] and the Government has not adequately responded to proposals for a new model from the women’s sector [the Westminster Government must fill the current gap in its machinery to respond to women giving them a structured, collective and independent voice direct to Government]. There is an inconsistency of laws and measures across the devolved administrations means that women’s rights slip through the cracks. [NGOs from Scotland and Northern Ireland will provide further information on this].

The reality for women from all ages and backgrounds living in the UK is that there is incomplete realisation of their rights and serious attitudinal and behavioural barriers [the representation of women in the media(17) continues to be unequal and damaging, reinforcing gender-based stereotypes and sexism(18)] to substantive equality for all women.

[We endorse the submissions form our colleagues in the UK and our National Human Rights Institutions which provide more detail on many of these issues].

Thank you.

(1) An analysis of Treasury data by House of Commons Library researchers in 2012 showed £11.1bn of the £14.9bn raised from the five spending reviews since 2010 comes from women even though they earn less than men on average.
(2) The Women’s Budget Group believes these proposals will concentrate financial resources and power into the hands of one person which may exacerbate existing gender inequalities
(3) As the Women’s Budget Group have found in their analyses of the Budgets since 2010
(4) For example in Northumbria around 85% of job losses in the public sector have been women.
(5) An average part-time nursery place in London is £126 per child each week
(6) 33% of a British family’s net income goes towards the cost of childcare compared to the OECD average of 13%
(7) 281 centres have been closed since April 2010 and local authorities have also cut their budgets by 11% in 2011 and 21% in 2012
(8) In February 2012 of the 2.67 million people who were unemployed, 1.12 million were women
(9) On average women in the UK earn 15% less than men. The Government have introduced agreements with private industry to combat this but these are voluntary and ineffective
(10) Women are more likely to have been treated for a mental health problem than men (29% compared with 17%)
(11) Senior Ministers, including the Health Secretary and Minister for Women, support a reduction in the abortion time limit against medical evidence
(12) Research has found that sexual bullying and harassment is routine in schools and one in three 16-18 year old girls say they have been ‘groped’ or experienced other unwanted sexual touching at school, one in three teenage girls has also experienced sexual violence from their boyfriend
(13) The Government linked an increase in domestic violence to the recession in 2009 and an Equality and Human Rights Committee report confirmed this
(14) Thirty-one per cent of the funding to the domestic violence and sexual abuse sector from local authorities was cut between 2010/11 to 2011/12, a reduction from £7.8 million to £5.4 million
(15) Research by the Women’s Resource Centre found that on average, over five years, for every £1 invested in women’s services, between £5 and £11 worth of social value is generated for women, their families and the Sate
(16) Women’s Aid found that 60% of refuge services had no funding agreed from 1st April 2011 and in 2013 the Women’s Resource Centre found that 80% of women’s organisations surveyed has less than 75% of their funding secured for the next financial year (2013/14)
(17) Research by Women in Journalism found that male journalists wrote 78% of all front-page articles and men accounted for 84% of those mentioned or quoted in lead pieces
(18) UK NGOs responded called on the Government’s Leveson Inquiry to look at the way the media in Britain reports on violence against women, including victim-blaming and the perpetuation of myths about abuse, and how the press objectifies and degrades women

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Justice Committee: Select Committee Announcement PUBLICATION OF REPORT

GOVERNMENT’S PROBATION REFORMS DESIGNED FOR MALE OFFENDERS AND IGNORE WOMEN IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM, SAYS JUSTICE COMMITTEE NEW REPORT: Women offenders: after the Corston Report

Introducing a report by the Justice Select Committee, Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

The Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms have clearly been designed with male offenders in mind. This is unfortunately symptomatic of an approach within the Ministry of Justice and National Offender Management Service that tends to deal with women offenders as an afterthought.”

The Committee says that Government plans to introduce payment-by-results in probation services need to be redesigned in respect of women offenders—who are often classified as presenting a lower risk of reoffending—so that they receive the intensive tailored support they need.

In a report that looks at the progress made since the Corston Report in reducing the number of women being imprisoned, the Committee also raises concerns that efforts to implement Baroness Corston’s recommendations have stalled and the Government is failing to deliver the joined-up approach needed to support women at risk and help women offenders lead a law-abiding life. Strong political leadership and cross-government support at the highest levels is needed to make effective provision for women offenders in a criminal justice system where policy is framed around the much large numbers of male offenders. The Government’s strategic priorities for women offenders lack substance and in particular must take a broader approach to supporting women at risk of reoffending and addressing the inter-generational nature of crime.

Sir Alan added:
As the Corston report identified six years ago, helping vulnerable women break the cycles that lead to offending or reoffending requires a tailored joined-up approach across Government.”

This is not about treating women more favourably or implying that they are less culpable. It is about recognising that women face very different hurdles from men in their journey towards a law-abiding life.”

The Committee welcomes the Government’s extension of through the gate statutory support to prisoners sentenced to less than 12 months, likely to benefit many women offenders. However, the report cautions that potential providers of rehabilitative services need to recognise that levels of risk posed by women may not reflect the level of support such women require.

Although progress has been made in the overall treatment of—and provision for—women offenders since the Corston recommendations, a number of concerns remain:

  • The women’s prison population has not fallen sufficiently fast;
  • Over half of women offenders continue to receive ineffective short-custodial sentences;
  • Mental health and substance misuse treatment which could reduce use of custody remains unavailable to Courts in sufficient volume.

Maintaining a network of women’s centres and using residential alternatives to custody are likely to be more effective and cheaper in the long run that short custodial sentences, the report points out. The Committee does not recommend substantive changes to the overall sentencing framework, but argues instead that must be more emphasis be placed on ensuring courts are provided with robust alternatives to custody specifically appropriate to women. The MPs recommend a gradual reconfiguration of the female custodial estate with women who have committed serious offences being held in smaller, more dispersed, custodial units.

Sir Alan commented:
Prison is an expensive and ineffective way of dealing with many women offenders who do not pose a significant risk of harm to public safety.”
“Women’s centres and other community provision offer a route for diverting vulnerable women and girls away from crime and tackling the root causes of offending.”

Although steps have been taken towards achieving a network of such provision it has been at a disappointingly slow pace and too many women still receive short custodial sentences.”
“There needs to be a systematic change in a approach and to achieve that we need strong Ministerial leadership to further this agenda.”

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

Between 2000 and 2007 the women’s prison population increased by 27%. In 2006 Baroness Corston was commissioned by the Home Office to examine what could be done to avoid women with particular vulnerabilities ending up in prison, prompted by the deaths of six women at HMP Styal.

The Corston Report made 43 recommendations including improved governance and cross-departmental working on women offenders; the reservation of custodial sentences for the most serious and violent offenders; improvements to prison conditions and a reduction of strip-searching in women’s prisons; the use of community sentences as the norm; and the development of a network of one-stop-shop community provision for women at risk of offending.

On 9 January 2013 the Government published its “Transforming Rehabilitation” consultation paper setting out plans for an overhaul of the system for the rehabilitation of adult offenders managed in the community, to extend payment by results to independent providers of rehabilitative services in the community.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Committee Membership is as follows:
Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith (Liberal Democrat, Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Chair); Steve Brine (Conservative, Winchester); Rehman Chishti (Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham); Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North); Nick de Bois (Conservative, Enfield North); Gareth Johnson (Conservative, Dartford); Rt Hon Elfyn Llwyd (Plaid Cymru, Dwyfor Meirionnydd); Andy McDonald (Labour, Middlesbrough); Seema Malhotra (Labour/Co-operative, Feltham and Heston); Yasmin Qureshi (Labour, Bolton South East); Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton); Mike Weatherley (Conservative, Hove).

Specific Committee Information: justicecom@parliament.uk/ 020 7219 8196/8198

Media Information: Nick Davies daviesnick@parliament.uk/ 020 7219 3297

Committee Website: www.parliament.uk/justicecttee
Watch committees and parliamentary debates online: www.parliamentlive.tv

Publications / Reports / Reference Material: Copies of all select committee reports are available from the Parliamentary Bookshop (12 Bridge St, Westminster, 020 7219 3890) or the Stationery Office (0845 7023474). Committee reports, press releases, evidence transcripts, Bills; research papers, a directory of MPs, plus Hansard (from 8am daily) and much more, can be found on www.parliament.uk

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