UN releases report assessing the UK strategy on violence against women and girls

by Barbora Holicka

The UN released a report examining how well the United Kingdom responds to violence against women and girls. The 24-page report was compiled by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, Associate Professor Rashinda Manjoo, following her visit to the UK from 31st March to 15th April this year, during which she met with both state and non-governmental actors. The findings will be presented at the UN in Geneva today (Tuesday, 16th of June).

The report concludes that domestic violence remains pervasive in Britain with 30% of women reporting to have experienced domestic abuse in the last year. This is above the European Union average of 22% and close to the widely quoted statistic of one in three women worldwide being exposed to some type of sexual violence in her lifetime. In the UK up to 87% of victims did not report the incident to the police either as a result of mistrust in justice system, or a fear of victim-blaming. Recent cuts to legal aid and placing a high financial burden on some victims were also a matter of concern. Other issues investigated by the Special Rapporteur include rape and sexual harassment, forced and early marriages, female genital mutilation, internet violence and normalisation of attitudes around sexual abuse and harassment in schools.

The shift from gender specificity to gender neutrality in the Government’s responses to violence against women was also of concern to many stakeholders. It was stressed that policies and practices on equality generally, and those on violence against women in particular, are increasingly gender neutral and aim for equal treatment for all, thereby disregarding the need for special measures that acknowledge difference and recognize that women are disproportionately impacted by violence, inequality and discrimination.
— Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo

High prevalence of gender-based violence among asylum seekers was reported with over 85% of female refugees having experienced some form of sexual violence in their country of origin, during the transit or within the UK. Here the report raises concerns about the inadequate assessment made by the Home Office to identify and acknowledge women’s past experience when applying for asylum leading to poor initial credibility assessment. Further concerns were raised regarding the safety and security measures taken to protect the female refugees and abused migrant workers whose situation seems to have been further worsened by the recent change in visa policy.

The report reviewed the governments’ strategy on prevention, pointing out the lack of overall comprehensive and coordinated implementation plan across the entire country, however, attention was paid to some successful prevention campaigns welcomed by all stakeholders such as the ‘This Abuse’ reach out. Review of the protective measures revealed shortcomings in the area of implementation of existing laws and policies and highlighted challenges caused by the recent budget cuts. The justice system was assessed as insufficiently equipped to address specific needs of the survivors. The experience of reporting the crime and subsequent legal action can often worsen the already experienced trauma.

Regarding the police response to domestic violence, interviewees reported a pattern of continued scepticism, indifference and a lack of empathy towards women, particularly women from black and minority ethnic communities.
— Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo

The report concludes that often the delivery of the action plans developed by the government in partnership with the civil society organisations is limited to ‘pockets of good practice’, and that success of preventive and protective strategies depends on comprehensive and coherent approach nationally without relying only on personal commitment and leadership of certain individuals and authorities. The Special Rapporteur recommended for the Sex & Relationship Education to be made compulsory in schools in order to support preventive efforts. Among other strongly recommended measures was a review of funding especially in the areas of life-saving support services for women, legal aid and the overall funding crisis faced by the specialist sector. It was also suggested for special task forces to be set up with representation of women from black and minority ethnic groups and refugee communities, who are likely to be disproportionately affected by all the above mentioned challenges as a result of institutional discrimination, and inequality of access to some services available to the survivors.

The report is welcomed and timely. It recognizes that the UK has an excellent policy framework for addressing violence against women and girls in place since 2011 with a great potential to improve lives of many women and girls who are or might be affected by gender-based violence, provided that the good policy is followed by comprehensive and detailed implementation plans. It also draws attention to the fact that sexual violence is in no way an issue isolated to low-resource and hostile environments.

The full report can be downloaded here

Barbora Holicka is based in London where she works as a freelance researcher and writer with a particular interest in nutrition, food security and human rights. She holds a BA in Development Studies & International Relations and had previously worked on public health related projects for local NGOs in the slums of Colombo, Sri Lanka and Nairobi, Kenya.