Header image for news printout

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews the situation of women's rights in the United Kingdom

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
  against Women

26 February 2019

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today examined the eighth periodic report of the United Kingdom on measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. 

Presenting the report, Elysia McCaffrey, Deputy Head of the Government Equalities Office of the United Kingdom, explained that the Government of the United Kingdom was accountable for equality across the country and that it had devolved some powers to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  Devolution, while empowering, could give rise to diverse outcomes across the country.  The Northern Ireland Assembly had been suspended since January 2017; while the absolute priority remained the restoration of devolved power sharing government, the responsibility of devolved administrations to ensure human rights compliance remained.  The Government Equalities Office would become a part of the Cabinet Office on 1 April, sitting at the heart of decision making.  Significant strides had been taken to improve women’s lives, including through the increased territorial application of the Convention, greater participation of women in work at 71 per cent, lowest ever gender pay gap at 17.9 per cent, and at 1.2 million, a record number of women-led businesses.  The decision to leave the European Union did not change the country’s strong commitment to human rights, she said, for the United Kingdom had often been in the vanguard of developing new legislation and policies that supported women in the workplace, tackled violence against women and girls, and ensured that women were represented in political and public life.

In the ensuing dialogue, Committee Experts urged the United Kingdom to see the rights of women as a priority and a strategic investment, especially in light of its leave from the European Union, which might negatively impact on the status of women and their economic and social situation, especially for the poorest.  Commending the vibrant and committed civil society and the steps to strengthen gender machinery and put gender equality at the heart of decision making, the Experts recognized challenges in coordinating such complex and diverse systems that existed throughout the country, especially in the absence of a unified oversight mechanism for the implementation of the responsibilities under the Convention.  Budget cuts for local governments were already having major negative impacts in the fight against all forms of violence against women. The Experts welcomed the steps to ensure that media adverts did not depict offensive gender stereotypes, the legislation to address female genital mutilation, and the enactment of important pieces of legislation on modern slavery and human trafficking, and urged the United Kingdom to recognize the gendered nature of domestic violence, which remained the most prevalent form of violence against women, and to increase the resources to combat the phenomenon.  Poverty rates in this fifth largest economy in the world were alarming – one fifth of the population lived under the poverty line, while the escalation of austerity measures, coupled with decrease in social welfare measures, left women, especially those from marginalized groups, much more vulnerable.

Ms. McCaffrey concluded by thanking the Committee for the discussion and their recommendations, and recognized that much work was still required. 

Hilary Gbedemah, Committee Chairperson, concluded by commending the United Kingdom on their achievements.

The delegation of the United Kingdom was composed of the representatives of the Government Equalities Office, Department for Work and Pensions, Ministry of Justice, Welsh Government, Scottish Government, Department for Communities Northern Ireland, and the representatives of the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of United Kingdom and Northern Ireland at the end of its seventy-second session on 8 March.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on 27 February to consider the seventh periodic report of Angola (CEDAW/C/AGO/7).

Report

The Committee is considering the eight periodic report of the United Kingdom (CEDAW/C/GBR/8).

Presentation of the Report

ELYSIA MCCAFFREY, Deputy Head of the Government Equalities Office of the United Kingdom, in the introduction of the report, reaffirmed her country’s commitment to advancing gender equality, and the important role the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Committee played in helping to drive forward this very important agenda.  The United Kingdom took its obligations under the Convention seriously and strived to use the pivotal moment and global debates generated by the #MeToo movement to strengthen is compliance with the Convention.  The Government of the United Kingdom was responsible for equality legislation, and was accountable to the Committee for equality across the country, said Ms. McCaffrey, and some powers, including several that related to equality, had been devolved to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  The country had a long tradition of protecting human rights and liberties, within a comprehensive and well-established constitutional and legal system, which included, inter alia the common law, the Equality Act 2010, the Human Rights Act 1998, and the devolution statutes. 

The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland took primary responsibility for observing and implementing the United Kingdom’s international obligations in devolved areas of responsibility, which meant that devolution could give rise to diverse outcomes across the country.  There was a common equality legislative framework across England, Scotland and Wales, she said, with only certain areas being devolved, such as the specific duties under the Public Sector Equality Duty, the key lever for achieving gender mainstreaming in England, Scotland and Wales, as it required public bodies to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation when conducting their day-to-day work in shaping policy and delivering services.  For Northern Ireland, the Belfast Agreement of 1998 had created devolution settlement, which foresaw a democratically elected Assembly in Northern Ireland capable of exercising legislative and executive competence over devolved areas of the law which included equalities, health, and crime.  The Northern Ireland Assembly had been suspended since January 2017, said Ms. McCaffrey, noting that the absolute priority of the Government remained the restoration of devolved power sharing government in Northern Ireland.  At the same time, the United Kingdom Government believed that the current situation should not dislodge the principle that defined the responsibility of devolved administrations to ensure human rights compliance. 

The Overseas Territories were constitutionally not part of the United Kingdom and therefore, the protection and promotion of human rights there was primarily the responsibility of their governments.  Equally, the Crown Dependencies were self-governing and had their own directly elected legislative assemblies, administrative, fiscal and legal systems, and courts of law.  In the United Kingdom, three Ministerial posts had been retrained to deliver on women and equalities agenda across Great Britain, including one at Cabinet-level: Minister for Women and Equalities, Minister for Women, and Minister for Equalities.  The House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee established in 2015 monitored the performance of Government Equalities Office, which on 1 April would become part of the Cabinet Office, sitting at the heart of government.

Turning to areas where significant strides had been taken to improve women’s lives, the Head of Delegation highlighted the increased   territorial application of the Convention from three to seven Overseas Territories, a move that provided over 70,000 women and girls in Anguilla, Bermuda, Cayman Islands and the territorial grouping of St Helena, with increased protection from discrimination and violence.  The Government had a strong track record in promoting women’s economic empowerment, and as a result 71 per cent of women were in employment, the national gender gap was at its lowest ever at 17.9 per cent, the number of women-led businesses – 1.2 million – was the highest since records began, while shared parental leave had been introduced and the right to request flexible working had been extended to all employees.  In Northern Ireland, the Employment Act required adoption of regulations and a strategy on eliminating differences in pay of male and female employees.  Childcare entitlements for working parents of three and four year olds had been doubled, from 15 to 30 hours a week in England, while most disadvantaged two year olds were able to access 15 hours a week of free early education. Similar provision has been put in place in Wales and Scotland.  Laws on violence against women including domestic abuse had been strengthened, which had resulted in higher convictions, while in Wales, a National Advisor for Violence Against Women has been appointed.

Recognizing concerns that the United Kingdom’s impending departure from the European Union might negatively impact women, Ms. McCaffrey, said that the United Kingdom was preparing to leave in the best possible way for its national interest and was committed to ensuring that the country emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer, and more united than ever before.  The decision to leave did not change its strong commitment to human rights, and the United Kingdom did not need to be a part of the European Union to have strong protections against discrimination or high standards in the workplace.  The United Kingdom had often been in the vanguard of developing new legislation and policies that supported women in the workplace, tackled violence against women and girls, and ensured that women were represented in political and public life.

Questions by the Committee Experts

At the beginning of the dialogue, Committee Experts expressed concern about the impact of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union on the status of women and the economic and social situation, especially for the poorest.  Recent developments showed that women’s rights were weakening, they said, stressing that the rights of women should be seen as a priority and a strategic investment, especially in light of Brexit.

The United Kingdom had not yet amended its legislation to transpose all the provisions of the Convention, giving rise to discrimination against women, especially those minority and migrant women.  Was UK ready to create adequate condition for full legal transposition of CEDAW convention to the entire territory?   What was being done to ensure that devolved authorities understood well their responsibilities under the Convention, especially in Norther Ireland?  Experts urged the United Kingdom to make the Convention a positive engine of development, particularly in the run-up to Brexit, and to build a model of society based on its foundations.

The Overseas Territories were still awaiting initiatives to combat all forms of discrimination against women, Committee Experts remarked, wondering whether the United Kingdom should play an active leadership role.  On women, peace and security, the Experts asked about women leadership in the peace agreement in Northern Ireland.

Replies by the Delegation

The United Kingdom was very proud of its leading role in the advancement of equality and women’s rights, said the delegation, and the decision to leave the European Union would not prevent the Government from continuing to take steps to ensure women's place in society and to respect human rights.  The leave would not affect the commitment to implementation of the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights, while rights contained in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union would continue to be protected and respected.  Starting on 1 April, the Government Equalities Office would be at the heart of government, which meant that women would be at the heart of decision making.

The United Kingdom did not consider that the incorporation of the Convention into domestic law was necessary.  The Convention had been used as an interpretative source in the domestic courts, while its substantive provisions were already largely taken into account in its national legislation.  In addition, gender was mainstreamed through public sector equality duty, which defined an obligation of each government department to consider the impact of policies on women and girls in development and implementation of policies.  All devolved administrations recognized the importance of the implementation of the Convention and would continue to work to enhance the engagement of both the government and non-governmental sector.  There was coordination across the entire country in order to learn from each other and take into account all the good work already done in advancing gender equality.

The United Kingdom had signed the Istanbul Convention in 2012 and remained absolutely committed to ratifying it.  In order to ensure its full compliance, the Government needed to ensure extraterritorial jurisdiction not only over forced marriage and female genital, but over rape and sexual assault as well.  This required further amendments of the domestic legislation in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.  The delegation reaffirmed the commitment to voluntary national review reporting on the Sustainable Development Goal 5 and 10 in 2019. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, Committee Experts commended the vibrant and committed civil society in the United Kingdom and welcomed the strengthening of the national gender machinery by the forthcoming move of the Government Equalities Office into the Cabinet Office on 1 April, thus giving it more convening power and putting equality at the heart of decision making.  However, concerns remained about the coordination of the complex and diverse systems that existed throughout the country, and the lack of oversight mechanism for the implementation of the responsibilities under the Convention. 

The Committee was further concerned about lack of resources for women’s issues, which would be exacerbated by the loss of the European Union funding following the leave.  The Expert remarked that while implementing budgetary cuts that were affecting women especially those most vulnerable, the United Kingdom had significantly increased its military spending.  The resource constraints and cuts in budgets for local governments were already having major negative impacts in the fight against all forms of violence against women.  the United Kingdom had an impressive system of national human rights institutions, which too could be affected by budgetary cuts.

The Committee praised the steps taken to increase the participation of women Parliament and raised concern about their unequal use in different parts of the country and
differential impact, particularly since the increased participation of women in public sphere in some areas did not include vulnerable women or those from black and ethnic minorities, women with disabilities, or women of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity.  The delegation was asked about the application of temporary special measures geared towards substantive equality of women in other spheres of activity, and throughout the country.

Responses by the Delegation

Responding, the delegate recognised the need for greater emphasis on intersectionality in the Government Equalities Office and said that broadening the participation of women across the board, particularly marginalized women, while coordinating with other government departments, for instance, with the Department of Education or with the Home Office to monitor sexual violence would help their efforts.  In Scotland, a minister to ensure gender equality had been appointed.  The delegate noted that the deep-seated negative attitudes towards women’s participation had to be addressed.  In Northern Ireland, the approach to intersectionality was underlined by current legislation.  The Office for Statistics sought to generate more data which would help identify gaps in information that could help policies address concerns of diversity and intersectionality.  A review of the Enhanced Code would be undertaken later in 2019. 

On women’s representation, including in Scotland and Wales, increased funds and campaigns had been launched and progress had been made on the representation of women on boards, which had gone up to 33 per cent.  The United Kingdom had the most diverse Parliament at present, but the delegate recognised that there was more work required in this direction.  Overall, the Government had a strong commitment to diversity and considered that greater diversity was highly desired.

In terms of budgetary cuts and resource constraints, the delegate said that the United Kingdom spent 1.7 billion pounds on universal credit, and that the Government would continue to receive the promised European Union funds for projects till the departure from the Union.  It was also working on conceptualising new agreements with the European Union after Brexit.  Specific attention to tackling violence in times of austerity especially for victims of rape and sexual violence would be given.  This would include increased funding to support services, for instance, 800,000 pounds funding this year would be allotted and the grant funding period would be extended from one to three years to allow greater stability for organizations. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee Expert commended the steps taken to ensure that media adverts did not depict offensive gender stereotypes and asked whether guidance and rules tackling harmful genders stereotypes in media adverts were already in place and how they were being implemented.  What was being done to address the overwhelming gender imbalance across all media platforms?  The Committee was concerned about the emergence online violence and abuse against women, with more than one third of women across the United Kingdom having experienced some of its forms.  The delegation was asked whether it would adopt legislation prohibiting irreversible surgery on intersex children and remove barriers to access to justice, including by lifting the statute of limitations.

The Committee commended the drafting of the law on reporting of female genital mutilation in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and commending the implementation of the law in England, asked about number of prosecution.  The most prevalent form of violence against women seemed to be domestic violence, and yet draft domestic abuse bill failed to acknowledge its gendered nature.  The Experts acknowledged the recent the United Kingdom report which had estimated that the social and economic cost of domestic violence for victims at £66 billion, and yet, the resources that the Home Office dedicated to combatting the phenomenon were negligible.

The delegation commended the United Kingdom for the enactment important pieces of legislation in 2015, namely the Modern Slavery Act, Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act, and the laws on human trafficking in Scotland and in Northern Ireland, but raised concern that current referral mechanisms did not provide for an effective identification and protection of victims and their access to support services and justice, while the definition of trafficking in persons had not been aligned with that in the Palermo protocol.  On situation of women in prostitution, the delegation was asked about measures taken to help and support women’s exit from the prostitution, since more than 70 per cent were either mothers or had dependents.

Committee Experts asked how the 2015 national strategy for fighting violence against women took into account the specific needs of women with disabilities, especially in light of dependencies they often had on those committing the violence in the first place. 

Hate speech was making headway in many countries including in the United Kingdom, which was a paradox because the United Kingdom was a country that protected – or used to protect – cultural diversity.  But xenophobic, homophobic and hate speech were on the increase, and in fact the entire Brexit campaign had been marked by such speech.  What was the Government doing to address the phenomenon and protect the vulnerable persons?

Responses by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation said that England had issued a call for evidence in order to increase its understanding of the issues facing intersex persons and especially victims of intersex genital mutilation. 

The Advertising Standards Authority was the industry’s independent regulator, and was responsible for setting standards, using largely self-regulation.  Its codes were applicable to all media, broadcast and online, and addressed specific issues such as protection of children, corporate social responsibility, and others.  A range of sanctions could be taken for noncompliance, with statutory regulations defined by the Office for Standards.  It could ban advertisement featuring gender stereotypes on the grounds of objectification, inappropriate sexualisation, and depiction of unhealthily thin body images.  A new rule specifically addressing gender stereotyping was being introduced into the advertising code, and would come into force on 14 June.  The United Kingdom was committed to ending online misogyny and make the United Kingdom one of the safest online places. 

A few years ago, Wales had reviewed its entire curriculum and as a result had developed a curriculum on relationships and sexuality education which was being launched in April this year.  On the identification of victims of trafficking, the delegation said that Wales had launched several years ago a training on how to recognize cases of trafficking in persons and aid victims.  This ongoing programme targeted private and public sector workers, non-governmental organizations, and hotel personnel. 

In England, the priority was on protecting from harm and exploitation those who sold sex, on targeting those who exploited them, and on ensuring that the law indeed enabled the police and prosecution services to tackle the harms.  The acts of buying or selling sex were not illegal in England or Wales, but there were also activities associated with prostitution that were offences, such as controlling prostitution.  People who wanted to leave prostitution should be given all possible help, said the delegate, noting that England was aware of different legislative approaches to prostitution.  In Northern Ireland, buying sex had been criminalized and the selling decriminalized.  However, there was as yet no firm evidence to state that one approach to harm reduction was better than another, therefore authorities would continue to closely monitor the situation in Northern Ireland and the impact of the legislation.

Female genital mutilation was an offence and a harm that was taken very seriously, said the delegation and that was why the United Kingdom hoped that the first successful prosecution for this crime in February this year would act as a deterrent and protect girls from this barbaric practice.  In 2015 several legislative measures had been introduced to strengthen the law in that area and since then courts had made 296 female genital mutilation protection orders.  It was clear that legislation was not the only way to tackle this practice, so other initiatives were in place, including funding community engagement work, raising awareness, and ensuring that hospitals were recording information on cases and using it to inform social and police work.  The social work regulation was being changed to ensure greater protection of children from female genital mutilation and other forms of abuse.

Equally Safe programme in Scotland focused on violence against women in all its forms.  One of the themes it was looking at prostitution and sexual exploitation, and a multiagency group had been set up to deal with this issue that was gaining more prominence in Scotland.  There was a statutory duty to support victims of trafficking in Scotland, which had recently been doubled from 45 to 90 days, while a victim that had been forced to commit offence would not be prosecuted.  Female genital mutilation was an areas of increasing concern, and recent consultations had been put in place to define how to take forward action on this very sensitive issue and how best to ensure that the action would not force the practice into hiding, so that people could get support they needed.

The Government had recently reviewed its legal aid act, long awaited by many, which had helped inform the vision for the future, contained in the legal support action plan published in February 2019.  It sought to ensure that user-centred legal aid tailored to their needs, and that exceptional case funding to ensure that it was available subject to statutory means test.

In terms of women, peace and security, the delegation said that in Northern Ireland the executive had agreed in 2016 an action plan for tackling paramilitary activity and organized crime, implemented in cooperation with the police and local communities.  The approach focused on long-term prevention, building capacities in communities, building confidence in the justice system, and robust law enforcement.  The women in community transformation was one programme in the action plan, which looked at the role of women in peace building and provided an opportunity for women to build skills and become more involved in actions at the local level.

In terms of protection of women with disabilities from violence, Scotland had taken a victim-centred approach and all services, including the police were accessible to persons with disabilities.  Courts and tribunals covered a wide span of disabilities to ensure that these groups could access justice.  For instance, civil law and family proceedings make provisions for persons lacking capacity to participate in court proceedings due to mental health or disabilities.
 
There had been an independent review in Scotland on hate speech, while in Wales, National Hate Crime and Support Centres would allow victims to report instances without having to go to police.

Questions by the Committee Experts

A Committee Expert inquired about women’s representation in political life and the 50-50 parity target and recalled that the United Kingdom had been one of the first countries in the world to grant women the right to vote.  Despite a number of awareness campaigns launched to achieve greater parity, only the Labour Party had adopted internal quotas for women’s participation.  The delegation was asked to describe measures taken to increase incentives in public and private spheres in order to achieve the better representation of women, and a greater participation of black and ethnic minority women.  He asked the delegation to provide the data on participation of women in decentralised territories, local governments, mayors, parish councils, and parliament committees, and specifically requested statistical data from Northern Ireland and its two major populations groups.

One expert recalled that the United Kingdom had been one of the first countries in the world to grant women the right to vote.  Awareness campaigns have been launched to achieve greater parity, but to date the Labour Party is the only one to have internal quotas.  The expert asked the delegation how the Government planned to achieve parity.

Another Expert took up the legal provision on the acquisition of British citizenship and the exclusion of persons with matrilineal descent, and quoted the Supreme Court’s observation that this legislation was a ‘curious survivor of redundant’ social priorities.  Would the United Kingdom take steps to withdraw its reservation to article 9 of the Convention and would there be amendments to the law pertaining to the authority of the Secretary of State to deprive persons of citizenship or declare a person stateless?  The current safeguards in this vein were inadequate, the Expert remarked and asked if legal and advisory support was extended to persons in with such a situation.

Responses by the Delegation

On 50-50 parity, the Government recognised that increased diversity was an absolute necessity.  Numbers of women on local councils were not available at present but they would be happy to provide that information in writing.  Targets and measures aimed at attaining greater diversity were envisioned but the data was currently inadequate to proceed. 

On gender equality strategies, the delegate said that the current program ended in 2016 and they would have to wait for the decision of ministers on how they would proceed in the future in Northern Ireland.  In Scotland, 35 per cent of Parliament members were female so more work in this direction was required.  In legal professions and the judiciary, diversity would to be promoted.  As for women’s representation in the judiciary, in 2018 there were 29 per cent of women in courts marking a five per cent increase, with 35 per cent increase in tribunals, and six per cent increase in the Supreme Court.  Women were able to participate in legal professions, where numbers of black and ethnic minorities had increased. 

A delegate referred to the question on citizenship and reservations to Article 9 and pointed out that reservations remained under constant review, and noted the outcome of the judgement on the issue and added that certain relaxations in registrations were made for children born in foreign countries.  She concluded that the United Kingdom government would like to retain their reservation to Article 9 at present while noting the Committee’s recommendations. 

Questions by the Committee Experts 

Continuing the dialogue, Committee Experts inquired about commitments to gender equality in education, and about impact of austerity measures, specifically on rural schools.  Evidence of shortage of staff had led to teacher’s being forced to undertake supplementary roles at the cost of teaching. 

Experts pointed to lack of safe transportation infrastructure and access to Internet as well as the fact that school girls continued being subjected to sexual violence, harassment and gender-based bullying.  They asked about measures taken to prevent violence and bullying in schools, include children with disabilities in mainstream school, and ensure that all girls had a free choice of profession, free from gender stereotypes.  Finally, questions were raised about the review of counter-terrorism strategies and how these would incorporate human rights provisions.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that in Northern Ireland, one of the measures to address gender-based bullying in schools was incorporation of diversity and gender issues and relationships and gender sensitivity issues in mandatory teacher training.  The authorities were also working on identifying all forms of bullying and provide a unified definition of the offense, so that coordinated policies and measures could be designed. 

On introduction of sex education in school curricula, the United Kingdom was considering replacing rigid syllabi with flexible teaching arrangements that could accommodate these issues.  The primary responsibility for ensuring the incorporation of sex education into curricula rested with the respective boards of the schools, which also had the freedom to institute their own anti-bullying mechanisms. Cyber-bullying was also being given attention, particularly in the context of gender-based harassment.  Wales had allocated £2.5 million a year in grants to support rural schools and to foster collaboration between schools, and had introduced in 2015, discounts for bus travel for youth under 18 years of age; this would soon be extended to age of 21.  Measures in Scotland have been directed in monitoring and generating better data on bullying, violence and discrimination.

Counter-terrorism strategies were aimed to ensure that that there would be no space for any terror-related activities or tendencies.  It was recognised that there was no single profile or background of a potential terrorist, nor were there specific communities that were targeted as harbouring and providing an automatic path to future terrorist involvement.   

Questions by the Committee Experts 

In the next round of questions, a Committee Expert inquired about gender pay gaps and the regression of gender equality due to Brexit, and about possibilities to incentivise greater sharing of childcare responsibilities, for instance through policies like ‘use it or lose it’ parental leave.  Childcare cost and access had strong impact on employment trends.  In Northern Ireland, childcare costs were much higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom. 

Over half women did not report sexual harassment, and where it was reported, a large percentage of employers had not taken any action.  What was the United Kingdom doing to integrate 2.2 million women with disabilities into the workforce?

The health service in the United Kingdom was free and represented one of the best international examples, but it seemed to be overloaded today.  Despite increase in budgetary allocations, the United Kingdom was still at the bottom of the health spending among developed countries, Committee Experts noted

They commended on the situation of women in Northern Ireland who had to go to other parts of the United Kingdom to get an abortion, and asked whether any safeguards were in place against their discrimination and prosecution.  The Experts were surprised by the increase in the number of mental health cases, particularly among young women, women in prison, migrant women and victims of trafficking.

Responses by the Delegation

The United Kingdom promised that there would be no regression on gender rights and equality due to Brexit.  The gender pay gap was admittedly still quite high, and the delegation acknowledged stereotyping and occupational segregation of women, which lead to their concentration in lower paid jobs in education, health, and retail.  There was a need to devise strategies that would see more women in high paying jobs, including in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 

Campaigns to raise awareness on equitable sharing of childcare between men and women had been undertaken, but the United Kingdom did not consider a ‘take it or lose it’ approach at the moment.  The preferred approach was to increase allowed flexible work arrangements and mitigate taboos against men sharing in childcare.  Flexible work arrangements were being discussed with businesses, and childcare entitlements for working parents of three and four year olds had been doubled, from 15 to 30 hours a week in England.  Universal credit was a scheme that allowed women with children to access greater share of benefits upon return to work. 

Another delegate referred to the sustainability of state pensions and increase in the amount that women had been received and adjustments being made due to increased life expectancy of women.  One million more persons with disabilities would be integrated into the workforce and the Government undertook a ‘disability confident’ approach and more than 10,000 people have signed up for this campaign.  Scotland strongly supported empowerment of people with learning disabilities to empower them to make choices, and reiterated support for fair work action plans, which could consider a wide range of practices including gender pay gap and inclusion of the private sector in efforts to incentivise fair work practices. 

The issue of abortion was within the jurisdiction of the Northern Ireland Assembly, therefore the United Kingdom prioritised the restoration of the Executive in Northern Ireland in order to advance on this matter.  Norther Ireland women could travel to England, Scotland and Wales were provided with support.  On mental health, a delegate stressed that instances of suicide and self-harm in prison needed more attention, especially due to higher incidences in women’s prison than in ones for men.  

Questions by the Committee Experts 

In the next cluster of questions, Committee Experts remarked that, despite being the fifth largest economy in the world, one fifth of United Kingdom’s population were still living under the poverty line.  The escalation of austerity measures, coupled with decrease in post-war social welfare measures, left women, especially those from marginalized groups, much more vulnerable.  They asked about tax-policy related measures envisaged after Brexit to mitigate the differential impact of policy changes, and to ensure that women from all walks of life were not adversely affected.  The Equality Act of 2010 did not adequately cover all groups and types of discrimination, including intersectional discrimination, while climate change risk assessment report of the United Kingdom did not seem to have taken gender into consideration in its vision.

In the final round of questions, Committee Experts referred to divorce reform proposals and asked about the protection of property rights of women separating from their spouses.  The issue of religious marriages was raised, including the problem of triple talaq, and the discrepancies and time lags between civil dissolution of marriage and that of the religious norms.  Explanation were asked for the low conviction rates in instances of forced marriages despite the ample evidence of it, as well as the concerns of the handling of financial pressures and repatriation costs that emerged from these cases.  Finally, the issue of Brexit on bi-national couples was raised. 

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that there was considerable fiscal autonomy among the devolved and Overseas Territories with regard to tax policies, and reiterated the Government’s commitment to its flagship policy, the universal credit. 

In response to questions on detention of migrant women, the delegation explained that detention was important to United Kingdom’s border security and recognized that long detention periods needed to be addressed.  Pregnant women were not kept in detention for more than 72 hours, while 90 per cent of detainees left detention centres after four months and 60 per cent within 29 days.  Climate change was considered a problem of national security and economic significance.

The delegation explained that the Government was consulting on the issue of divorce, including the no-fault divorce.  The Home Office provided looked into and supported the victims of forced marriages.  Additional information on the issue would be provided in writing.

Concluding Remarks

ELYSIA MCCAFFREY, Deputy Head of the Government Equalities Office of the United Kingdom, concluded by thanking the Committee for the discussion and their recommendations, and recognized that much work was still required. 

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, concluded by commending the United Kingdom on their achievements and encouraged them to implement the Committee’s recommendations.

_______

For use of the information media; not an official record
Follow UNIS Geneva on: Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |Flickr