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No time to lose as UK declares violence against women a “national threat”: UN expert

21 February 2024

LONDON (21 February 2024) – A UN expert today urged the UK Government to take urgent action to end all forms of violence against women and girls, as the country labelled it a “national threat”.

“Entrenched patriarchy at almost every level of society, combined with a rise in misogyny that permeates the physical and online world, is denying thousands of women and girls across the UK the right to live in safety, free from fear and violence,” said Reem Alsalem, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, in a statement at the end of a 10-day visit to the country.

“A woman is killed by a man every three days in the UK and one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime,” she said.

Alsalem acknowledged the robust legal framework for promoting gender equality, including the Equality Act 2010 and other legislation that applies across the United Kingdom. This framework is complemented by important legislation and policies in the devolved regions.

“The UK has been a leader in strengthening its legal framework to address current and emerging forms of violence against women and girls,” the expert said, including coercive control, digitally facilitated violence and stalking, as well as improving access to justice.

“Many countries will look to the UK for inspiration, as well as examples of innovation and good practice on how to make life safer for women and girls, and accountability for crimes committed against them,” she said.

The Special Rapporteur noted that the ability of the UK and Devolved Administrations to realise the full potential of their legislation and policies on violence against women is undermined by a number of realities, including the dilution of the link between these policies and the UK’s international human rights obligations; a general critical discourse and positioning on human rights, particularly in relation to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees; and the fragmentation of policies on male violence against women and girls across devolved and non-devolved areas.

“The UK can do more to translate its political recognition of the scale of violence against women and girls into action,” Alsalem said. She recommended bringing together all legislative and programmatic strands of intervention on the issue, upgrading and formalising responsibility for discrimination and violence against women and girls in government, anchoring it in human rights commitments, improving coordination between all parts of government and with civil society, and committing sufficient resources to translate its advanced legislation into action.

The expert highlighted the long-standing lack of adequate disaggregated data, including by sex, gender, ethnicity and disability, and the emphasis on sex- and gender-neutral approaches in the design and implementation of interventions as key challenges hampering effective monitoring and progress.

The Special Rapporteur expressed concern about how grassroots organisations and specialised frontline service providers working with women and girls are struggling to meet the needs of the most vulnerable women and girls – both foreign and national –subjected to violence, who fall through the cracks and are not covered by statutory service providers. “They are struggling to survive in an increasingly challenging context of rising living costs, a deepening housing crisis and a critical lack of funding,” she said.

“The situation of NGOs working on gender equality and violence against women and girls has reached a crisis point and is simply untenable,” Alsalem said.

“I urge authorities to restore predictable and adequate funding to these frontline organisations, which provide crucial and life-saving services to women and girls desperate to escape abusive and/or exploitative relationships,” she said.

The expert will present her full report to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2025.

Ms. Reem Alsalem (Jordan) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences by the UN Human Rights Council in July 2021, to recommend measures, ways and means, at the national, regional and international levels, to eliminate violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences. She is an independent consultant on gender issues, the rights of refugees and migrants, transitional justice and humanitarian response. She holds a Masters in International Relations from the American University in Cairo, Egypt (2001) and a Masters in Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (2003).  
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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