Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, has said that Britain has a more “in-your-face” sexist culture than many other countries.
Manjoo’s conclusion comes in an interim report of her visit to eight British cities in a 16 day tour earlier this month.
Manjoo also mentions positive developments in response mechanisms to violence against women, including improvements to access to justice, services and support for victims and witnesses, but she noted that such developments were not being established or applied consistently across the country.
Changes to the visa system have resulted in migrant domestic workers becoming even more vulnerable to psychological, physical and sexual abuse, low pay or even non-payment and in some cases not being allowed to leave their place of work alone. Sexual bullying and harassment has become the norm in schools, with one in three 16-18 year olds experiencing “groping”.
Manjoo says the Government’s approach to dealing with violence against women and girls has shifted from gender-specific to gender-neutral. This means that the already disproportionate way in which women are discriminated against made worse. The approach not take into account the social and economic situation of most women.
Manjoo proposes a working group be set up to deal specifically with the experiences and needs of black and ethnic minority women who have a higher rate of victimisation.
Austerity is affecting women not only directly, in the form of violence against women services being cut, but in poverty and unemployment, which are “contributory factors towards violence against women and girls”.
Third sector services are now required to spend more time and energy raising money than helping service users. Cutting these funds makes women and children more vulnerable not only to victimisation but re-victimisation too.
Manjoo had heard of disabled women being deemed “unfit parents” after failing to protect children from an abusive partner. She found women are reluctant to go through the criminal justice system with sexual abuse cases because of the “lack of a responsive, supportive environment”, which can “prevent trauma and re-victimisation” and because of the “low levels of prosecution and convictions”.
Manjoo repeatedly tried to visit Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre, to which she thought she had been granted full, unrestricted access. This is the place where just recently Christine Case, a 40 year old Jamaican women due to be deported from the UK, died. Manjoo said “if there was nothing to hide, I should have been given access”.
She states that it is important to recognise and remember the history of women’s violence and to be more gender-specific with regards to incarceration.
The United Nations Human Rights structures are very limited. Nonetheless Manjoo’s final report (due in June) should provoke wide public discussion — and action — on the feminist and socialist left.