Today is the United Nations International Day of Older Persons. As the number of older people grows in developed countries they are becoming a much bigger force.
Yet as we see in the UK the government pays mere lip service to them – trying to present the general public with the idea that they are all well off and preferring to focus on the young.
Indeed the present Tory government thinks it can get away with targeting them – along with the poor- for the mainstay of their new post pandemic austerity polices.
In the last few years they have taken away free TV licences for the over 75s, abolished the ” triple lock ” for pension rises for one of the lowest state pensions in developed countries, continually raise the pension age and targeted women born in the 1950s and 1960s -taking away around £50,000 in pension payments by raising their pension age.
Many people aged 60 cannot now get free bus passes until they are 66 and ministers now have their plans to make them pay full prescription charges from the ages of 60 to 66 – knowing that far more of them are unhealthy and suffer chronic ailments than younger people. And they are going to reintroduce national insurance contributions for those over 66 who supplement their pension by working.
Older people facing redundancy
There are also problems for older people being targeted for redundancies -indeed the organisation Rest Less, (website here) which monitors job prospects for the over 50s, suggests that there were half a million people over the age of 50 on furlough according to the latest figures. They are reporting growing numbers of economically inactive people in their 50s and 60s. How are they going to get a full pension?
So it is rather good news that JustFair – a campaigning organisation – is calling for a new international convention on the rights of older people. You can read about them and their proposal here. Sufficient to say it highlights a lot of issues affecting older women – and it has the backing of CEDAWinLaw which held a tribunal examining women’s rights and the case for putting that UN convention on eliminating all forms of discrimination against women into UK law.
As it says: “Gender inequality in older age is the result of disadvantages accumulated over the life course and further exacerbated by ageism and age discrimination. As a result, many older women are denied their rights, a situation further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic with its disproportionate effect on both older persons and women. It is estimated that the impact of the pandemic increased the gender gap by a generation. This means that women will continue to reach older age in a disadvantaged position unless structural changes are made“.
Internationally the UN is highlighting a huge digital divide between developed nations and developing countries over the internet with older people the worst affected.
Yet, one-half of the global population is off-line, with the starkest contrast between the most developed countries (87%) and the least developed countries (19%) (ITU Facts and Figures 2020).
There are also lots of local events today highlighting the day. In my area in Hertfordshire Dacorum Age UK have a fund raising campaign called ” Slip into Slippers” celebrating the dignity of old age and the fact that many older people play a big role in the community.
Charlie Hussey, development officer for Age UK Dacorum said: “We are asking individuals businesses schools and clubs to get involved by Slipping into Slippers for some of the day, and encourage people to have some fun, make a small voluntary donation and take some photos / videos. All to raise funds and awareness of Age UK Dacorum and highlight the needs of older people and equally importantly the contributions they can still make to our community. “
I am also raising funds for my own website to develop my work holding the government and the powerful to account. Please donate if you can
A major blueprint for how the United Kingdom can transform its laws to end all forms of discrimination against women and properly implement the UN convention ratified by Margaret Thatcher in 1986 has been published by the CEDAW People’s Tribunal.
The 252 page report written by Jocelynne Scutt, with the backing of a researcher team,, proposes to end the piecemeal implementation of parts of the UN Convention Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination, both in national law and in different parts of the UK.
Its conclusion said: “The proposal now made by the CEDAW People’s Tribunal that the United Kingdom seize the opportunity now presented to it and introduce a Women’s Bill of Rights into the United Kingdom Parliament provides
a real opportunity to do this – create a climate where women’s rights are truly recognised as human rights, and human rights as women’s rights – with the United Kingdom taking the lead.”
it says it is time to replace fine words by politicians on women’s rights with deeds and includes comprehensive proposals backed up by research for almost every conceivable area of British life to improve the rights of women. Indeed in the space of one article it is impossible to encompass every area of this report – you will have to read and study it for yourself.
The shortcomings of the Equality Act
Some of the more dramatic findings reveal shortcomings in the 2010 Equality Act – which is probably the UK’s major contribution to women’s rights – both in sections that have never been implemented and the fact that its provisions don’t apply to Northern Ireland – which the present government insists should remain an integral part of the UK.
To back up that last point the report said:
” No devolved authority to have the power to undercut or reduce the provisions, extent or scope of the Women’s Bill of Rights and to address any potential conflict or proposal by any devolved authority to do so, the UK Act to include a provision prohibiting its terms from being excised from operation in the devolved jurisdictions. This provision to be based in the principle herein stated, namely that all women of the United Kingdom, wherever residing, are entitled to equal rights without being deprived of them by reason of residency in any devolved jurisdiction.”
But it does not rule out as Scotland and Wales introducing their own legislation both to improve any UK Act or if the government doesn’t introduce any legislation for Scotland and Wales to go ahead with their own law as they are proposing to do now.
The report also insisted on widespread training for lawyers and public officials on what CEDAW means.
“That the Women’s Bill of Rights include a provision making it mandatory for members of the judiciary and magistracy at all levels to receive education and training on an initial and regular basis, including remaining up to date with CEDAW jurisprudence, and that this provision extend to all holders of public office, whether by appointment or election, in international, national and local bodies and authorities.”
This is a point I felt during the Court of Appeal hearing on the judicial review of women’s pensions that the judges did not seem to have a clue about CEDAW – and in my view this contributed to their decision to throw out the case.
It also makes it mandatory for every piece of legislation to have a gender impact assessment and for all government departments to have a gender impact assessment for every new policy they introduce. Since women are the majority in this country I would have thought that to be essential.
The report picked up that many women do not understand their rights because it is not presented in simple and clear language and the information is not available ( take the 50swomen case in informing women about the rise in the pension age for example).
The ” whole person ” approach to women’s rights and discrimination
There is also a failure to connect discrimination against women to other serious forms of discrimination. As the report said:
“The discrimination of women based on sex and gender is inextricably linked with other factors that affect women, such as race, ethnicity, religion or belief, health, status, age, class, caste and sexual orientation and gender identity. Discrimination on the basis of sex or gender may affect women belonging to such groups to a different degree or in different ways to men. States parties must legally recognize such intersecting forms of discrimination and their compounded negative impact on the women concerned and prohibit them.”
Where is particularly bad the report said the government should use “special measures” – specific legislation to address the problem – to end this inequality.
The report looked at major policy issues such as Brexit, climate change, the Covid 19 pandemic and the Windrush scandal and how they affected women.
It quoted evidence on how these separate issues impacted on each other. One passage read:
“The evidence further provided a snapshot view of the rise in hostility in the lead-up to, the confirmation of, and the continuing aftermath of Brexit. The Covid pandemic has exacerbated this, in that because Black and minoritised women (along with their male counterparts) have been in the forefront – both as doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and cleaning staff in hospitals, and suffering from being more susceptible to the virus – this has militated against their interests in the community, too – drawing racist attacks as if they are to blame because of that greater susceptibility”.
It tackled controversial issues such as migration, asylum seekers, women being detained in prison and made strong recommendations on how to deal with these issues. And it dealt with the lack of equal pay for women, and being forced by the partners into credit debts -coining the phrase ” sexually transmitted debt.”
” Sexually transmitted debt”
“This term, coined by lawyer Jenny Lawton and barrister Emma Swart recognises the position of women who, believing
their signature does not ‘count’ and under pressure that is difficult or impossible to counter, sign contracts – including mortgages and guarantees – at the behest of husband or partner, plunging them into debts they did not envisage, from which they do not profit, and which they did not wish to accumulate. Not infrequently, this occurs with the complicity, to a greater or lesser degree and even amounting to collusion, with banks or other financial providers.”
It also looked at faith marriages among the South Asian community which are not recognised by civil law and how they can lead to polygamous marriages, trafficking and women left with nothing in a divorce settlement.
This gives you an idea both of the breadth of issues covered by the tribunal and the need for widespread reform in many areas to give women full rights. And I haven’t touched on violence against women and domestic abuse.
This is truly a major document and a basis for major campaign to change the entire approach to women’s rights. Read it, digest it, and go forward and campaign for change.
UPDATED: WITH FULL ROTHERS RADIO PROGRAMME ON CEDAW
Today a group of women from the CEDAW People’s Tribunal led by its president, former judge Dr Jocelynne Scutt went to Downing Street to petition the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson to introduce a comprehensive women’s rights bill.
This is the latest move in a campaign to persuade the government to implement the UN Convention to End All forms of Discrimination Against Women ratified by Margaret Thatcher as long ago as 1986.
It would pave the way for proper gender sensitive legislation and transform the rights of women still fighting for equal pay, equal treatment and better protection from, domestic violence, rape and abuse.
Above is a video now on You Tube of the event. I came along to report it for this blog
Dr Scutt was accompanied by four of the many legal assistants who helped the campaign. They are Katie Capstick, Pietra Asprou, Clara Guitau and Sara Vincezotti.
The event was organised by the steering committee involving Ann Fenner, Kris Gibson, Michaela Hawkins, Louise Matthews, Davina Lloyd and Joanne Welch.
One intriguing insight. The handing over of the petition was delayed a little as Boris Johnson, who was in residence, had to dash outside from No 10 to No 9 Downing Street. He was in the middle of the virtual G7 summit at the time with Afghanistan on his mind. No doubt once he got to see the petition it would remind him that there were also issues like women’s rights in the UK which are not going to go away either.
The next step shortly will be the publication of the report from the People’s Tribunal. There is also a radio interview with me, Joanna Welch and Davina Lloyd tonight who both organised the tribunal with the amazing help of human rights lawyers from Garden Court Chambers.
Ian Rothwell special programme on Salford City Radio
Special programme on BackTo60 and CEDAW; Interviews with Dr Davina Lloyd, chair of the CEDAW Tribunal Steering Committee; Joanne Welsh and myself talking about how the moves in Scotland and Wales are complementing the work of CEDAW. Press on the button below to hear the entire programme ( one hour)
Enjoy the programme and thanks to Ian Rothwell and Salford City Radio for allowing me to put it on my blog.
Successive governments’ decision to cut drastically the legal aid budget has caused enormous damage to diverse women and girls groups according to witnesses who gave evidence today to the CEDAW People’s Tribunal.
They cover the plight of Muslim women who are forced to seek divorces at Sharia Courts because they cannot afford to go to a civil court, migrants denied access to legal aid and married women fleeing domestic violence going to family courts over the custody of children and divorce settlements. The tribunal is looking at how the Un Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination can be put into UK law.
Legal aid ban putting Muslim women at the mercy of patriarchal fundamentalism
A damning indictment of the drastic effect of legal aid cuts which had created formidable barriers for all women – but especially black and ethnic minority women – was made by Pragna Patel.
She was particularly critical of the plight of Muslim women fleeing a marriage and unable to access the civil courts because of the lack of legal aid. Instead decisions were taken by unofficial religious courts dominated by conservative patriarchal fundamentalists. ” The woman has no status there, no right to keep her children, no property rights and no inheritance rights. This completely contravenes human rights.”
She cited a case of one woman who has only had a religious marriage – which had never been followed by a civil marriage. As a result when she went to a civil court to get her rights – the court could not rule on the marriage as it has never been legally recognised. The case has gone to the Law Commission but it has so far not ruled on it.
She also attacked the funding system – having won a judicial review against Ealing Council – when it withdrew funding. She said most of the money was now given to ” generic services ” based on getting results set by targets rather than specialist services offering long term support to people.
“Domestic abuse perpetrator given custody of children at his former wife’s expense”
Dr Proudman highlighted the lack of legal aid holding back women to defend their rights in family courts after quitting their marriage over domestic abuse. She said there was an inequality of arms when they had to appear as a litigant-in-person because they could not afford to pay a barrister. She also said the courts had the discretion on who should pay and where the children should reside in cases – leaving in one instance a woman who had left her husband because of domestic abuse having to pay for her children to be looked after by her abuser – her husband.
She was highly critical of the lack of training for barristers and judges on handling domestic abuse cases – and the failure of the government after the passing of the Domestic Abuse Act to specify what training will be given. She also said that many of the lawyers eyes glazed over when they the issues of women’s rights and certainly CEDAW were mentioned.
She also thought that judiciary was dominated by elite men -” male, pale and stale” – educated at private schools and Oxbridge. She said most of the women were also from the same elite -privately educated and with Oxbridge degrees – meaning neither knew much about the life of the people who came before their courts. She came from a working class background and had gone to a state comprehensive school.
Equality Act has left people working in silos
Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith, from Anona Development Consultancy on International Developments on Human Rights. Esuantsiwa was one of the first black VSO volunteers, serving as a teacher in Tanzania 1977-79. Esua was a leading figure in the UN process for women, attending the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995, as a member of the UK Government Delegation representing Development INGOs. She was founder and Chair of the Beijing Forum which co-ordinated the input of UK development NGOs. She was the first black woman Chair of the Fawcett Society, Chair and Co-founder of the Gender and Development Network
Esua has highly critical and disappointed by the failure of the 2010 Equality Act. She had great hopes that the Equality and Human Rights Commission by putting all the equality issues together would be a big improvement. But instead she said it was still working in silos and relying on individual litigation.
She thought putting CEDAW into domestic law would create a much more holistic approach bringing together business, politicians, civil society, ngos and the women’s sector together by breaking down barriers.
She was scathing about the lack of progress of BAME women in Parliament – 35 out of 650 MPs. She also attacked the way white males trolled and pursued prominent black women like Diane Abbot, just because they were powerful people.
Dramatic rise in on line sexual abuse during the pandemic
Dr Kelly’s areas of research/expertise include domestic and sexual violence, policing, and more broadly violence against women and girls; including Rape Crisis. She has particular research experience in the policing of domestic abuse, image-based sexual abuse (including ‘cyberflashing’, so-called ‘revenge porn’ and ‘upskirting’) and feminist theory.
An alarming picture of the rise in ” revenge porn” during the pandemic leading to sexual violence against was women during the pandemic left the police unable to have the resources to act to control it, Dr Kelly told the tribunal. She said this caused “significant and devastating harm for women”. Black and ethnic minority men were disproportionately involved and many of the attacks were misogynistic with a sense of male entitlement that they could do what they wanted.
When sexual violence followed this the police were not always able to cope – with basic resources like police cars in short supply – so they couldn’t get out to see people. Perpetrators were getting away scot free and were also using on line dating sites.
She called for long lasting cultural changes including much better education of young boys, teaching them the need for consent.
Media stereotyping of women puts pressure on women politicians at national and local level
Sofia is Co Investigator in the ESCR-funded Representative Audit of Britain project, part of Parliamentary Candidates UK and principal investigator in the Survey of Local Candidates in England. Fields of expertise: Gender equality, Participation, Policy design and delivery
The media were criticised for stereotyping women politicians and putting extra strain on women in public life. Some times they were the victims of a campaign of disinformation or not given the opportunity to reply. She called on journalists to be more accurate and carefujl in their reporting of women ;politicians and local councillors.
She said that though there were more women MPs -originally from a low base – an analysis of candidates standing for Parliament showed they were often given unwinnable seats so never got elected. She praised three countries -Sweden, New Zealand and Mexico – for giving women politicians a pro active role. Mexico was particularly praised for having a gender equal role which saw a massive increase in the number of women politicians.
She thought Parliamentary candidates should have compulsory training in equal rights before they stood for Parliament – as part of an initiative to bring CEDAW into domestic law.
The secret UK world of polygamous marriages
Yasmin has worked for more than 30 years predominantly on violence against women, race, faith and gender, and human rights. She has acted as an expert witness in legal cases providing expert reports on faith based abuse and Muslim marriage practices including polygamy and temporary marriage. Yasmin is chief Executive Officer at JUNO WOMEN’S AID (formerly Women’s Aid Integrated Services).
An extraordinary picture of the unknown scale of polygamous marriages in the UK was given to the tribunal by Yasmin Rehman.
She said nobody knows the scale of the marriages and the government is blind to the problem. It is hidden because Imans often give secret ceremonies for Muslim men who have one civil marriage to marry other women. There is also a ban on sex outside marriage for Moslems, she said, – which is why there are some additional marriages. Other polygamous marriages avoid bigamy laws – as UK men with a wife and family at home, marry another woman in countries where polygamous marriages are allowed.
She said the religious practice was harmful to women who are given a subordinate role – but the real problem was the clash between the freedom of practices allowed by religion with gender and equality issues. Worse there was some evidence that women were trafficked into the UK for forced polygamous marriages.
” The issue is seen to be in the too difficult box which is why there is not a single politician who is prepared to take the issue up.”
She said only one politician – the former Tory Chancellor, Sajid Javid – had raised part of the issue – but only over children being forced to marry an older man.
Baljit Banga, executive director of Imkaam, a UK based black feminist umbrella organisation, gave a detailed run down on what was wrong with the Domestic Abuse Act and why there is a need for a much better alternative and Dr Annette Lawson, chair of the national Women’s Commission, abolished in 2010 on why there is a need for some successor funded body to pull all women’s groups together to implement CEDAW.
The hearings are now over and the next stage is to draw up a report.
The president of the Cedaw People’s Tribunal, and a former judge, Jocelynne Scutt, said today that the decision by the Court of Appeal to turn down the judicial review into the handling of the rise of the pension age for 50s women will be overturned.
She was commenting on evidence to the tribunal from Christine Cooper, chair of accounting at Edinburgh Business School on the plight of 50s women and how CEDAR could redress the issue. She was giving evidence in a personal capacity.
Christine Cooper pointed out that the ruling -part based on the fact that the 1995 legislation allowed the Department for Work and Pensions to say they had no obligation to tell the 3.8 million women about changes to their pension would have wider implications for the rest of government policy if it was applied in other areas. For this reason alone it is likely to be challenged in other cases.
If the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) was part of UK law it would seen as discrimination against a particular group on that ground alone.
Christine Cooper strongly defended the 50swomen saying ; ” This is a group of women who did all what was expected of them in society, brought up families and went back to work when they could. The way they have been treated is mad.”
She said if the government had spent the £6.5 million on an advertising campaign to get people to take out a second private pension instead on informing women about the change in 2001 they would have been more prepared. Instead it had only spent £80,000 47,000 leaflets many going to private finance advisers – the people who were most likely to know about it anyway. She said the worst affected people were those who were in low paid jobs, single women, divorced women, women from ethnic minorities and those who had worked part time.
She it was clear that there had been no impact study in 1995 on the effect it could have on the women and the impact study which covered the 2011 Pensions Act was based on how men would be affected. Most women only had months notice – while men had seven years notice of the rise in the pension age from 65 to 66.
She also revealed that the DWP does not keep any information on the gender pay gap ,the gap between the pension earnings of women and men. Instead a survey is done by Prospect, a Whitehall trade union, which revealed that the difference has remained stubbornly at 40 per cent for the last five years -meaning men will get a pension worth £7,500 more than women.
Occupational pension pots for women aged 65 are at present £35,800 – a fifth of the figure for men at the same age.
Government pressure to get trade deals will hit women’s pay – former civil servant
A former senior civil servant warned that both Brexit and the hostile environment against migrants were going to have a disproportionate effect on women’s rights.
Janet Veitch OBE is a consultant in the UK and internationally on women’s rights, having worked for ten years for the UK Ministers for Women and as Director of the UK Women’s National Commission.
She is a founder member of the End Violence Against Women Coalition; Vice-Chair of ‘Equally Ours’ and an associate adviser on gender for the British Council. Janet was awarded the OBE for services to women’s rights in 2011.
Janet Veitch said that the UK leaving a market of 500 million people would profoundly affect the British economy because it had yet to find alternative markets. Pressure to get trade deals would lead to a downward pressure on wages and labour conditions, which would predominately affect women, as many were already in low paid jobs.
The ” hostile environment ” against migrants would also lead people to start to condone a critical attitudes against people who looked visually different to themselves. CEDAW might not be a complete panacea but it would force the government to do due diligence on a host of issues.
Horrendous statistics on how women are treated over maternity leave and costly child care
A horrendous picture of discrimination against pregnant women was outlined by Joeli Brearley to the tribunal.
Joeil,founder and CEO of ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’, a charity which protects and supports women who encounter pregnancy; maternity discrimination and lobbies the Government for legislative change. This was after being sacked when she was four months pregnant. Joeli was awarded the 2019 Northern Power Women ‘’Agent of Change’’; and is an International Women Human Rights Defender.
She described the appalling position of pregnant women who were often sacked by employers but then found they could get no redress under the employment tribunal system She said they had, while heavily pregnant only three months to lodge a case, found it would cost them £8000 to do so and many had no knowledge of the law. As a result there were very few cases.
She said women were hit by two major issues -facing pay cuts if they lost their jobs as they had to seek part time work on low pay – and paying for the second most expensive child care costs in Europe.
Typical child care costs took 33 per cent of their salary while single mothers, it took 67 per cent of their earnings. The difference between maternity leave and male parental leave of just two weeks meant only three per cent of men took a major part in looking after the new born baby, even though many more men would have liked to do it. Those who did had a 40 per cent more chance of staying together.
She said the situation had worsened during the Covid 19 pandemic. She thought CEDAW would make a big difference.
Loneliness and misery for women in rural Britain
Poor transport and health services, loneliness in the remote areas of the UK were all part of the problems facing women in rural England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Nick Newland is from the Association of Country Women Worldwide The organisation exists to amplify the voices of rural women, so that the problems they face and the solutions they raise are heard and acknowledged by international policy-makers and legislators. Rural women are the backbone of families/communities but they go unheard
in legislation, and they remain unprotected and unsupported. ACWW exists to change that.
He hoped CEDAW would lead to women have a much greater say in rural areas – and not just in the odd focus group -so they could get change in their area. He said transport was a major problem for many women – though it was better in Scotland and Wales than England.
He cited an example of one woman living in Monmouth who had to spend seven hours travelling to get a 15 minute jab against Covid 19 in Newport because of the bus timetable.
He also said that loneliness and isolation of women was a major issue – and had been made worse for women by the raising of the pension age. He said getting health care was also a big issue and there was a serious mental health crisis in rural Britain – some times aggravated by their farmer partners committing suicide. There were also cases of brain damage among women who had tried to commit suicide but had not succeeded.
” There is a desperate need for a national strategy , a better quality of life and equality for women in education and health.”
” We have already got one Pakistani here , we can’t take another one” – women’s refuge owner
Rosie Lewis is Director of the Angelou Centre , Newcastle supporting the organisation’s services for Black women and girl survivors and has been involved in social justice activism for more than 25 years.
She has given evidence to CEDAW and to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in order to ensure that the findings of both reflect the state response to violence against Black and minority ethnic women and girls.
An appalling picture of the treatment of women from ethnic minorities now migrant women and children had been excluded deliberately by the government from new domestic abuse legislation was given by Rosie Lewis
She said they were now being excluded from access to justice, help from specialists and many professional organisations no longer want to know or help them. She cited the case of one woman fleeing a forced marriage being told by the person running a women’s refuge, ” We already have one Pakistani here, we can’t take another one.”
She said a city like Durham now had no specialist organisation that could help people in the surrounding rural areas.
She thought if the UK did adopt CEDAW in UK law it would raise awareness, and improve access to services for ethnic minorities.
There was also evidence given today from Catherine Casserley, a barrister specialising in employment, discrimination, and Human Rights law. Co author of ‘Disability Discrimination Claims: An Adviser’s Handbook’. She said CEDAW would make a big difference to the plight of disabled women, including increasing awareness, creating a willingness to change and give a proactive approach to achieving equality.
Cris McCurley, who studied Law at the University of Essex and is a Partner in Ben Hoare Bell LLP; and a member of The Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee. gave some damning evidence of the treatment judges gave in family courts towards ethnic minorities.
Rebecca J. Cook from Toronto University who has made a contribution to international women’s rights as an author, legal educator, editor, lecturer, and participant in numerous conferences sponsored by such organizations as the World Health Organization and Planned Parenthood. She gave a video interview on abortion issues facing women.
Lisa Gormley from the LSE Women’s Peace and Security Policy, gave a talk on violence against women and the role of the Istanbul Convention, which the UK has yet to sign up.
She is an international lawyer specialising in equality for women and girls. She has also worked closely for several years with the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences Lisa a legal adviser in Amnesty International’s International Secretariat (2000-2014).
Finally there was also a video from Professor Diane Elson and Mary-Ann Stephenson analysing how much the government spends on women and the huge pay gap between women and men.
Mary-Ann is the Director of the Women’s Budget Group and has worked for women’s equality and human rights for over twenty years as a campaigner, researcher and trainer. She was previously Director of the Fawcett Society and a Commissioner on the Women’s National Commission.
Professor Diane Elson is Emeritus Professor at University of Essex; member of the UN Committee for Development Policy; and consultant to UN Women. She has served as Vice-President of the International Association for Feminist Economics and as a member of G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council (2018). She one of the pioneers of gender analysis of government budgets.
A leading women’s human rights barrister yesterday launched a wide ranging attack on the failure of the UK to stamp out discrimination against women -during the 41 years after the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) was passed.
Margaret Owen,-from the National Council of Women founded in 1895 and which has more than 40 women’s organisations affiliated to it – criticised the government, Brexit and Liz Truss, the current women’s minister and international trade secretary for all contributing to either ignoring or downgrading women’s rights.
She was the first witness to a unique tribunal – the CEDAW People tribunal – which has been set up with the help of one of the country’s leading human rights law firms, Garden Court Chambers. The tribunal will hear evidence and then with the help of judges and leading QC’s plans to draw up a women’s bill of rights aiming to implement the convention into UK law.
The UN convention was ratified by Margaret Thatcher in 1986 but has never been implemented by the UK.
Ms Owen’s position was that women’s groups used to have a statutory right to be consulted about government legislation but all this was swept away when more wide ranging changes were introduced. She thought CEDAW could introduce new procedures restoring statutory rights for women’s groups.
” Now all we have is consultations with the Government Equalities Office.”
She said that the civil servant there was sympathetic but had already told women’s groups that the provisions of CEDAW was “unlegislatible” -saying there was already human rights legislation. Shed said this amounted to an ” oxymoron”.
She accused Liz Truss of having ” a conflict of interest ” in being both negotiating trade deals -including arms deals – with regimes – some of whom were misogynistic – while standing up for women’s rights. She attacked the recent cuts in overseas aid which she said had damaged help for women and girls-partiuclarly in health and providing contraception.
Scottish developments on legislation
Kasey McCall-Smith from Edinburgh Law School
Developments in Scotland, which is preparing to legislate to put the UN Convention into Scottish law, were explained by Dr McCall-Smith, a lecturer in Public International Law and Programme Director for the LLM in Human Rights. She is a US qualified lawyer and an adviser to the Scottish government.
She explained that Scottish interest in women’s rights had grown out of the country having a more progressive policy towards children’s rights than in England.
She said there were three ways of introducing CEDAW into Scottish law. One was to create a framework of law putting the entire convention on the statute book. The second, as had happened in South Africa, was to put it in the country’s constitution, and the third was to introduce sectional changes into individual laws. She thought the most effective was the first.
She also pointed out that the present 2010 Equalities Act failed because it was ” gender neutral ” rather than ” gender sensitive ” to women – when much of the existing discrimination affected mainly women.
She also said the current CEDAW convention- written before the introduction of the internet and social media – should not be regarded as a static situation but should be developing all the time. She said it was important it covered economic, social and cultural rights.
As a US lawyer she said a Women’s Bill of Rights should be able to strike down legislation that would become incompatible once it was law. She added that Britain leaving the EU also had created a problems because EU law – while not perfect- was more supportive of women’s rights.
Women ambassadors told to go to the ” diplomat wives room”
Jennifer Cassidy , a policy adviser, and a former UN diplomat, gave a grim picture of the way women diplomats were treated. She said that while the Foreign office always used statistics to show there were more women diplomats, they were not sent to the most important capitals in the US, France or Brussels. In some countries where women were not given equal status, some women ambassadors were told by their hosts to go to the ” diplomats wives room” until they had to point out they were the ambassador.
Wales “gender sensitive” act on domestic abuse
The most positive picture was given by Dr Rachel Minto, a politics lecturer at Cardiff university. She said that Wales already had passed new legislation on domestic abuse which was ” gender sensitive” legislation on domestic abuse recognising that most of the victims were women not men. This was in contrast to the Westminster legislation which was ” gender neutral”. She also said that women’s groups were keeping up links with the EU despite Brexit
Over 18000 trafficked people awaiting a Home Office decision about their fate
Kevin Highland, former head of the Met Police’s Human Trafficking Unit, gave a grim picture of the treatment of trafficked victims in the UK. The Home Office is currently holding some 18,000 awaiting a decision whether they can stay here. He thought CEDAW could help improve the treatment of women and girls, particularly pregnant women, who have just been offered a paltry extra £3 a week by the Home Office to help them.
He was highly critical of failures by police forces to investigate trafficking because it was complicated crossing police borders – and found investigators had treated trafficking as ” a game of tennis” passing the ball from one force to another.
He was also revealed that the” county lines ” drug dealers who used vulnerable children to carry drugs across the country also ran a ” county lines” trafficking in young girls – often for prostitution. He told the tribunal they often targeted vulnerable children in care homes, promising them a new life only to be dragged down into alcoholism, drugs and prostitution.
Northern Ireland ” years behind in women’s rights”.
A startling picture of how far women are behind in Northern Ireland in gaining their rights was highlighted by two witnesses, Rachel Powell, and Jonna Monaghan, from the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform.
Rachel Powell provided some alarming statistics showing how 30 per cent of women in Northern Ireland, earn nothing, staying at home. Many others with higher qualifications take low paid part time jobs because they have unpaid caring responsibilities.
Opposition to women’s rights from the Democratic Unionist Party and to CEDAW in particular, were highlighted by both of them. The current first minister, Paul Givan, is piloting the Severe Fetal Impairment Bill, through the Northern Ireland Assembly to restrict abortion despite the UK government in Westminster passing an anti abortion bill. The Assembly is at the moment refusing to implement the UK legislation.
There were also fears that the people in Northern Ireland would not get new rights if the EU passed further laws now the UK has left Brexit even though Northern Ireland is still in the single market.
Tomorrow is the start of three days of hearings in London of the CEDAW People’s Tribunal which will examine the case for the UK to introduce into domestic legislation the ground breaking UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls
I am planning to have a daily blog on the highlights of the hearings as the issues raised will be wide ranging and effect the future of women in all walks of life from pensions to domestic abuse and equal pay.
Britain is unusual in ratifying the convention some 36 years ago under Mrs Thatcher but in not implementing the changes into UK law – though some issues have been partially implemented through the 2010 Equality Act.
The majority of other countries did both – ratification followed by legislation. The hearing also comes at a key time.
Scotland has decided to implement the convention in full and the Parliament at Holyrood is already working out how to do it – after the Scottish National Party included it in its manifesto and won the election.
In Wales the Labour Party which won the Welsh Parliament elections is also committed to introducing it.
And very recently Jersey decided to ratify the convention – leaving just England and Northern Ireland as laggards in this respect.
The hearings are being organised by a very powerful team of women lawyers from Garden Court Chambers and have attracted enormous interest from women’s groups – some of whom have sent in written submissions and others are planning to give evidence. Each evening I will publish details of those who have given evidence. Watch this blog for future coverage.
The long awaited UN Convention for the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women People’s Tribunal will take place in London for three days at the end of the month.
Here is the announcement:
| CEDAW PEOPLE’S TRIBUNAL You are warmly invited to view the Tribunal Hearings which take place between 9-5pm on these 3 dates:- Monday 21st June 21 View Here |
Tuesday 22nd June 21 View Here
Wednesday 23rd June 21 View Here
The inquisitorial Tribunal will examine a body of evidence out of which a body of learning will evolve. Opening and Closing Statements by Garden Court Chambers will be followed on the final day by the President of the Independent Judges Panel’s ‘Brief Summary’. A Report will be published ahead of August Bank Holiday accompanied by a film where more information will also be shared.
Since there is a lot of interest by holding the hearings on line to reach the maximum number of people. The hearings will be chaired as reported before by leading QC’s and Barristers from Garden Court Chambers.
For full details of all the people involved please see my previous blogs for their profiles. More details about the issues to be debated will be published later but it is expected to comprehensively cover all the points in the Convention about discrimination against women and girls.
My previous blogs on the issue are here:
Later in the same week the Labour Party’s Women Conference will also be debating a motion to commit the party to supporting the UN Convention into British domestic law. The Scottish National Party is already committed to implementing the convention into Scottish law and has started to prepare to do this after winning the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May.
Plans for a People’s Tribunal in London later this year to hear the case for implementing the UN Convention to eliminate all discrimination against women (CEDAW) have received a huge boost after one of London’s leading international law firms have offered to work for them free of charge.
Garden Court Chambers, which has 197 barristers and 27 QC’s, and specialises in human rights cases has offered the services of six of its leading women barristers and QC’s to head up the People’s Tribunal which aims to draw up an ” oven ready ” Bill of Rights for Women which could be put into British law. All are working pro bono.
Smita Bajaria, a solicitor, is also working pro bono and will be instructing the barristers for the CEDAW tribunal.
The decision by Garden Court Chambers, to offer such a huge amount of pro bono work to the inquisitional tribunal is thought to be unprecedented in legal circles. All will be working on the preparation and presentation of the legal arguments and examine over 20 witnesses across the three day tribunal hearing.
The six QCs and barristers are:
Sonali Naik QC
Sonali has an extensive judicial review practice in challenges to Home Office policy, trafficking and unlawful detention and has won a number of high profile cases including a landmark case which found that Priti Patel, the home secretary, had acted illegally in demanding the “instant removal” of migrants without having access to lawyers.
Amanda Weston QC
A leading expert on public and administrative law and judicial reviews and on the preferred counsel list for taking up cases for the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
An expert on gender and race discrimination. Won a landmark case against the Home Office in the Supreme Court for the Public and Commercial Services Union and Prospect union over the discrimination against black and older applicants in promotion tests , winning a settlement of over £1m.
She is an equality and human rights lawyer with a particular expertise in cases involving child, refugee and migrant rights, sex, gender, LGBTI+, trafficking and detention. Advises the Council of Europe.
A specialist public law practice in the areas of community care (Adult and Children Act cases), human trafficking, migrant welfare, housing, and immigration and asylum law.
She commenced practice in 1995 inspired by the desire to promote the rights of the under privileged and disadvantaged and quickly established herself as a well-respected and busy human rights and immigration barrister. She is on the preferred list of Lawyers for the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
A statement from the CEDAW People’s tribunal said : “Every woman and girl born in the UK should be able to realise, as of right, her true potential.
“There is no reason why CEDAW cannot be transposed into domestic law and the delay in doing so is nothing short of unconscionable.
• A published Report out of the tribunal hearing signed-off by the Independent Panel of Judges
• Instructions for a Women’s Bill of Rights
• A film of the journey
• Roadshow e-Drop-Ins
The CEDAW Peoples Tribunal will leave a lasting legacy by providing a body of evidence for individuals, women’s campaign groups and politicians to hold governments to account.
This will lead to changes in laws and the creation of new laws to bring about a Women’s Bill of Rights and substantive, transformative equality for all women and girls.”
The tribunal website is here.
Labour needs popular policies that attract people from Carlisle to Camden
It would rather cruel to say Sir Keir Starmer named after Labour founder Keir Hardie should be the leader that led to its nemesis. But the weekend’s election results in the North East and the Midlands show it is Boris Johnson’s Conservatives that are the new champions of working class voters there not Labour.
That is not to belittle Labour’s achievements in Wales, Cambridgeshire, the West of England and the South Coast. In Worthing for example, Labour has gone from having no councillors there for 51 years, to a place where the Tories are reduced to a majority of just one.
But it is to say that Labour have lost the plot. They are fighting quite a different Tory Party than under Theresa May or David Cameron and they don’t seem to have got the message. This Tory Party is a high spending, interventionist party wrapped up in the trappings of Rule Britannia and law and order. It is prepared to spend loads of cash in targeted working class areas where it can garner votes and is happy for an image of Gunboats at Dawn with the French in Jersey over fishing rights knowing that a NATO ally is unlikely to open fire.
For Labour there is a choice it can either ape the flag waving ,law and order, overseas aid cutting agenda of the Tories or it could look for new ground to take on the changed Tory Party.
I have four ideas for the latter and they all affect millions of people whether they live in the North, Midlands or South of the country. If successfully implemented they could change hearts and minds.
Having a decent affordable home for Generation Rent
The first is finding a home to live. For younger people under the age of 40 this is rapidly becoming an unobtainable dream as house prices continue to surge way above wages. They are either stuck in expensive flat sharing or forced to continue living in their parent’s home. No chance to aspire to start a family there. And with little council house building social housing is not easily available for the poor.
For a real analysis of this problem read a book called Home Truths by Liam Halligan. It is a comprehensive analysis of what has gone wrong. Labour could do little better than plagiarise the ideas in this book as part of their manifesto.
The Tories – though promising to build more homes- are on the back foot on this one. Their second largest group of donors are property developers – whose rationale has to be to get the most profits for their shareholders and investors. This, as the book explains, means ensuring that house prices continue to rise and they will only rise if they drip feed rather than grossly expand house building. So here’s one policy that will appeal whether you are in Brighton or Barnsley- and it can be sloganised in simple terms as it is both aspirational and a basic need.
Time for Labour to embrace the new world of freelance working
The second is the new world of work. The old huge battalions of workers in the mines, shipyards and even steel no longer exist – the new world of work is often hi tech , freelance contracts or new businesses or low paid work in Amazon or Deliveroo. Yet neither the outdated national insurance system nor employment law helps them. Ed Miliband promised a small step in reforming national insurance under his leadership – to ensure at least the self employed millions got basic help. And this group were the worst off under the furlough scheme. Again the government is weak in this area and whether you have a start up in Maidenhead or Middlesbrough you will benefit.
Then there is the equality issue -particularly for women. Johnson is not particularly popular among women. And women are half the electorate. There are still issues of inequality, low pay and a law and order issue over women’s safety – so a women’s bill of rights to end injustice and make them safer in the streets would be very popular.
Equal access to the green revolution
Finally there is the issue of green policies. Yes the government is committed to these – but will help be distributed fairly or will electric cars be the prerogative for the better off. There is an area where carefully pointing out the problems and promising to do something about it will be attractive.
These are just some ides.. But whatever happens Labour has to up its game and get out of this continual internal battle talking to themselves and talk to the voters instead. Otherwise it will lead to its traditional male working class voters permanently voting Conservative and its more left wing voters backing the Green Party. It could disappear down a hole in the middle if it doesn’t get its act together and decide what it stands for.