More must be done to protect women and girls from violence, national equality body warns

Posted On: 
23rd July 2018

New report also highlights implications of Brexit for women and current gaps in law.

Women are still being “failed” in many areas of life, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has warned in its largest ever review of women’s rights.

In its new report, ‘Pressing for progress: women’s rights and gender equality in 2018’, which is being presented to the United Nations in Geneva today, the Commission says more action is needed to better protect women and girls from violence. 

The report sets out a number of concerns and recommendations including better support for survivors of domestic violence, higher prosecution and conviction rates for violent crimes against women and girls, and a review of hate crime legislation.

The report also emphasises the importance of ensuring that there is no regression in equality and human rights protections as a result of the changes introduced as we leave the EU, and that we do not lag behind future developments in equality and human rights.

It also highlights that funding for women’s services may decrease as a result.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“There is a lot to celebrate in terms of the awareness and realisation of women’s rights right now: it’s been 100 years since some women got the vote, forced marriage has been criminalised, and we’ve seen great strides in the workplace through shared parental leave and the successful introduction of gender pay gap regulations.

“Yet it is estimated that only 15% of survivors of sexual violence report their experience to the police, and social movements such as #MeToo continue to shine a spotlight on areas where women are being failed. The priority must now be ensuring that women and girls of all ages can enjoy their basic right to feel safe in their everyday lives. Our recommendations are intended to improve the lives of women and girls and to protect their fundamental rights. This centenary year is a good time to take action.”

The Commission has called for the following changes to end violence against women and girls:

  • Ensuring police take a victim-centred approach when dealing with sexual violence and consent and improve the reporting and prosecution and conviction rates of sexual violence and domestic violence crimes
  • Strengthening support services for survivors of violence including those that provide specialist services to Black and ethnic minority women, disabled women and women with complex needs
  • Improving the police response to so-called ‘honour-based’ violence
  • Developing a sustainable funding model for refuges and domestic abuse services and withdrawing proposed changes to housing benefit that would prevent women from using it to pay for refuge accommodation
  • Providing funding to community groups working closely with communities where FGM is practiced and ensuring that all relevant public sector professionals receive mandatory training in how to identify and support women and girls affected by FGM and other harmful practices
  • Committing to a full-scale review of hate-crime offences and enhanced sentencing powers and consider amending hate crime legislation to extend protections on the basis of gender
  • Putting forward legislation to end the cross-examination of survivors of domestic violence by their perpetrators in the family courts
  • Offering Universal Credit as single payments to individuals rather than joint payments to avoid exacerbating financial abuse for women experiencing domestic violence
  • Reconsidering the ‘spare room subsidy’ regulations which discriminate against survivors of domestic abuse who have safe rooms
  • Introducing a mandatory duty on employers to take reasonable steps to protect workers from harassment and victimisation in the workplace
  • Introducing a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment and harassment at work
  • Investigating ways of reducing barriers to women’s participation in politics such as the intimidation of female MPs and making it easier for domestic abuse survivors to register to vote anonymously
  • Improving data collection and understanding of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, disseminate guidance and improve teacher training on how to recognise and address such behaviour

The Commission’s review has also highlighted the continued need to tackle discrimination in the workplace and ensure just and fair conditions of work. The recommendations include prohibiting employers asking job applicants questions related to pregnancy and maternity, following Commission research into employers’ outdated employment practices; addressing problems with the availability and affordability of properly regulated childcare; and legislating to extend the right to request flexible working to apply from day one in all jobs.

Following a worrying rise in self-harm in women’s prisons and ongoing concerns around the treatment of women in immigration detention, the regulator is also calling for the greater use of community sentences for women, better access to mental health services and a time limit on how long women can be held in immigration detention.

The full report and list of recommendations is available on the Commission’s website, and has been submitted to the United Nations as part of its review into the UK’s women’s rights record.