An amended version of this article was first published at www.equalityhumanrights.com
CEDAW is the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. This international treaty outlines the rights that women should be afforded and how countries can ensure that women enjoy these rights. The UK Government ratified this treaty in 1986, and the CEDAW Committee regularly reviews and assesses the extent to which state signatories fulfil their treaty obligations.
At the end of February, our Head of Advocacy, Andy Hewett, travelled to the UN in Geneva along with 60 other NGOs to attend and contribute to the UK examination of CEDAW. We were particularly keen to engage in this process as reducing Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) is one of our advocacy priorities, and it provides an additional mechanism for us to call for change and hold the UK government to account on this important issue.
Our key aim whilst in Geneva was to ensure the Committee members were fully briefed on the lack of safe accommodation and specialist support available to women seeking asylum in the UK at risk of domestic violence or abuse. We were also keen to stress the failings of the Government’s VAWG strategy and their draft Domestic Abuse Bill in respect to women seeking asylum.
We were in Geneva for two days:
Day One was an opportunity for the NGOs to meet and finalise our strategic approach to our engagement with the Committee. It was crucial that we were able to present a unified front and clear key messages, no mean feat when you consider the number of NGOs present and the range of issues represented. The first day also afforded an opportunity to meet with Committee members over a lunch session, where we were able to provide short oral statements and briefing papers on thematic issues.
Day Two was taken up by the formal UK examination, whereby Committee members asked questions directly to a delegation of UK government officials. It was heartening to see that many of the issues NGOs had flagged to Committee members were taken into account and helped shaped the questions asked by the Committee. We were particularly pleased that the Committee picked up on the specific issues we had flagged.
During the examination, the Committee grilled the UK delegation on a range of issues including the impact of Brexit on women’s rights, the impact of Universal Credit, the VAWG strategy, and the Domestic Violence Bill. The Committee also looked at the differences across the devolved nations.
We were proud to be part of the NGO delegation, have the opportunity to engage with the examination process and be part of a broader coalition of civil society working to promote the rights of women.
So what happens next? The CEDAW Committee will publish their concluding observations which we can then use to hold the government to account on the measures they take going forward to further implement CEDAW, with a particular focus on the rights of women seeking asylum and refugees.
One of the key recommendations put forward by the coalition of NGOs calls for CEDAW to be fully incorporated into domestic law, a single act that would go a long way towards addressing many of the concerns raised during the examination. Help us call on the Government to address this by signing this petition: https://bit.ly/2VLcZqq.
We are extremely grateful to the Equality Human Rights Commission for providing us with the funding and support to attend Geneva and utilise this opportunity to effect change. We would also like to extend our thanks to the National Alliance of Women’s Associations and the Women’s Resource Centre for leading on all the organisational aspects involved. It was fantastic to hear the Committee state how valuable they found the NGO input and how impressed they were with the organisation and level of engagement from the NGOs.