Time to take steps on discrimination faced by women

Ban Ki'moon has spoken out on violence against women. Picture: AFP/Getty
Ban Ki'moon has spoken out on violence against women. Picture: AFP/Getty
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Today I am joining representatives from civil society to give evidence to the United Nations on Scotland and the UK’s record of protecting women’s human rights.

The UN committee on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women is hearing from the UK government tomorrow, and will make a series of recommendations on how the UK can more effectively eliminate discrimination against women in Scotland and across the UK.

The UN assembly in New York. Picture: Getty

The UN assembly in New York. Picture: Getty

Respecting, protecting, and fulfilling women’s human rights requires firstly a recognition that women’s lives are deeply affected by inequalities. Scotland has made important progress and has taken a range of best-practice measures, but nevertheless women continue to face inequality in the realisation of their human rights.

This affects everyone and should be addressed immediately in order to create a more equal Scotland.

Some areas which require particular attention are employment, public participation, education and equality before the law.

As women’s human rights are relevant in all areas of their lives, action is required by all levels of governance – local, Scottish and UK. Effective action to address inequality and realise rights therefore requires coherence and accountability.

Action to address the gender pay gap

Our written evidence to the UN committee contains 13 recommendations, including calls to protect victims’ privacy rights in sexual assault cases, for further action to address the gender pay gap, for a full ban on corporal punishment, for further steps to address human trafficking, and to advance provision of high-quality, affordable childcare. At the hearing today we will emphasise three areas that we believe will gain traction with the UN committee, and call for it to reflect these in its concluding observations to the UK.

Firstly, the incorporation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) into our domestic law. This treaty, dubbed the “International Bill of Rights for Women” guarantees the universally recognised human rights of women.

Incorporating it into our domestic law would be the most effective way of ensuring legal protection of women’s human rights and would drive up standards of rights realisation in practice. The commission has echoed repeated calls by international human rights bodies that the UK take steps to “constitutionalise” all of its international human rights obligations by incorporating them into our legal systems.

Women are disproportionally affected by welfare reforms

Our second concern recognises the gendered nature of poverty. We recognise that poverty is both a cause and a consequence of the denial of women’s human rights. Welfare reform is having a particularly pernicious effect on women in Scotland.

Evidence indicates that women will face greater hardship and be disproportionally affected by certain aspects of the UK government’s welfare reform measures.

We call for the UK government and others implementing welfare reform measures to immediately assess their human rights impact.

The third priority is the shameful phenomenon of violence against women.

As UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has said, violence against women is probably the most pervasive of human rights violations. While the Scottish Government has taken important steps to address violence against women, there is at present no over-arching legal framework on this issue.

Stop violence against women in all forms

The Scottish Human Rights Commission therefore calls on the Scottish Government to ensure the strategy it is currently developing contains a detailed action plan to stop violence against women in all its forms.

We will also update the UN committee on the development of Scotland’s first National Action Plan for Human Rights, which follows the recommendations of a range of international human rights bodies.

This process, a partnership between the commission and the public and voluntary sector in Scotland, will be a key vehicle for considering how Scotland can implement the committee’s recommendations, due to be published next month.

• The CEDAW session is live broadcast from today until Wednesday at www.treatybodywebcast.org

Diego Quiroz is policy officer of the Scottish Human Rights Commission www.scottishhumanrights.com

Twitter: @scothumanrights

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