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UK urged to end ‘national threat’ of violence against women and girls

The Houses of Parliament in London, United Kingdom.
© Unsplash/Heidi Fin
The Houses of Parliament in London, United Kingdom.

UK urged to end ‘national threat’ of violence against women and girls

Human Rights

The United Kingdom must take action to end all forms of violence against women and girls, having labelled it a “national threat”, a UN independent human rights expert on the issue said on Wednesday. 

Concluding a 10-day visit to the country, Special Rapporteur Reem Alsalem noted that a woman is killed by a man every three days in the UK, and one in four women there will experience some form of domestic violence in her lifetime.

Entrenched patriarchy at almost every level of society, combined with a rise in misogyny that permeates the physical and online world, is denying thousands of women and girls across the UK the right to live in safety, free from fear and violence,” she said in a statement summarizing her preliminary findings and observations.

Leadership and inspiration 

Ms. Alsalem acknowledged the robust legal framework for promoting gender equality, including the Equality Act 2010 and other legislation that applies across the UK, noting that this framework is complemented by important legislation and policies in the devolved regions, referring to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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She said the UK has been a leader in strengthening its legal framework to address current and emerging forms of violence against women and girls, including coercive control, digitally facilitated violence and stalking, as well as improving access to justice.

“Many countries will look to the UK for inspiration, as well as examples of innovation and good practice on how to make life safer for women and girls, and accountability for crimes committed against them,” she added.

Translate policy into action 

However, the Special Rapporteur noted that a number of realities undermine the UK’s ability to realise the full potential of its legislation and policies on violence against women.

They include the dilution of the link between these policies and the UK’s international human rights obligations; a general critical discourse and positioning on human rights, particularly in relation to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees; and the fragmentation of policies on male violence against women and girls across devolved and non-devolved areas.

The UK can do more to translate its political recognition of the scale of violence against women and girls into action,” she said, before offering several recommendations, such as bringing together all legislative and programmatic strands of intervention on the issue, upgrading and formalising responsibility for discrimination and violence against women and girls in government, and anchoring it in human rights commitments. 

Grassroots groups struggling 

Ms. Alsalem expressed concern about how grassroots organisations and specialised frontline service providers working with women and girls are struggling to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, both foreign and national, who fall through the cracks and are not covered by statutory service providers. 

These groups “are struggling to survive in an increasingly challenging context of rising living costs, a deepening housing crisis and a critical lack of funding,” she said.

“The situation of NGOs working on gender equality and violence against women and girls has reached a crisis point and is simply untenable,” she added, urging the UK authorities to restore predictable and adequate funding to frontline organisations. 

Ms. Alsalem, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

Independent experts who receive mandates from the Council are not UN staff and are not paid for their work.