UNITED KINGDOM CHAMPIONS GENDER EQUALITY IN PUBLIC POLICY, ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LEGISLATION, BUT CLOSING GAP BETWEEN SEXES UNFINISHED BUSINESS, EXPERTS TOLD

10 July 2008
WOM/1694

UNITED KINGDOM CHAMPIONS GENDER EQUALITY IN PUBLIC POLICY, ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LEGISLATION, BUT CLOSING GAP BETWEEN SEXES UNFINISHED BUSINESS, EXPERTS TOLD

10 July 2008
General Assembly
WOM/1694
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

843rd & 844th Meetings (AM & PM)

UNITED KINGDOM CHAMPIONS GENDER EQUALITY IN PUBLIC POLICY, ANTI-DISCRIMINATION

LEGISLATION, BUT CLOSING GAP BETWEEN SEXES UNFINISHED BUSINESS, EXPERTS TOLD

For years the United Kingdom had championed gender equality in public policy, in democratic institutions and through extensive anti-discrimination laws, but erasing disparity between the sexes was an “unfinished project” that the country’s officials were striving to complete through legislative reform and stronger women’s empowerment policies and programming, a parliamentary Under-Secretary and Minister for the East of England told the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee today.

Presenting the United Kingdom’s fifth and sixth periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Barbara Follet, head of the country’s 30-member delegation, said laws must be updated to reflect changing times.  In April 2007, as part of the Equality Act, the United Kingdom had introduced the Gender Equality Duty, requiring all public authorities to draw up three-year gender equality schemes and gender impact assessments of all new policies and legislation, with an emphasis on erasing discrimination and harassment. 

Noting that, under current trends, it would take 40 years for women to be equally represented in British boardrooms, she said the Gender Equality Duty would also allow employers to take into account during recruitment and selection the under-representation of disadvantaged groups, notably women.  It would also encourage greater transparency among private-sector contractors to deliver equality targets.  Further, a new equality bill for England and Wales, building on the work of a Discrimination Law Review and an Equalities Review, would outlaw pay secrecy clauses and make it illegal for employers to stop employees from discussing their pay.  The moves aimed to give women -– whose full-time hourly pay was still, on average, 12.6 per cent less than men’s pay -– the tools needed to negotiate more equal salaries. 

The Government also intended to extend the permission to use women-only shortlists in selecting parliamentary candidates to 2030, she said, noting that women currently held less than 20 per cent of parliamentary seats.  The devolved administration in Northern Ireland was doing its part to achieve gender equality overall and was committed to implementing the 2006-2016 Gender Equality Strategy.  Meanwhile, the first gender equality Public Service Agreement, agreed in 2002, signed up the Government for the first time to a specific objective to deliver real improvements for women’s lives, as reflected in departmental spending plans. 

Despite such advances, Ms. Follett acknowledged that her country had yet to stamp out violence against women, which had taken new forms.  Domestic homicide, rape and trafficking for sexual exploitation, indeed, remained a concern in the United Kingdom, which the 2004 Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act and the 2003 Sexual Offences Act sought to tackle through better protection for victims and harsher penalties for offenders.

While lauding such moves, Committee experts expressed concern over whether sufficient attention and funding was allocated to address women’s needs and foster women’s advancement in the United Kingdom’s overseas Territories.  They critiqued, among other things, continuing discrimination against ethnic minority women, the illegal status of abortion in Northern Ireland, and the absence of a unified, multifaceted national campaign on violence against women -– deeming “most alarming” for a developed country the situation of gender-based violence in the United Kingdom.  They also implored the delegation to do more to increase women’s political representation and to expand racial equality programmes throughout the United Kingdom.

The Committee will take up the fourth, fifth and sixth periodic reports of the United Republic of Tanzania at 10 a.m. on Friday, 11 July. 

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider the United Kingdom’s fifth and sixth periodic reports (documents CEDAW/C/UK/5 and CEDAW/C/UK/6).

The United Kingdom delegation, which included representatives in New York and London, was led by Barbara Follet, a Parliamentary Under-Secretary and Minister for the East of England.  The New York delegation also included Lilian Boyce, Minister for Health and Human Services, Turks and Caicos Islands; Amanda Missick, Turks and Caicos Islands; Ann Keeling, Head of Gender Equality Policy, Government Equalities Office; Yvonne Strachan, Head of the Equality Unit, Scottish Government; Voirrey Manson, Director of Equality Human Rights and Social Justice, Welsh Assembly; and Eileen Sung, Head of Gender and Sexual Orientation Equality Unit, Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland. 

The New York delegation also included John Dunworth, Home Office; Isobel Millar, Governor of Hydebank Wood, Northern Ireland Prison Service; Barbara McCrory, Northern Ireland Prison Service; Orla Ward, Senior Legal Adviser, Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland; Carol Moore, Director, Policing and Security, Northern Ireland Office; Harriet Cross, First Secretary (Human Rights), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; and Barbara-Ann Collins, European Union and the United Nations and International Gender Strategy Team, Government Equalities Office.

The London delegation included several representatives of the Department for International Development:  Miranda Munro, Team Leader, Equity and Rights Team, Policy and Research Advise; Alison Kennedy, Policy Analyst, Equity and Rights Team; and Anna Nolan, Health Adviser, AIDS and Reproductive Health Team, Policy and Research Adviser.  Representing the Northern Ireland Office were Patrick Lynch, Head, Human Rights and Equality Unit; Mark Goodfellow; Nadine Brown, Deputy Head, Human Rights and Equality Unit; and Sharon Harley.  Representing the Government Equalities Office were Jonathon Rees, Director General; Sarah Morgan, Head of Women at Risk Team; Jane Rushton, Joint Head of Women’s Economic Participation; Elizabeth Solowo-Coker, Equalities Bill Team; and David Fox, Treasury Solicitor.

The London delegation also included Jude Watson, Crown Prosecution Service; Louise Gray, Crown Prosecution Service; Evelyne Doh, Equality and Human Rights, Department of Health; Gillian Mayo, Equality and Human Rights, Department of Health; Tony Salt, Deputy Director, Service Personnel Policy Service Conditions Equal Opportunities, Ministry of Defence; Caroline Reynolds, Service Personnel Policy Service Conditions Equal Opportunities, Ministry of Defence; Colleen Bowen, Head of Diversity Policy, Department for Culture, Media and Sport; Alison Durbin, Parents, Employment Division, Department for Work and Pensions; Andrew Latto, Child Maintenance Legislation Division, Department for Work and Pensions; Ramin Hassan, Joint International Unit, Department for Work and Pensions; and Terry Hunter, Head of Domestic Violence Branch, Ministry of Justice.

Also part of the London delegation were Adrian Russell, Borders Agency; Alan Clarke, Deputy Director, Department for Children, Schools and Families; and Duncan Aitchison, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Lauren Murdoch, Team Leader: Gender and Mainstreaming, Scottish Government; and Orla Ward, Head of Legislation, Equality and Social Needs, Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.

Introduction of Reports

Presenting the reports, Ms. FOLLETT said the United Kingdom Government had adopted a gender mainstreaming approach.  In the early 1970s, it had been legal in the United Kingdom to discriminate against women in job selection and to pay women less than men for the same work.  Today, such discrimination was clearly illegal.  Ten days ago, the United Kingdom Government had announced new equality legislation that would further strengthen women’s position.  Also notable, last week marked the ninetieth anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom. 

She said her country’s Ministers for Women and Equality led policy agendas designed to improve the lives of women in the United Kingdom.  They sat on inter-ministerial committees in key areas, such as family policy and tackling violence.  They were also active in multilateral institutions, such as the European Union and the United Nations, where they contributed to inter-governmental mechanisms for women’s advancement and gender equality, including follow-up to the Beijing Platform for Action and Beijing + 5 and Beijing + 10 agendas.  The United Kingdom was an elected member of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

Since the United Kingdom was last examined by the Committee in 1999, considerable progress had been made, she said.  In April 2007, as part of the Equality Act, the United Kingdom had introduced the Gender Equality Duty.  That required all public authorities to promote equality between men and women in all aspects of life and to eliminate discrimination and harassment between them.  All public bodies were required to draw up three-year gender equality schemes, detailing specific goals, as well as gender impact assessments of all new policies and legislation.  That was a significant development, and the process would be monitored closely to ensure rigorous follow-up.  

The devolved administration in Northern Ireland had committed to implementing the 2006-2016 Gender Equality Strategy, she said.  All Government departments had prepared three-year gender-specific plans with schemes for monitoring the Strategy.  The Scottish Government was taking forward its work under the Gender Equality Duty, identifying strategic priorities for gender equality, and it would report on them in 2010.  The Welsh Assembly Government was developing a Single Equality Scheme, which would identify strategic objectives and outcomes.  The United Kingdom Government had high-level cross-Government targets –- Public Service Agreements -– on both gender equality, and, more recently, equalities.  The first gender equality Public Service Agreement, agreed in 2002, was groundbreaking in its approach, as it signed up the Government for the first time to a specific objective to deliver real improvements for women’s lives, as reflected in departmental spending plans. 

Since 1999, the country’s Ministers for Women had consistently made it a priority to increase women’s economic participation, support their civic and social inclusion and reduce violence against women, she said.  More recently, an Equalities Public Service Agreement had been introduced, which built on the progress of the original gender targets and reached further to tackle discrimination.  It strengthened work to narrow the gender pay gap through a broad programme of work across Government, and committed the Government to address the under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in public life.  The Ministers for Women identified three priority areas in July 2007 for urgent action, based on women’s status and consultations with women’s groups.  The Ministers would report to Parliament on progress in that regard next week. 

While there had been a steady decrease in the pay gap between men and women, a woman’s full-time pay was still, on average, 12.6 per cent less per hour than a man’s pay, she went on.  Despite rapid progress, based on present trends, it would be 40 years before women and men were equally represented in British boardrooms.  In 1997, a record number of women entered the British Parliament.  But women currently made up less than 20 per cent of Members of Parliament.  Britain had been overtaken by a large number of newer democracies in the world on female representation.  In Wales and Scotland, devolution had resulted in greater representation of women in the Assembly and Parliament, respectively.  Although the United Kingdom was more prosperous than most countries going before the Committee, gender equality was an “unfinished project everywhere”, including in the United Kingdom, which remained focused on closing the gaps.

Existing legislation had made a vital contribution to close the gender pay gap, however, the Equal Pay Act only addressed unequal pay, she continued.  It did not tackle issues such as job segregation, differences in education and qualifications, discrimination and the cultural barriers faced by some women returning to the labour market.  In 2005, the Prime Minister had set up the Women and Work Commission, bringing together employers, unions and experts to make recommendations on narrowing the gender pay gap.  In 2006, the Government started an Action Plan, based on the Commission’s recommendations, including a £5,000 fund to increase the availability of quality, part-time work and national standards for career advice to ensure that such advice was free from gender stereotyping.  Since 1999, steps to promote gender equality had included giving more than 6 million parents of young or disabled children the right to request flexible work hours, doubling the level of maternity pay and introducing paternity and adoption leave and pay, introducing also a national minimum wage, and investing more than £21 billion in childcare services.  Considerable progress had been made in addressing pay inequalities in Wales through a partnership campaign led by the Welsh Assembly Government, with support from the then Equal Opportunities Commission and the Wales TUC (Trade Union Congress). 

Despite considerable progress since 1999 to curb violence against women, it was still persistent and had taken new forms, she said.  The United Kingdom continued to work to tackle issues such as domestic homicide, rape and trafficking for sexual exploitation.  It had introduced the 2004 Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act, which included several measures providing additional protection and support for victims and helping to bring perpetrators to justice.  It had passed the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, which had modernized the legal framework for sexual offences and made it easier for prosecutors to meet the legal requirements of their cases.  As part of the National Domestic Abuse Strategy in Wales, the three-year Forced Marriage and Honour-Based Crime Action Plan had been launched in April, thereby raising awareness on that often-hidden issue. 

The Government’s priorities, published last July, had featured the United Kingdom’s commitment to address the appalling crime of human trafficking for sexual exploitation, she said.  Britain was a major focus of global traffickers for the purpose of sexual exploitation.  The United Kingdom had recently published a “Women Not for Sale” report focusing on advertisements for personal services in local newspapers, which could fuel the demand for trafficked women.  Ministers across Government and the Devolved Administrations were committed to working with ministers in Europe, United Kingdom Members of the European Parliament and the European Union’s neighbours to ensure that the Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings was implemented.  The United Kingdom would shortly be ratifying that Convention in an effort to put an end to that modern-day slave trade. 

She said that efforts were also under way to implement the United Kingdom Plan on Human Trafficking, which aimed to strike the right balance between protection and assistance for victims of trafficking, together with prevention and enforcement, to crack down on criminals.  She had pressed for greater cross-border cooperation and commitment to tackle that trade, during the European Union’s Informal Meeting of Gender Ministers last fall. 

Women were not a homogenous group, she said, adding that England had 2.3 million ethnic minority women from a diverse range of cultures and religions.  The recent focus had been the role of black, Asian and ethnic women.  Genuinely empowering women from those groups required action to ensure them work opportunities and participation in wider public life.  A new commitment had been made to address under-representation in public life as part of the new Equalities Public Service Agreement.  A task force had been launched to find practical ways to increase the number of female local councillors from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, as many women started their political careers in local politics.

The United Kingdom had always championed gender equality in public policy and in representation at democratic institutions, she said.  It had made progress in achieving equality over the years, thanks to extensive discrimination laws.  But laws must be updated to reflect changing times.  Therefore, plans for a new equality bill for England and Wales, building on the work of a Discrimination Law Review and an Equalities Review, had recently been announced.  The bill was intended to strengthen protection against discrimination and advance equality, and it was therefore entirely consistent with the Convention. 

A new Equality Duty on pubic bodies would form part of the new package of measures encompassing race, disability and gender, as well as gender reassignment, age, sexual orientation and religious beliefs, she said.  The Equality Duty would also extend positive action so that employers could take under-representation of disadvantaged groups, in many cases women, into account in selection.  The Government also intended to extend the permission to use women-only shortlists in selecting parliamentary candidates to 2030.  Further, the equality bill would enable the United Kingdom to fuel progress in the private sector, where most citizens were employed.  The Equality Duty would also encourage greater transparency among private-sector contractors to deliver equality targets.  The equality bill would outlaw pay secrecy clauses and make it illegal for employers to stop employees from discussing their pay.  Such greater transparency would help women negotiate more equal pay. 

Concluding her statement, she said that, in the years since the United Kingdom had signed the Women’s Convention, life changes and opportunities for women in the United Kingdom had improved considerably.  But new, unforeseen challenges had arisen, as had a growing international backlash against the rights attained by women and girls, as enshrined in global agreements, including those made in Beijing and Cairo.  Those in developed countries must be continually aware of the human rights abuses experienced daily by women in other countries.  Her Government was helping to address those violations through the United Kingdom Department for International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, expressed concerns about the impact of the various interventions outlined in the reports and asked for concrete examples of some of the results that had been achieved to date.  Since the report had not addressed the issue, she wanted to know how both the equality of opportunity and the quality of results would be guaranteed, thereby ensuring consistency of the implementation of standards across the country.

HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said there were legitimate concerns raised about the lack of consistency with regard to the protection of women’s rights in the United Kingdom.  She asked for a fuller explanation of the temporary special measures alluded to in the report in implementation of the protection of the rights of women.

GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, wanted to know what technical and financial assistance the United Kingdom, as the “mother country”, had given to its overseas Territories to help them implement the Convention.  Further, what checks and balances had been put in place, and what measures had been instituted to ensure a public education process for women to publicize information about their right to dignity and equality.

PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, in reference to concerns about the rights of women prisoners in Northern Ireland, urged the United Kingdom to treat as a high priority the building of a women’s prison in Northern Ireland.  She also wanted the truth about reports of women asylum seekers encountering difficulties in gaining entry to the United Kingdom, and what the Government was doing to guarantee and protect their rights.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, Committee Chairperson and expert from Croatia, praised the progress achieved by the United Kingdom in advancing its gender policy, but drew attention to some disquieting areas.  For example, the delegation had indicated that, although the Women’s Convention was more gender-specific in comparison to similar conventions adopted in Europe, the United Kingdom had given more weight to the protocols of Europe over the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in the formulation of its gender policies.

Country Response

Ms. FOLLET, leader of the delegation, noting that some of the experts’ questions were oriented towards the country’s prison system, said she was glad the delegation comprised people from the prison system who would ably respond to those concerns.

On the Convention’s Optional Protocol, a delegation member said that the United Kingdom had acknowledged that the Protocol had not been given adequate publicity and, thus, had taken steps to correct that situation.

Another member of the delegation, responding to a question on the impact of the country’s gender equality policies, specifically whether they were promoting the goals they were intended to achieve, said a survey conducted by the Equalities Commission had indicated favourable results.  Several initiatives had been implemented that addressed issues of employment and gender discriminatory practices.  Significantly, and in another positive result, many of the outcomes of those initiatives could be said to have impacted men more than women, she added.

Another delegate told the meeting that future plans for gender mainstreaming focused on monitoring of progress and effectiveness of the relevant programme’s implementation.  On the concerns of the Committee regarding devolution, she said that, alongside the equality legislation, there was a responsibility for enforcing the legislation and the Government was focused on initiatives to embed those policies that would address concerns about discrimination.  That was an ongoing process, which also included a dialogue between the various Government entities and interested players outside of Government.

Another member of the delegation explained that the Convention and United Kingdom laws were considered to be consistent with what the Government was aiming to achieve in protecting women’s rights.  The Government would continue to explore the potential for enabling people to make complaints about discrimination on an ongoing basis.

In response to an expert’s question, another delegate said that several local programmes on gender equality had been adopted since 1996 for the Turks and Caicos and everything was being done to implement them, including those related to the protection of children’s rights.  Another delegate said that a working group had been set up to work on the construction of a new prison and the group was examining every aspect of the new facility.  Any decision reached would take into full account the findings of that working group.  She added that the cost of the new prison was estimated at between £30,000 to 40,000.

There were no plans at present to change the law relating to domestic violence, another delegate said.  However, that position would be kept under constant review by all concerned parties, including non-governmental organizations.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, noted that concerns had been raised about the visibility of the dimension of the issue of gender equality duty and its fundamental reality, which did not seem to have been addressed in the report.  Concerns about the interpretation on gender training had similarly been raised, and she hoped the delegation would respond to those concerns.

VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, wanted to know how the central Government structure ensured proper coordination throughout departments and how it focussed on gender mainstreaming.  She asked how a leadership role on implementation of the Convention would be decided and who would take the lead in implementing the programmes outlined in the report.

Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, wanted to know what role the private sector would play in the attainment of the temporary measures.  She stressed the need for discrimination against women to be addressed both quantitatively and qualitatively.  The United Kingdom had been a “light tower” in the drive to eliminate discrimination against women in Europe, and she hoped the country would continue to be that light tower, as an example to others.

Country Response

Responding to questions, a member of the delegation stated that she saw changes made in the national machinery as strengthening the process, by bringing together all the various components.  She assured the Committee that the United Kingdom would not do anything to weaken the national machinery, on which so much time and effort had been spent over many years.  On the contrary, the aim and intention was to strengthen the national machinery.

Indeed, the national women’s machinery had been transformed from a free-standing ministry within which the role of gender equality was a catalytic one of determining particular issues to support to one which supported the two ministers dealing with women’s affairs in all of their functions, she said.

On the issue of child-related violence, another delegate said there was a specific team dealing with violence against children, while other teams dealt with gender-related violence and other areas of discrimination. 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission in the country had a duty to enforce the gender duty mandate, and the commissioners who made up that Commission included people who had long experience in that field, it was noted. 

Experts’ Comments and Questions

NAELA MOHAMED GABRE, expert from Egypt, said the United Kingdom’s report reflected the seriousness with which the country approached the issue of discrimination against women.  The measures undertaken to fight stereotypes and other practices harmful to women, however, had not been adequate, and she wanted to know what further measures were planned.  She also called for adequate support for non-governmental organizations.  Further, she asked how immigrant women, especially those from Muslim countries and particularly after “9/11”, were protected against discrimination.

FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, said gender-based violence was one of the most serious issues in the United Kingdom, which was “most alarming” for a developed country.  What initiatives had the Government taken to eliminate violence against women and what monitoring systems were in place?  There were serious gaps in the way immigrants and asylum seekers accessed assistance, and she asked if any public funds were available to help women in that regard.

SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, said the absence of a unified and multifaceted national policy on violence against women was a serious flaw.  Also, what research, if any, had the Government undertaken on the issue of female genital mutilation in the United Kingdom, and how did it intend to address the issue based on those findings?  Additionally, how would the Government ensure that advertising did not perpetrate the humiliation or discriminatory portrayal of women, in view of the fact that the media in that country was self-regulatory?

YOKO HAYASHI, expert from Japan, expressed concern that the law reform referenced in the report did not adequately address the issue of rape and other crimes against women, and asked if there had been any improvement in handling rape cases as a result of the specialist training that had been put in place.  She wanted to know, for instance, if the Government had plans in place to help and protect those reporting rape and if they had access to female forensic services.

SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, raised questions regarding violence against children, in particular, violence against the girl child.  She asked if the delegation had information about corporal punishment in schools, even though such punishment was not permitted.  Were there any special provisions in the legislation regarding trafficking in children, especially girls, and were there special police women who handled such cases? she asked.

Country Response

A delegate said that, although the Government did not have a specifically titled “violence against women strategy”, it had key action plans to tackle sexual violence, prostitution and trafficking.  The Government was in discussion with many non-governmental organizations, including the “Violence against Women Campaign”, to build common strategies.  Many women arriving in the United Kingdom on spousal visas often found themselves trapped with abusive partners.  Thanks to the strong lobbying of non-governmental organizations, the Government was receptive to the introduction of the no-recourse rule.  This year, a new scheme would be introduced to help women most at risk, who needed State-supported housing in order to flee domestic violence.  Several steps would be taken in the next three years to address rape.  A Public Service Agreement existed to tackle violence in communities, including domestic and sexual violence. 

Continuing, he said that the Government was also working closely with non-governmental organizations and the police to improve prosecution rates for rape.  The development of sexual assault referral centres over the next three years would help improve the prosecution rate.  When women did report rapes in court, the prosecution rate for offenders was 34 per cent to 38 per cent, the highest in 10 years.  The Government was trying to raise awareness of female genital mutilation across the country, and was working with health-care professionals in that regard.

Another delegate said that the Sexual Offences Northern Island Order 2008 had been passed yesterday and would take effect in the winter.  It was very important, as it was the first fundamental reform of the Law of Sexual Offences in Northern Island and was based on the Sexual Offences Act 2003.  It would strengthen and modernize the approach to sexual offences to ensure that all non-consensual sexual activity, particularly involving children, was criminalized.

The Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings would be ratified by year’s end, another delegate said.  The United Kingdom required that an international treaty be fully incorporated into national law before it was ratified.  The Government was now in the process of doing that.  New rules meant that victims of trafficking would be entitled to minimum one-year visas.  The trafficking of children into the United Kingdom was a problem, and the trafficking action plan had a dedicated section on children.  Adult victims of human trafficking received support, reintegration and repatriation to their home countries through various Government programmes.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, asked if the Government was meeting its targets for increasing women’s participation in political life.  How many women were chairing publicly appointed bodies, and how many women headed embassies and overseas missions?

Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked how Northern Island took into account Security Council resolution 1325 (2000). 

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said less than 20 per cent women’s representation in Parliament was not sufficient for an advanced country like the United Kingdom.  That figure should be at least 50 per cent. 

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said that the Government’s reservation on article 9 of the Convention, on nationality, should be removed.  In 2004, the Government had set an annual target to help 500 refugee women through the Gateway Protection Programme, but only 350 women had actually been assisted.  What were the targets for 2008 and following years?  Did the reports of the Border and Immigration Agency include sex disaggregated data?  How was the agency assuring that gender issues were taken into account?

Country Response

A delegate said that 24 per cent of chairs of national health bodies were women.  As part of the Public Services Agreements, the Government was working to narrow gaps in terms of gender, ethnicity and age.

Another delegate said that, on average, only 25 per cent of applications received for public appointments in Northern Island were from women.  Efforts sought to increase women’s representation, however, diversity and increased representation would not be at the expense of merit.  Although women held about one third of public appointments in Northern Ireland, that percentage should be increased.  The issue of how to address the legacy of Northern Ireland’s violent past remained a great challenge.  A consultative group had been set up in 2007 to study the legacy of the past 40 years and recommend ways to build a shared future not trapped by the past.  The group had met with more than 100 organizations and would report on its findings later this year.

Another delegate said that the Gateway Protection Programme’s target of 500 women had been increased to 750 for 2008 and 2009, annually.  The Programme aimed to resettle women at risk. 

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s first gender equality scheme recognized its shortfalls in terms of women’s representation, another delegate said.  The percentage of women in the senior management structure fell short of the 25 per cent target for 2008.  Women filled 23 of the 189 ambassador posts worldwide, up from 17 in 2006.  At the Director-General level in London, women filled 6.1 per cent of posts.  The Government was working to understand why women were not choosing to apply to senior management positions.  It had a comprehensive gender action plan, which was currently being updated.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, observed that minority women appeared to be more discriminated against in the United Kingdom than elsewhere.  The income gap was still very high compared to other European countries, even though the equal wage law regulating equal pay had been in force for 40 years now.  And, because of sexual discrimination, women in full-time employment still earned less than their male counterparts.

She implored the British Government to take special measures, including formulating a national strategy that would address those shortcomings.  Such measures could include, for instance, the enhancement of the supervisory agencies’ monitoring capabilities.

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, posed several questions regarding the Government’s plans to reformulate equal pay policies and legislation, as such interventions were intended to eliminate any discrimination against women in all fields, including health, the economy and employment.

She asked how pay gaps, particularly in the private sector, were being addressed by the Government.  Additionally, she wanted to know what measures were being taken to ensure that women’s flexible working hours were not violated.  Was there a comprehensive strategy to raise awareness on discrimination against minorities and ethnic women in the United Kingdom?

Country Response

Several members of the delegation alternated in responding to questions on how discrimination affected women, including pregnant women, returning to the labour market.  They also discussed measures being taken to improve the position of minority and ethnic groups, especially those of South Asian heritage.

Regarding pay gaps and pay audits, a delegate affirmed the Government’s commitment to tackling that issue, stressing that the matter involved a wide-ranging collection of measures because the issue itself involved an equally expansive set of underlying causes.  There was no doubt about the Government’s commitment in that regard.  Another member of the delegation explained that mandatory pay audits and other related equality issues had been examined, and had not been found to merit any action at present.  However, the matter would continue to be monitored, as needed.

On discrimination against minority and ethnic groups, a delegate stated that the Government took such matters very seriously and was currently looking at some of the systemic problems, in order to understand their causes.  The Government had a range of studies under way, and it hoped to learn from their findings.

Commenting on flexible working patterns, another delegate noted that, in recent years, practice had been extended to parents who had children requiring constant care.  The Government had also funded projects jointly with unions to consider those issues.  Women discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy was clearly unlawful, and the Government had put in place awareness-raising programmes for both employees and employers.

On what was being done to extend the Convention’s Optional Protocol to the country’s overseas Territories, a representative of the United Kingdom Mission told the Committee that that had not yet been done, although plans were in place to do so.  For now, however, lack of publicity in the overseas Territories about the Optional Protocol hindered its implementation, as well as attainment of the Convention’s goals overall.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, paid tribute to modern technology, which was enabling the Committee in New York to interact today with delegates in London.  She then raised concerns about the gaps related to the subject of AIDS.  The report did not contain much information on the six Caribbean countries administered by the United Kingdom, and she wanted to know what the United Kingdom was doing in that regard, as well as what follow-up and monitoring measures had been put in place.  Also, there was no information about the mental health programme, two years after it was first enunciated.  Another question that had not been answered pertained to the strategy of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom on the question of abortion.

Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, addressing herself specifically to the peace process in Northern Ireland, asked if there was any validity to the concern that the productivityof the women there would be used as a political bargaining chip in the peace process. 

Ms. BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, said that, despite England’s good health-care system, women in remote islands faced discrimination.  Was there an adequate monitoring system in place to ensure that vulnerable women were not subjected to discrimination?  How was the high teenage pregnancy rate being addressed?

Country Response

A delegate said that the Banford Review had completed work in 2007 and its recommendations were largely accepted by Northern Ireland officials.  Within the health and social care sector, a task force would be set up.  The time-scale for the next three years would depend on the availability of additional resources.  The only legal grounds for termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland were when the mother’s life was in danger or her health was seriously threatened.  The issue of abortion had not left the public consciousness in Northern Ireland. 

Another delegate said that Turks and Caicos Islands continued to implement HIV/AIDS programmes, funded in part by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The United Kingdom remained committed to women’s mental health strategies and it had increased resources and used its eight regional development centres to devise local strategies to implement national mental health plans, another delegate said.  It had programmes targeted at Asian women’s needs, and was very concerned about the high rates of depression and suicide among women of Afro-Caribbean background.  Early prevention programmes to end racism were being used to address those concerns.

Another delegate said halving the pregnancy rate of women under age 18 by 2010 remained a key Government target.  The pregnancy rate had fallen to the lowest in many years.  The “Are you Thinking?” campaign focused on younger people and supported those who wanted to delay sexual activity.  The “With Respect” campaign encouraged condom use among an older group.  Programmes ensured that young people could access contraceptive services.  An additional £26 million had been invested this year on services for young people and vulnerable groups.

A national strategy for mothers and children, focusing on infant mortality, worked to reduce the infant mortality rate, added another delegate.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked about measures to promote the human rights of ethnic minority women and whether those were applicable across the entire United Kingdom territory.  Touching on other points, she said that the 2005 racial equality strategy had not been implemented in Northern Ireland.  Also, the traveller community was marginalized, particularly in Northern Ireland.  What had the United Kingdom done to address discrimination against minority women in Northern Ireland in terms of employment, education and housing?

RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, asked for more accurate figures about women’s representation in the judiciary, particularly at high levels.  Was divorce mediation still being encouraged by the Government?  Were there safeguard measures to prevent abuse of power?  What were the rights of co-habitants?  When property was being distributed upon divorce, were other forms of intangible assets such as pension rights, as well as potential future assets taken into account?  What steps were being taken to prevent forced marriages? 

ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked if the specialized family violence courts in England were also established in Scotland, Northern Wales and Ireland.  How many applications had been made for protection orders, and how many had been made to evict perpetrators?  Was mediation used in domestic violence disputes?  Was the Government funding non-governmental organizations working in domestic violence?  If so, what was the budget for them? 

Country Response

A member of the delegation explained that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development had been actively working to constantly improve the status of women in the agricultural sector.  The initiative to enhance women in that sector had continued to strengthen and the Department viewed its provision of women’s access to services and training as “a truly holistic approach” by the Department.  The issue of migration and minorities would continue to receive attention, given today’s discussion and comments.  It was also clear that abortion and reproduction rights, an issue on many Committee members’ minds, was one that had been and would continue to be debated at Whitehall Palace, even as the Committee met in New York because it was a high-profile issue.

On funding, she assured the experts that all funding allocated was done so on basis of already-established criteria.  A strategic review had been done several years ago by the funding committee of Northern Ireland, with a focus on supporting capacity-building for social networking needs.  Concerning the judiciary, a delegate pointed out that, as far as possible, the judiciary ultimately reflected the community that it served, and judicial appointments were guided by the judicial appointments commission.  The delegation would be writing to the Committee separately about anomalies vis-à-vis family law.

In terms of divorce, property was covered, as were the rights of the children, she told the meeting.  On forced marriages, special legislation was introduced last year to address that specific matter.  In response to why forced marriage was not considered a criminal offence, the delegate replied that, having conducted a thorough review, the judicial system had decided that there were adequate mechanisms to prosecute the matter and, therefore, it did not warrant the creation of another statute under the criminal code; the civil jurisdiction covered it sufficiently.  A total of 98 special domestic violence courts had now been established countrywide, and they had recorded a high rate of prosecution success -- a 90 per cent success rate to date.  Collaboration in that had been so key that the Government had decided to continue to fund the courts.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. GABRE, expert from Egypt, sought clarification on asylum seekers and how the Government assisted those women financially.  She also wanted to know if the Government had done any studies to establish how those women were impacted by the country’s anti-terrorism laws, principally, where the children or spouses of those women were incarcerated.

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked which forms of gender-related persecution were covered by public funds.

Country Response

A member of the delegation stated that the Government was mindful of the need to protect some of the most vulnerable women, but, at the same time, it had to do so within the confines of the law as it stood today; that is, to let the accused go through due process first. 

A delegate said that her office would soon be conferring on sharing experiences with her fellow directors in Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  Preliminary assessment was that, so far, the Gender Duty was making a difference.  “It’s not a simple picture and there is a certain amount of work still to be done,” she added.

Closing Statements

Delivering her closing remarks, Ms. Follet, head of the 30-member United Kingdom contingent, praised the level of discussions during the meeting and noted that what had been said would provoke her delegation to look at what needed to be done in each of the areas of the Convention.  “We have to work together and we have to make it work.  Because hitting women is not the action of a real man,” she said.

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, Committee Chairperson and expert from Croatia, echoed the leader’s sentiment that there was still a lot of work remaining.  She stressed that the most effective way to achieve the goals was via the Convention because it was gender-specific and laid out how to proceed and how to attain substantive gender equality.  “It was for all of us here a very important and constructive dialogue,” she said, adding her hope that the United Kingdom delegation would take back the same feelings.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.