Rashida Manjoo also says Home Office refused to allow access to Yarl’s Wood immigration centre on fact-finding mission
The UK has an in-your-face “boys’ club sexist culture” which leads to certain perceptions about women and girls, a UN investigator into violence against women warned on Tuesday.
Special rapporteur Rashida Manjoo said there was “a more visible presence of sexist portrayals of women and girls” and a “marketisation of women’s and girls’ bodies” in the UK, which was more pervasive than elsewhere.
“Have I seen this level of sexist cultures in other countries? It hasn’t been so in-your-face,” she added.
Manjoo, who travelled across the UK during a 16-day fact-finding mission into violence against women, said she was barred at the gates of Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre on Monday, on instructions “from the highest levels of the Home Office”.
She told reporters she was deeply concerned at her exclusion “because if there was nothing to hide, I should have been given access”.
Manjoo had received reports of violations at the privately run Yarl’s Wood centre, near Bedford, before her visit to the UK and wanted to verify allegations of abuse. Last month a Jamaican woman, Christine Case, 40, died at the centre, which holds about 400 women.
After repeated unsuccessful requests to the Home Office, the investigator attempted an independent visit to Yarl’s Wood.
“When I reached Yarl’s Wood I was notified by the director that she had received a phone call [saying] I would not be allowed in,” Manjoo said. “She indicated that the call was from the highest levels of the Home Office but would not give me a name or share written information on who had given the instruction. But the instruction was given in the time period that I was on the train to Yarl’s Wood.”
Manjoo suggested there could have been “something I was prevented from seeing in Yarl’s Wood”. Under the terms of her mandate she should have been offered unrestricted access, she claimed. A Home Office spokesperson said a tour of Yarl’s Wood “was never agreed as part of this fact-finding mission” and that Manjoo had turned down several other options, including a trip to a women’s refuge.
In her preliminary report, Manjoo said the number of women detained in prisons and immigration centres in the UK was rising, with a significant over-representation of black and minority ethnic women.
“A large number of women in detention have a history of being subjected to violence prior to being imprisoned … the strong link between violence against women and women’s incarceration, whether prior to, during or after incarceration, needs to be fully acknowledged,” she said.
The special rapporteurShe also drew attention to the disproportionate impact of funding cuts on the provision of services to women and girls at risk of violence.
“Service providers argue that they are being forced to make cuts to their frontline services as a result of reduced funding, whether by closing refuges, reducing support hours, or increasing waiting lists … current reforms to the funding and benefits system continue to adversely impact women’s ability to address safety and other relevant issues.”
Among the figures quoted in her report are: 30% of women in England and Wales have reported experience of domestic abuse since the age of 16; 77 women were killed by partners or former partners in 2012-13; 18,915 sexual crimes against children were recorded in England and Wales in 2012-13; and almost one in three 16- to 18-year-old girls have experienced groping or other unwanted sexual touching at school.
The UK government had made tackling violence against women a priority and had adopted strategies and projects to deal with it, she said. But she added that these efforts had produced “isolated pockets of good practice … not applied consistently throughout the country”.
Manjoo’s full report is expected to be published later this year and will be presented to the UN human rights council in June 2015.
Violence against women remains a pervasive challenge in the United Kingdom and a more comprehensive and targeted response is needed to address the scourge, an independent United Nations human rights expert said today after a two-week mission to the country.
Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo noted that the UK has made the issue of violence against women a priority and there have been “many positive developments,” including a 2010 strategy to address the problem.
“But a more comprehensive and targeted response to address acts of violence against women and girls is needed,” stated Ms. Manjoo, who has been charged by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on violence against women, its causes and consequences.
In a news release issued at the end of her 16-day mission to the UK, the expert pointed out that in the course of last year, 7 per cent of women in England and Wales reported having experienced any type of domestic abuse – equivalent to 1.2 million female victims. It is also estimated that 2.5 per cent of women reported having experienced any type of sexual assaults – equivalent to an estimated 400,000 female victims.
Other manifestations of violence which were reported throughout her visit included sexual harassment, gender-based bullying, forced and/or early marriages, female genital mutilation, gang-related violence, so called honour- related violence, and trafficking.
Women’s organizations in the UK informed the Special Rapporteur that black and minority ethnic and migrant women experience a disproportionate rate of domestic homicide, and that women of Asian origin are up to three times more likely to commit suicide than other women as a result of violence.
Ms. Manjoo noted that the current austerity measures are having a disproportionate impact, not only in the specific provision of violence against women services, but more generally, on other cross-cutting areas affecting women, such as poverty and unemployment, which are contributory factors to violence against women and girls.
“It is important to recognize that the reduction in the number and quality of specialized services for women does impact health and safety needs of women and children, and further restricts them when considering leaving an abusive home, thus putting them at a heightened risk of re-victimization,” she stressed.
Ms. Manjoo noted that, in order to address shortcomings in responses, the British authorities have piloted and completed the evaluation of a series of initiatives, including Domestic Violence Protection Orders, which enable the police and magistrates to exclude a perpetrator from the home for up to 28 days.
She also noted that, since March 2013, the non-statutory definition of domestic abuse in the UK, previously restricted to “adults,” includes victims aged 16 and 17, as well as the concepts of controlling and coercive behaviour.
The findings of the mission, which included London, Leicester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Cookstown, Cardiff and Bristol, will be discussed in the report to be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2015.
Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.