Concluding observations on the seventh periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland *
* Adopted by the Committee at its fifty-fifth session (8-26 July 2013).
1.The Committee considered the seventh periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (CEDAW/C/GBR/7 and Add.1 and 2) at its 1142nd and 1143rd meetings, on 17 July 2013 (see CEDAW/C/SR.1142 and 1143). The Committee’s list of issues and questions is contained in CEDAW/C/GBR/Q/7 and the responses of the United Kingdom are contained in CEDAW/C/GBR/Q/7/Add.1.
2.The Committee commends the State party for its seventh periodic report, submitted on time, which takes into account the Committee’s previous concluding observations (A/63/38, part two, paras. 248-303). The Committee expresses its appreciation to the State party for its oral presentation, the written replies to the list of issues and questions raised by the pre-sessional working group, the further clarifications on the questions posed orally by the Committee and the open and constructive dialogue.
3.The Committee commends the State party for its delegation, which was headed by the Director of Policy, Government Equalities Office, Helene Reardon-Bond, and included other government representatives who participated via videoconference. The Committee notes, however, that the State party’s delegation did not include representatives of the overseas territories and Crown dependencies.
4.The Committee welcomes the State party’s recognition of the positive contribution made by non-governmental human rights and women’s organizations in the implementation of the Convention.
5.The Committee welcomes the adoption in 2010 of a new strategy on equality, “Building a Fairer Britain”.
6.The Committee commends the State party for having coordinated the adoption of the Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict by the ministers attending the meeting of the Group of Eight held in London in April 2013.
7.The Committee welcomes the ratification by the State party of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, in 2009.
8.The Committee also welcomes the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.
C.Principal areas of concern and recommendations
9. While reaffirming that the Government has the primary responsibility and is particularly accountable for the full implementation of the obligations of the State party under the Convention, the Committee stresses that the Convention is binding on all branches of government and invites the State party to encourage its parliaments, in line with their procedures and where appropriate, to take the necessary steps with regard to the implementation of the present concluding observations between now and the next reporting process under the Convention.
10.The Committee recalls its concluding observations of 2008 (ibid., paras. 258 and 259) regarding the State party’s commitment to reviewing the reservations to articles 1, 2, 9, 11, 15 and 16 of the Convention, with a view to withdrawing them. The Committee regrets that the State party continues to maintain its reservations, but notes that the Isle of Man, independently, intends to withdraw some of the reservations.
11. The Committee reiterates its previous recommendation and urges the State party to withdraw and narrow current reservations. It also reiterates its position that some of the reservations have the character of interpretive declarations and may no longer be necessary. It further urges the State party to provide assistance to the Isle of Man and other territories in withdrawing some reservations.
Legal status of the Convention
12.The Committee recalls its concluding observations of 1999 (A/54/38/Rev.1, part two, paras. 278-318) and 2008 (A/63/38, part two, paras. 260 and 261) and notes that, while the Equality Act of 2010 and national legislation incorporate some provisions of the Convention, the State party’s legislation does not incorporate all the provisions.
13. The Committee reiterates its previous recommendations and urges the State party to continuously review its legislation with a view to incorporating all the provisions of the Convention therein.
Application of the Convention in the overseas territories and Crown dependencies
14.The Committee is concerned that the State party’s ratification of the Convention has not yet been extended to include Guernsey and Jersey.
15. The Committee urges the State party to extend its ratification of the Convention to include all its territories, including Guernsey and Jersey .
Constitutional framework and implementation of the Convention
16.While noting the State party’s efforts to harmonize anti-discrimination laws under a single piece of legislation on equality (the Equality Act of 2010), the Committee is concerned that the Act replaces the Gender Equality Duty with a single public sector equality duty (the Equality Duty) that covers all prohibited grounds of discrimination, and that the specific duty requirements of the Equality Duty have no explicit gender component in England (unlike in Scotland and Wales) and do not adequately protect women against multiple discrimination. The Committee is also concerned that some provisions of the Equality Act have not entered into force, such as those relating to the new public sector duty on socioeconomic inequalities (sects. 1-3), the recognition of “combined discrimination” (sect. 14) and the publication of information on pay disaggregated by gender (sect. 78).
17. The Committee urges the State party to take advantage of the review of the Equality Duty to ensure that the gender equality component of the Duty is properly prescribed for public authorities, including the application of the principle of substantive equality. In this regard, the State party should consider issuing statutory guidelines on the Duty covering England , Scotland and Wales , which would provide uniform guidance. It further urges the State party to bring into force the provisions of the Equality Act relating to the introduction of a new public sector duty on socioeconomic inequalities; the recognition of multiple forms of discrimination; and the need to publicize information on pay disaggregated by gender.
18.The Committee is concerned that the Equality Act of 2010 does not, on the whole, extend to Northern Ireland and, as a result, women in Northern Ireland do not have the same equality protections as their counterparts in England. The Committee is particularly concerned that the legislative framework in Northern Ireland does not provide for protection from multiple discrimination and that there is no prohibition against pay secrecy clauses.
19. The Committee recommends that the State party revise its legislation in Northern Ireland to ensure that it affords protection to women on an equal footing with other women in the State party ’ s Administrations. The State party should therefore recognize multiple discrimination and ensure that pay secrecy clauses are prohibited.
20.The Committee is concerned that the austerity measures introduced by the State party have resulted in serious cuts in funding for organizations that provide social services to women, including those that provide services for women only. The Committee is concerned that the cuts have had a negative impact on women with disabilities and older women. It is also concerned that the State party does not provide direct funding for these services but resorts to commissioning them, which allegedly risks undermining the provision of the services. The Committee is further concerned that budgetary cuts in the public sector disproportionately affect women, owing to their concentration in this sector.
21. The Committee urges the State party to mitigate the impact of austerity measures on women and the services provided to women, especially women with disabilities and older women. It should also ensure that spending reviews continuously focus on measuring and balancing the impact of austerity measures on women ’ s rights. It should further review the policy of commissioning services wherever this may undermine the provision of specialized services for women.
Legal aid and access to justice
22.The Committee is concerned that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act of 2012 unduly restricts women’s access to legal aid because it removes access to legal aid for litigation concerning, among others, divorce, property disputes, housing and immigration matters. While noting that legal aid remains available for some private family law issues, the Committee is concerned that the Act conditions legal aid upon proof of, among others, abuse suffered by victims of violence, and that a proposed residency test is under consideration. It is also concerned at the introduction of court fees under the Employment Appeal Tribunal Fees Order 2013. The Committee notes with concern reports that these limitations may push women, in particular those from ethnic minorities, into informal community arbitration systems, including faith-based tribunals, which are often not in conformity with the Convention.
23. The Committee urges the State party:
(a) To ensure effective access by women, in particular women victims of violence, to courts and tribunals;
(b) To continuously assess the impact of the reforms of legal aid on the protection of women ’ s rights;
(c) To protect women from informal community arbitration systems, especially those that violate their rights under the Convention.
24.While welcoming the establishment of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, which is mandated to investigate the abuse committed in residential institutions in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995 (the Magdalene laundries), the Committee regrets that the mandate of the Inquiry excludes women who were over 18 years of age when they entered the laundries. The Committee is concerned that this exclusion perpetuates a climate of impunity and leaves many women without a remedy.
25. The Committee urges the State party:
(a) To extend the mandate of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry to include women who entered the Magdalene laundries at the age of 18 years and above;
(b) To provide adequate redress to all victims of abuse who were detained in the Magdalene laundries and similar institutions.
26.The Committee is concerned that, following the findings of the review of criminal law and practice in Scotland undertaken by Lord Carloway, the burdensome requirements of corroboration impede the prosecution of rape and other cases of sexual violence. The Committee is also concerned that the three-year limitation period for filing civil claims of sexual abuse in Scotland, including where a child is a victim, unduly limits access to justice for victims.
27. The Committee urges the State party:
(a) To consider implementing the recommendations made by Lord Carloway regarding the removal of the corroboration requirement in criminal cas es relating to sexual offences;
(b) To extend the limitation period for filing civil claims involving sexual abuse, especially of girls, so that victims can still initiate proceedings when they are adults.
National machinery for the advancement of women
28.The Committee is concerned about the replacement of the Women’s National Commission, which was part of the former national machinery for women’s equality that extended throughout the State party, with the Government Equalities Office, the mandate of which does not extend to Northern Ireland. The Committee recalls its previous concluding observations (ibid., paras. 262 and 263) and remains concerned at the lack of a unified national strategy for the implementation of the Convention. It is also concerned that the State party’s new, modernized approach to engaging with women’s organizations has a negative impact on women’s ability to be involved in, and contribute to furthering, the implementation of the Convention.
29. The Committee recommends that the State party ensure that the Government Equalities Office has a dedicated section for the coordination of gender equality matters in all parts of the State party. It reiterates its previous recommendation that the State party develop and adopt a unified, comprehensive and overarching national strategy for the implementation of the Convention throughout its territory. The State party should also assess the impact of the new approach to engaging with women ’ s organizations and introduce measures to mitigate the negative impact on women ’ s ability to engage adequately.
Temporary special measures
30.While commending the State party for extending until 2030 the provision allowing political parties to adopt women-only shortlists of parliamentary candidates, and the pledge by the Government of Wales to introduce quotas, the Committee is concerned at the failure of the State party to introduce further temporary special measures to address the underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions in the public and private sectors, as well as in political life, especially in Parliament. The Committee is particularly concerned that, notwithstanding the recommendations contained in the report of Lord Davies that more temporary special measures could be a route to achieving a significant change in the representation of women on company boards, the State party continues to use the Voluntary Search Code, which is less effective.
31. The Committee recommends that the State party evaluate the impact of the Voluntary Search Code and consider using more prescriptive temporary special measures to improve the representation of women in the public and private sectors, in particular on company boards, and in political life.
32.While noting the State party’s efforts to raise awareness of the causes and consequences of body image anxiety, the Committee remains concerned that stereotypical imaging and objectification of women by the media and in advertising are prevalent, as confirmed by the inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press conducted by Lord Justice Leveson.
33. The Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Continue to engage with the media to eliminate stereotypical imaging of women and their objectification in the me dia, especially in advertising;
(b) Implement the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry, including those that seek to give powers to a regulator to intervene in matters of discriminatory reporting.
Violence against women
34.The Committee commends the State party for launching the “Call to end violence against women and girls” in 2010. It notes that the State party intends to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention) and to criminalize forced marriage. It is concerned, however, at continued reports of violence against women, including domestic violence, affecting in particular black and ethnic minority women, and the so-called “honour killings” of ethnic minority women. The Committee is also concerned at reports of negative attitudes on the part of the police towards women who are victims of domestic violence. The Committee further recalls its previous concluding observations (ibid., paras. 280 and 281) and is concerned that corporal punishment remains lawful in the home.
35. Recalling its general recommendation No. 19, on violence against women, and its previous recommendation, the C ommittee urges the State party:
(a) To ratify the Istanbul Convention and criminalize forced marriage;
(b) To increase its efforts to protect women, including black and ethnic minority women, against all forms of violence, including domestic violence, and so-called “ honour killings ”;
(c) To continue public campaigns to raise awareness of all forms of violence against women, including black and ethnic minority women;
(d) To step up efforts to train police officers in order to eliminate prejudices concerning the credibility o f victims of domestic violence;
(e) To revise its legislation to prohibit corporal punishment of children in the home.
Female genital mutilation
36.While noting the launch of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, aimed at combating impunity for crimes of sexual violence, the Committee is concerned at reports that female genital mutilation persists in some communities in the State party. The Committee further recalls its previous concluding observations (ibid., paras. 278 and 279) and remains concerned that there still have not been any convictions for performing female genital mutilation.
37. The Committee reiterates that the State party should ensure the full implementation of its legislation on female genital mutilation. The Committee recommends that the State party ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service is provided with the support necessary to effectively prosecute perpetrators of this offence, including by supporting the action plan on improving prosecutions for female genital mutilation released by the Director of Public Prosecutions in November 2012.
Trafficking and exploitation of prostitution
38.The Committee is concerned at the lack of a comprehensive national framework on trafficking, in view of the nature and complexity of this phenomenon and its prevalence, and notwithstanding the clear recommendations of the inquiry conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into human trafficking in Scotland and of the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings established under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings to monitor implementation in the States parties to the Convention. The Committee is also concerned at alleged weaknesses of the National Referral Mechanism in identifying victims of trafficking and the lack of adequate support provided to them.
39. The Committee urges the State party:
(a) To adopt a comprehensive national framework to combat trafficking in women and girls;
(b) To identify any weaknesses in the National Referral Mechanism and ensure that victims of trafficking are properly identified and adequately supported and protected.
40.While noting that in Northern Ireland it is an offence to pay for the sexual services of a child under 18 years of age, the Committee is concerned that, in the case of a child over the age of 13 years and under the age of 18 years, the prosecution is required to prove that the purchaser did not reasonably believe the child to be 18 years old or more.
41. The Committee urges the State party to revise its legislation by shifting the burden of proof from the prosecution to the purchaser of sexual services. The Committee recommends that, once the prosecution proves that the child was over 13 years of age and under 18 years of age, and that the accused purchased sexual services from the child, the purchaser should be required to establish that he or she did not reasonably believe that the child was under 18 years of age.
Participation in political and public life
42.While noting the increase in the representation of women in the public sector, the Committee is concerned that women continue to be significantly underrepresented in some fields, including in Parliament, in the judiciary and on public-sector boards. The Committee is particularly concerned at the low representation of black and ethnic minority women and women with disabilities in political life. The Committee further recalls its previous concluding observations (ibid., paras. 284 and 285) and remains concerned at the low representation of women in the post-conflict process in Northern Ireland and the failure to fully implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).
43. The Committee calls upon the State party:
(a) To continue to take specific targeted measures to improve the representation of women, in particular black and ethnic minority women and women with disabilities, in Parliament and the judiciary;
(b) To ensure the participation of women in the post-conflict process in Northern Ireland , in line with Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) .
44.While noting the adoption of the Education Act in 2011, the Committee is concerned that it is not compulsory to provide personal, social and health education and education on sexual relationships in all schools. The Committee is also concerned at reports of bullying, expressions of racist sentiments and harassment of girls in schools. The Committee is further concerned at the persistence of traditional attitudes and stereotypes, including the choice of studies, which affect educational paths and careers followed by girls and women. The Committee is particularly concerned at reports of underrepresentation of women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and in apprenticeships, especially in Scotland, which ultimately affects the gender pay gap in the labour market. The Committee is also concerned at the lack of data on the number of women heading academic institutions and at the low number of women in professorial positions.
45. The Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Consider introducing mandatory age-appropriate education on sexual and reproductive rights in school curricula, including issues such as gender relations and responsible sexual behaviour, targeting adolescent girls in particular;
(b) Enhance measures to prevent, punish and eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls, including bullying and expressions of racist sentiments, in educational institutions;
(c) Step up career guidance activities to encourage girls to pursue non ‑ traditional paths and improve the gender awareness of teaching personnel at all levels of the education system;
(d) Take coordinated measures to encourage increased participation by girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and in apprenticeships;
(e) Take appropriate measures to collect data on women in positions at all levels of academic institutions and improve the representation of women at the upper echelons.
Employment and economic empowerment
46.The Committee recalls its previous concluding observations (ibid., paras. 286 and 287) and appreciates the State party’s efforts to provide flexible working arrangements for women and men and to introduce shared parental leave, envisaging new legislation in that regard in 2015. The Committee is concerned at reports of persistent discrimination against pregnant women in employment and their access to justice. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned at existing occupational segregation and the persisting gender pay gap, in addition to the high unemployment rates of women with disabilities. The Committee notes, however, that the State party launched a voluntary, rather than compulsory, gender equality analysis and reporting initiative and that it intends to introduce legislation requiring tribunals to order a pay audit in the event that an employer loses an equal pay claim.
47. The Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Step up its efforts to promote the use of flexible working arrangements and introduce shared parental leave to encourage men to participate equally in childcare responsibilities;
(b) Continue to take proactive and specific measures to eliminate occupational segregation an d to narrow the gender pay gap;
(c) Create greater opportunities for women with disabilities to gain access to employment;
(d) Assess the effectiveness of the voluntary reporting initiative under the Think, Act, Report framework, so as to ensure transparency of salaries in enterprises;
(e) Ensure access by women to justice in employment-related cases, including those pertaining to discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and motherhood.
48.The Committee recalls its previous concluding observations (ibid., paras. 286 and 287) and is concerned at the excessive costs of childcare. It is also concerned at reports that the proposed reforms to the welfare system would exacerbate the cost of childcare for low-income families owing to reductions in the Childcare Tax Credit.
49. Recalling its previous recommendation, the Committee urges the State party to provide affordable childcare and to mitigate the impact of the proposed reforms of the welfare system on the costs of childcare for low-income families and the increased burden of care that this places on women.
50.While acknowledging the consultation process on a revised set of guidelines on the limited circumstances for a lawful termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland issued by the Northern Ireland Department for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in 2012, the Committee regrets that a public consultation on the possible abolition of laws criminalizing abortion, as called for by the Committee in its previous concluding observations (ibid., paras. 288 and 289), has not been undertaken. The Committee is concerned that abortion continues to be illegal in Northern Ireland in all cases except where continuance of the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother, thus making it necessary for women to seek abortions in other parts of the State party.
51. Recalling its previous recommendation, the Committee reiterates that, in line with its general recommendation No. 24, on women and health, and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the State party should expedite the amendment of the anti-abortion law in Northern Ireland with a view to decriminalizing abortion. The State party should also ensure that legal abortion covers not only cases of threats to the life of a pregnant woman but also other circumstances, such as threats to her health and in cases of rape, incest and serious malformation of the foetus.
52.The Committee is concerned at reports that women with disabilities, older women, women seeking asylum and Traveller women face obstacles in gaining access to medical health care. The Committee is particularly concerned that women with disabilities face limited access to prenatal care and reproductive health services. The Committee is also concerned at legal impediments to gaining access to reproductive treatments faced by some groups of women in Northern Ireland.
53. The Committee urges the State party:
(a) To strengthen the implementation of programmes and policies aimed at providing effective access to health care for women, especially women with disabilities, older women, women seek ing asylum and Traveller women;
(b) To pay special attention to the health needs of women with disabilities, ensuring their access to prenatal care and all reproductive health services;
(c) To provide equal access to reproductive treatment for all women in Northern Ireland , without discrimination.
Women in prison
54.The Committee recalls its previous concluding observations (ibid., paras. 266 and 267) and notes the measures taken to address the recommendations in the 2007 report of Baroness Corston on women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system. The Committee remains concerned, however, at reports that the number of women in prison continues to increase, owing partly to changes in sentencing, i.e. women are more likely than men to be incarcerated for non-violent offences. The Committee is also concerned at women’s limited access to mental health care in prisons and at the overrepresentation of black and ethnic minority women in prison. The Committee is also concerned at reports of an increase in the number of trafficked women in prison and the lack of adequate integration programmes upon release.
55. Recalling its previous recommendation, the Committee urges the State party:
(a) To vigorously pursue efforts to implement the recommendations made in the Corston report, including those contained in the report of the House of Commons Justice Committee published on 15 July 2013;
(b) To continue to develop alternative sentencing and custodial strategies, including community interventions and services, for women convicted of minor offences;
(c) To improve the provision of men tal health care in all prisons;
(d) To introduce measures aimed at tackling the root causes of the overrepresentation of black and e thnic minority women in prison;
(e) To ensure that the authorities, including prison staff, are able to recognize women who may have been trafficked so as to avoid their criminalization, and to provide adequate services for their integration into society.
Disadvantaged groups of women
56.The Committee recalls its previous concluding observations (ibid., paras. 295 and 296) and remains concerned that, under the “no recourse to public funds” policy, women with insecure immigration status continue to have no access to State support. While noting that the State party has announced a concession for women who are victims of domestic violence, the Committee is concerned that the concession applies only to women who have entered the State party on spousal visas and that this has the potential to trap women in violent relationships.
57. Recalling its previous recommendation, the Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Extend the concession under the “ no recourse to public funds ” policy to all women who are subjected to gender-b ased violence and exploitation;
(b) Provide access to justice and health care to all women with insecure immigration status, including asylum seekers, until their return to their countries of origin.
58.The Committee is concerned at reports of lack of gender-sensitive approaches by immigration authorities towards women who are victims of violence. The Committee is also concerned at the low levels of participation of black and ethnic minority women in the labour market and their concentration in low-paid jobs for which they are often overqualified.
59. The Committee urges the State party:
(a) To continue to provide training on gender-sensitive approaches in the treatment of victims of violence to officers who are in charge of immig ration and asylum applications;
(b) To take targeted measures to facilitate the access of black and ethnic minority women to the labour market in order to alleviate their concentration in low-paid jobs.
60.The Committee recalls its previous concluding observations (ibid., paras. 292 and 294) and remains concerned that women from ethnic minority communities, including Traveller communities, continue to register poor outcomes in education, health and employment. The Committee is also concerned at the lack of adequate designated sites in the State party for Traveller women and members of their families.
61. The Committee, recalling its previous recommendation, recommends that the State party:
(a) Step up its efforts to eliminate discrimination against ethnic minority women and improve access to social services, including health care, education and employment;
(b) Provide adequate sites designated for use by Traveller women and members of their families.
62.The Committee notes the reforms to the welfare benefit system adopted in order to consolidate benefits and tax credits into a single payment under the Universal Credit system. It is concerned, however, that, under that system, benefits and tax credits will be paid into a bank account belonging to one member of the family, which poses risks of financial abuse for women owing to power imbalances in the family, especially if payment is made to an abusive male spouse.
63. The Committee urges the State party to adopt measures to prevent the potential exploitation of the Universal Credit system by an abusive male spouse.
Economic consequences of divorce
64.The Committee recalls its previous concluding observations (ibid., paras. 290 and 291) and notes the proposals set out in the report of the Law Commission entitled “Cohabitation: the financial consequences of relationship breakdown”. The Committee is concerned at the lack of progress made in this area and that the rights of women in de facto relationships with regard to matrimonial property and benefits may, therefore, not be adequately safeguarded.
65. The Committee urges the State party to expedite efforts to undertake reforms with a view to protecting the property rights of women upon the breakdown of marriage or of de facto unions, in line with general recommendation No. 29, on the economic consequences of marriage, family relations and their dissolution, and article 16 of the Convention.
Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action
66. The Committee calls upon the State party to use the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in its efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention.
Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 development framework
67. The Committee calls for the integration of a gender perspective, in accordance with the provisions of the Convention, into all efforts aimed at the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and into the post-2015 development framework.
Follow-up to concluding observations
68. The Committee requests the State party to provide written information on the steps taken to implement the recommendations contained in paragraphs 23 and 51 above within one and two years, respectively.
Preparation of the next report
69. The Committee invites the State party to submit its eighth periodic report in July 2017.
70. The Committee requests the State party to follow the harmonized guidelines on reporting under the international human rights treaties, including guidelines on a common core document and treaty-specific documents ( HRI/MC/2006/3 and Corr.1).