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Transcript for UN CEDAW review 2019, Geneva

Eleanor Lisney

Hello. I’m Eleanor Lisney. This is my first podcast hence I was a bit slow in getting this done.

About a month ago I went to Geneva as part of Sisters of Frida with other UK women NGOs for the UN CEDAW review of the UK government. CEDAW stands for the Convention of Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, or, in short, the bill of rights for women.

It was a very busy and intense time. But here I’ve manage to talk to a few of those delegates while we were at Geneva in the UN building, and after the event but in London.

In this order we have Rachel O’Brien from the Sisters of Frida; Cris McCurley, who’s a lawyer on the CEDAW working party and the Women’s Resource Center; Janet Veitch, who wrote the shadow report for the WRC; Viv Hayes from the WRC; and last but not least, Hayley Willingale from the EHRC, the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Rachel O’Brien:
Hello, myself, Rachel O’Brien and Eleanor Lisney are at CEDAW at the UN in Geneva representing Sisters of Frieda as part of the UK Delegations for CEDAW Committee. We’ve just got here and we just met some of the other members of the UK delegation and we have two packed days of meetings and reports ahead of us. We’re here because we think it’s really important that disabled women’s issues are put on the agenda where our voice are maybe overlooked or ignored. To do this we have produced a shadow report, a [inaudible 00:00:45] door committee and a one page briefing. So by doing this, we really hope to put disabled women’s issues in regards to domestic violence on the agenda, both for the CEDAW Committee and also to the rest of the UK delegation so that they can integrate it into their work as well.

Cris McCurley:

Hi, I’m Cris McCurley and I’m a lawyer from the North East of England. And I specialize in working with all forms of domestic abuse and access to justice. I’m particularly interested in disabled women’s access to justice; BME women’s access to justice; Gypsy, Romani, Traveler women’s access to justice, because with the cuts we’ve experienced in the UK to funding for any form of legal aid, it is always the most disadvantaged women who are at the bottom of the pile and who have the greatest struggle to get access to fighting for their rights when they’re taken away from them.

We’ve just had the new domestic abuse bill published, the draft. And I know that the government is going come here to CEDAW today and say that this is the policy that’s going to solve everybody’s problems, and everybody’s gonna get everything they need. It just is not true. Domestic abuse in the UK costs the British economy 66 billion pounds a year. That’s billion, not million.

And the government are introducing measures under the Domestic Abuse Act that are quite frankly… wallpaper. They mean nothing at all in terms of being able to access justice. And the main reason for that is: we’ve got all the statutes, we’ve got all the provisions in place, what we don’t have is funding. So none of the women’s services have funding. There is no legal aid to take action to court, we’re in the middle of a care crisis, kids are being taken away from their parents out of sheer desperation and poverty, and for the first time certainly in my working life, and what the whole system needs is a big cash injection.

When the government did their cuts to legal aid in 2013, they took almost half a billion pounds out of the system. They’re talking about putting one or two percent of that saving back in, and it’s just laughable, it just is; it’s not going to work.

I think one of the biggest problems with access to justice is the absolute decimation of the welfare system. The bits are just impossible for people to access and to get what they need from that, and we’ve got people who are benefits sanctioned; we’ve got people who are unable to even get to sign on for their benefits being benefits sanctioned; Universal Credit roll-out is an absolute nightmare, we’ve got people waiting weeks and weeks to get their first payment, where it’s been rolled out, Manchester’s been one of those cities where it’s been rolled out, and in the meantime when they’ve got no income, how do they feed their kids? How do they pay their rent? And if they can’t, they’re on the streets and their kids are in care. And the whole thing is just an absolute disgrace.

Janet Veitch:

Hi Eleanor! It’s Janet Veitch . I’m here in the UN building in Geneva. It’s been a beautiful day outside but we’ve been indoors actually all day giving evidence to the United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, which is usually shortened to CEDAW

And the aim of us being here was to bring the news of women’s organizations across the UK to the committee so that they can use what we’ve said to ask questions of the UK government, who are coming before them to be examined tomorrow.

And the aim of all this work is for the UN to get a good picture of women’s rights in the UK, whether it’s going backwards or forwards. And we covered all sorts of things today.

We covered universal credit and how difficult that is. We covered the fact that the mental capacity issues and issues with the law around mental capacity. There are problems with mental health services. There are problems with violence against women and girls services. There are all sorts of difficulties and we tried to explain as best we could what the problems are in the UK, problems that women are suffering from, so the committee will really be able to ask the government what they’re going to do about those problems.

Austerity, Brexit, violence against women and girls services, funding for services, and universal credit. Those were the specific issues that we looked at.

Vivienne Hayes

Viv, would you like to say a bit more about yourself?

I’m Vivienne Hayes, the Chief Executiver of the Women’s Resource Centre, which is the national support organization for women’s charities across England.

Eleanor Lisney

Thank you. We’ve just come back from the UN CEDAW review of the UK government in Geneva. Why do you think it was important for us to be there for the CEDAW review?

Vivienne Hayes

Well, firstly because I think CEDAW is really important in terms of improving women’s rights, and it’s a little-known treaty of the UN. We call it the UN Bill of Rights for Women, and it’s probably one of the best-kept secrets that I know of, but it is critical because it looks at women’s rights and women’s sex-based rights. It’s not a comparator with men. It’s about how well a country is progressing and improving things. I think it’s absolutely critical for women’s organizations to be engaged in that process and to be aware of how well or not the government’s doing.

Eleanor Lisney

What do you think is achieved by us going there?

Vivienne Hayes

Well, I think it’s really important to go … There are opportunities to share evidence with the committee before they examine the government, and they will … we’ve already submitted reports, and we have an opportunity to make actual face-to-face interventions with committee members and to make sure that the concerns of women via women’s organizations are properly represented to the committee, so that they’re really well informed when they question the government.

Eleanor Lisney

Right. I think we should say as well that we did a CEDAW shadow report for England, shouldn’t we?

Yeah.

You can elaborate a little bit on that.

Vivienne Hayes

Yeah. I mean, the other thing is that we went to CEDAW, but that wasn’t the first thing we did. The first thing that we did was a one-year consultation led by the Womens Resource Centre of over 100 women’s organizations across England. Of course, Eleanor, as you know because you were a member of the steering group that oversaw that process and also ensured that our approach was intersectional, because that was one of the biggest things that women’s organizations were disappointed in the government, is that lack of understanding women as a group that includes so many communities of interest.

We also attended the planning session at CEDAW last year, and we then went to the examination. You know, over a year’s work had occurred before the examination, and lots of behind-the-scenes planning and coordination to make sure that the representatives who did attend CEDAW from women’s rights organizations had a coordinated approach to the committee and spoke with one voice. You know, which is quite a challenge when there’s 50 of you, but we did an excellent job.

Eleanor Lisney

I’m glad that, as disabled women, we were able to join the other women and girls who went.

Vivienne Hayes

Yes. I mean, I think that’s the other thing to say, is that sometimes these opportunities are often only accessed by the white middle class non-disabled women, because of the cost of going and the time that it takes, and so it’s really important that women … you know, black women, disabled women … are actually there, so that there’s no chance that their issues can be minimized or marginalized.

Eleanor Lisney

Yeah, that’s great. The conclusions, the concluding … my mind went blank for a minute there … have come out now. What do we hope to achieve from that?

Vivienne Hayes

Well, the concluding observations make numerous recommendations to our government about improving women’s rights. I think a few of them have been made several times, and I noticed that two, the committee’s been recommending for 20 years. Now, the recommendations are very useful to women’s rights organizations because they give us an opportunity to press the government to implement those, but of course that relies upon women’s human rights organizations (a) existing and (b) having the resources to work together to press the government. You know, the impact of austerity has been that women’s rights organizations are actually struggling to survive, so it does present a challenge.

I think the other challenge is that we need to agree what things we’re going to prioritize in terms of pressing the government on as a sector, because there’s so many we can’t possibly achieve them all. I think it also spurs us on to be more collaborative, and I think in an environment where the funding for commissioning is actually, you know, really not conducive to collaborative work by the sector, but we do have to move beyond that and we have to work at it together.

Eleanor Lisney

Absolutely. Thank you so much. We hope to come back to you if we need to talk more. Thanks all.

Thank you. Bye.

Eleanor Lisney

Welcome to Hayley Willingale from the EHRC Quality and Human Rights Commission. First of all, let me thank you for funding Sisters of Frida, to go to the CEDAW review in Geneva.

We wouldn’t have been able to go, if that was not so. if that was not so. what’s the role of the EHRC?

So, EHRC is the National Human Rights Institution for Great Britain. Which means that we have a responsibility that is set out and and assess government compliance with with that is international human rights standards. So, for CEDAW, we produced our biggest ever review into women’s rights gathering all the evidence of all the various gender equality issues women face in the country today.

But it also means that we have the responsibility, to try and support domestic actors of state quarters in the UK, to engage with these international human rights mechanisms, that are a really essential way of holding the government to account.

Eleanor Lisney

I think that’s really helpful for us.

Piece taken out here…

Why is it important for NGOs to be there?

Hayley Willingale

Well, I think a really important thing, with these reviews that take place in Geneva, is not to see them as this, removed, strange, process that that happens and the UN kind of sends out these commandments about what human rights actions the government should take,

 the really important thing, is that the UN is a listening exercise and that the UN is hearing from stake holders in the country under review, so in this case, the UK and getting the genuine evidence and experiences of women. And so to get people to do that, the women’s rights organizations are able to speak on women’s behalf, and we thought it was really important to have a diverse range of voices that are able to inform this review.

Eleanor Lisney

Were you happy with the recommendations that the, were you happy with the results?

Hayley Willingale

Yeah. I think we were broadly happy, it certainly covered a lot of the topics, and the evidence we put forward, and I think there were some areas that were stronger than others, and as ever, it’s helpful when they get more specific. So that we have something really tangible and concrete that we can go to government and ask them to implement, rather than those kind of broader, stronger, I think actually the gender based violence section was a bit general, and would liked to have seen a more specific bit. And then also, I think, looking at the recommendations around intersectionality, that was a really crucial part of the review , I think because there was such a lack of data, it was hard for them to make specific recommendations on particular groups of women. but you can see that they have tried to do that, throughout.

Eleanor Lisney

– Now, what’s the work we ought to be working on then?

You know, you talk about lack of data in intersectionality, do you think UK government, actually, we don’t even know what the UK government is going to do.

(laughs)

You know, what do you think we ought to be thinking about? Keeping in thought, I assume, it’s going to happen again, in five year’s time.

Hayley Willingale

Yeah, I think, for me I think,  the thing I’m thinking about at the moment is how to get the right structures and processes in place so that the government actually has a plan for what to do between now and the next review in five years.

So, EHRC will be writing to the Minister for Women, and say, you know, here’s the outcome of this really important review,

what are you going to do about it?

And I think some, like, focusing on some, at this point, on some of the kind of fundamentals, like data, and intersectionality, like, having a strategy in place, that’s informed by proper consultation,

and also thinking about things like how the government can incorporate provisions. Kind of, all the ducks are in a row, so to speak.

So that those recommendations can then go out to government departments and be implemented.

Eleanor Lisney

Thank you, Hayley.

Hayley Willingale

My pleasure.

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