Time for good men and women to act

The opening ceremony of the UN's Commission on the Status of Women in 2020.

Margaret Owen says UK women and girls are betrayed, not just by the Tories as they scrap the UN anti-discrimination convention and the Human Rights Act, but by their own NGO

John Stuart Mill, in his inaugural address in 1867 to the University of St Andrews, declared that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. We should, in 2022, add “good women” to this quote.

Silence in the face of human rights violation should never pacify the consciences of those who allow injustices in their name. If they remain silent, then they are complicit in the human rights abuses perpetrated by their governments, whom they elected to represent them.

Alas, today, many UK women and girls are not even aware of how appalling is the impact of this government’s policies on women’s lives here and overseas. The CEDAW (UN Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women), along with the Human Rights Act, is being scrapped without any consultation with women’s NGOs. This betrayal has been made possible due to the coalition’s 2010 abolition of the world-renowned WNC (Women’s National Commission), which had given UK women a powerful voice since its foundation in 1969.

Women’s NGOs were devastated, and so, together, they set up an alternative consortium, calling itself the UK Civil Society Women’s Alliance. This body represents some 180 women’s NGOs across the United Kingdom and has attempted to take the place of the old WNC, but is without the essential legislative backing that it would need to command the attention of Government. 

The UK ratified the CEDAW, an international bill of rights for women, in 1986 and reports to its 26-member committee every four years. By ratification, it committed to eliminate discrimination against women in all aspect of their lives and implement the recommendations made by the committee following its reports. Evidence submitted by hundreds of UK women’s NGOs exposed a series of significant violations of the CEDAW articles, particularly in regard to the abuse of minority, migrant and refugee women, asylum seekers, the disabled, elderly, prisoners, and women’s access to legal aid, the justice system, education and health care.

Among the several recommendations made by CEDAW in 2017 and 2021, the UK Government was told to fill the gap left by the abolition of the WNC, establish a proper institutional mechanism as defined in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, domesticate the 26 CEDAW articles and analyse the impact of austerity cuts and Brexit on women and girls. It has done none of these things.

If the UKCSWA had any respect for the rule of law, it should be lobbying for its own demise and demanding the resurrection of a proper institutional mechanism for women that could empower its women citizens to be heard. Otherwise, it is complicit in these violations of international law.

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