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Action needed to improve protection against violence for women and girls

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has submitted a report to the UN outlining the action needed to improve protection against violence for women and girls. The report has been submitted as part of the Commission’s work on monitoring the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international treaty to which the UK is a signatory, although one which has not been directly incorporated into our domestic law and policy.

The report makes a number of recommendations in response to its concerns, including those aimed at improving the effects of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 for victims of domestic abuse, and ensuring that women and girls in the UK do not lose crucial protections as a result of legal changes made after the country leaves the European Union.

Other recommendations include:

– The incorporation of CEDAW into domestic law, which would allow individuals to challenge violations of their rights using the UK legal system, and access remedies for alleged breaches in UK courts;

– Legislation to end the cross-examination of domestic abuse survivors by their abusers in family court (an issue that was also highlighted in the Law Society response to the government’s consultation in preparation for the new Domestic Abuse Bill);

– Consideration of bringing certain areas of law back into the scope of LASPO if the government’s post-implementation review finds that the reductions in scope have had a disproportionate impact on women;

– Updating legislation to make it easier for domestic abuse survivors (who are often at high risk of stalking and harassment by their abuser) to register to vote anonymously. This is only possible under current legislation if survivors are able to provide a court order or have their application supported by a senior independent witness, such as a police superintendent. This creates barriers for the significant percentage of survivors who were unable to report the abuse to the police or apply for a court order;

– Mandatory training for relevant public sector professionals in how to identify and support women and girls at risk of or affected by honour-based violence;

– Extension of the time limit for bringing employment tribunal claims in cases concerning pregnancy and maternity discrimination from three months to six months (in line with other employment claims such as redundancy and equal pay);

– Introduction of a legal duty to support victims of modern slavery, with clear minimum standards, prior to the UK leaving the EU;

– Creation of a requirement for public authorities to record and report suspected victims of trafficking through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM); and

– Offering split payment of Universal Credit as standard, in order to reduce opportunities for financial abuse against women by their partners.

The report also highlights the ongoing need to challenge sexual assault, harassment and bullying against girls and young women in school or college, as well as encouraging equality in educational subject choices.

Read the full report and list of recommendations here.

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