CEDAW Journal from activist and NAWO member, Elizabeth Gordon. July 2013
55th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
UN Geneva 15 – 17 July 2013
The UK Government was examined on 17 July 2013 at the UN CEDAW in Geneva on its women’s rights record and the problems impacting on women’s equality in the UK. The UK Government reports to CEDAW around every four years on their progress and were last examined by the UN CEDAW Committee in 2008.
CEDAW is a unique opportunity for women to raise issues they are facing in the UK with the UN CEDAW Committee, who can ask questions of the UK Government directly as the UK is bound by the CEDAW to uphold women’s human rights as a signatory of UN CEDAW Convention.
The Women’s Resource Centre (WRC), together with a working group and women from over 42 UK NGO’s produced over the last two years, an extremely comprehensive report which was highly praised by the members of the CEDAW Committee. The report brought together issues and realities impacting on women and girls in the UK in the CEDAW Shadow Report 2013.
For the first time the Shadow Report mentions non-State torture (NST) as a form of VAWG.
In February 2011, at a WRC Shadow Report meeting in Newcastle, I spoke about the reality of non-State torture VAWG, including ritual abuse-torture, that women and girls/children suffer in the home and/or other places within the UK.
Non-State torture had not been mentioned as a form of VAWG in the UK’s Government’s Action Plan on VAWG (2010), and yet women and girls in the UK who have suffered torture harms are reaching out for support, for example to NGO support services for women and girls such as Women Against Rape and through specialist services aimed more specifically at present in supporting survivors of State torture for example: The Helen Bamber Foundation and Freedom From Torture.
Torture suffered in the domestic realm as a girl or woman, is a genderised form of violence against women and girls. Women and girls in the UK suffer torture violence harms in the home, in other private spaces, and/or through being forced into captivity, through being trafficked, through extreme domestic violence, though prostitution and through suffering FGM. Also many women and girls who are asylum seekers in the UK have suffered torture by non-State actors, as well as State actors, before they arrive in the UK.
There are tragically unknown numbers of women and girls who suffer extreme domestic-based torture violence in the UK and do not survive these harms. They are tortured and murdered.
There are few if any statistics on numbers of women or girls who have suffered torture by non-State actors in the UK because non-State torture is not recognised in the UK as a form of VAWG.
In the UK, and globally, we need human rights specific recognition, understanding, support and care for women and girls who have suffered non-State torture.
Human rights defenders and grass-root supporters Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald of Persons Against Non-State Torture in Nova Scotia, Canada who have been advocating for non-State torture to be included in the Canada’s criminal code for the last twenty years wrote a report about non-State torture which was included as Appendix 34 to the UK CEDAW Shadow Report 2013.
The 2013 The UK CEDAW Shadow Report: Women’s Equality in the UK: A Health Check includes under: General Recommendation 19: Violence Against Women and Girls: a specific section on Non-State Torture. See Pages 170 (19.1) and 193 (19.86) on non-State torture and links to Appendix 34: Non-State Torture.
Appendix 34 on non-State torture is referring to the CEDAW 1992 General Recommendation 19, violence against women, paragraph 7(b) which says…”the right not to be subject to torture..”
Women’s rights in the UK are being reversed. Government policies and austerity measures are disproportionately impacting on women, and rights that have been fought so hard for are now being cut back or eradicated.
This means that for women and girls trying to escape from violent domestic realm torture environments or who are trying to recover from years of torture harms; these women and girls now face even greater struggles of discrimination and suffering as they are already invisible citizens of torture harms.
To name and criminalise non-State torture along the extreme end continuum of violent crimes would be to begin to recognize these harms and crimes.
Going to the UN
The delegation to Geneva included the CEDAW Working Group from women’s NGO’s from around the UK who highlighted specific issues relevant to their work and the women they work with as well as bringing issues from organisations in the UK who weren’t able to be there in person.
I went with the delegation, accredited by National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO).