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UN Special Rapporteur's appraisal of sexist UK causes stramash

If you've caught a newspaper, TV news report, or spent any time on social media over the last few days, you cannot have failed to notice the storm of protest that greeted Professor Rashida Manjoo's determination that there was sexism going on in the UK.

Professor Manjoo is the UN's Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, an independent and unpaid position with a mandate to identify the causes and consequences of violence against women within a state, and make recommendations for its elimination. The Special Rapporteur reports to the Human Rights Council.

The UN is not famous for pith, and the press statement issued at the end of the mission runs to nine pages. (This is not her final word on violence against women in the UK: she will report to the Human Rights Council in June 2015.) It was this statement that was so comprehensively misrepresented by some sections of the press.

Engender was one of a group of women's organisations in Scotland that contributed to an NGO briefing for the Special Rapporteur, co-ordinated by Scottish Women's Aid. We also jointly hosted, along with Scottish Women's Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland, a session for Scottish NGOs to give evidence to the Rapporteur.

Professor Majoo was informed, engaged, and on top of some of the challenges presented by the constitutional arrangements of the UK. The difference in women's experiences between jurisdications across the four nations is captured in her press statement.

Findings

Her findings reflect many of the concerns that women's organisations in Scotland work directly around. These include:

  • Gender neutrality. The Rapporteur identifies Scotland as working against the grain of the UK, in which gender neutral approaches to violence against women predominate. Scotland's gendered approach is welcomed.
  • The enabling environment of women's inequality. The news release reflects the Rapporteur's understanding that women's economic inequality, low pay, experience of 'welfare reform' and underrepresentation in politicial and policy spaces, enables men's violence against women.
  • The different experiences of black and minority ethnic women and asylum-seeking women. The Rapporteur was prevented from visiting Yarl's Wood, but did hear evidence from a number of organisations, including the Scottish Refugee Council, on the particularly poor experiences of BME women, women in detention, and asylum seeking women.

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