Despite gains in gender equality around the world over the past century, barriers to full equality remain and discrimination and violence against women continue. Preventing women and girls from benefiting fully from education, health and other services and restricting their full participation in society and political representation denies them their basic human rights and fundamental freedoms and increases their marginalisation in society. Gender equality and women’s empowerment is a priority international human rights issue for the FCO. The UK has played a key role in promoting the women, peace and security agenda (see Section IV). The Secretary of State for International Development has also made it clear that gender equality and the rights of women and girls are a priority for the UK’s international development work.
The UK Government’s ambition is to end all forms of violence against women and girls. It is essential that governments continue to take a strong lead internationally as well as domestically on this issue. Our signature on 8 June of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence reflected our strong commitment to combating violence against women and promoting women’s rights more broadly. We are now working towards ratifying the treaty and incorporating it into UK law.
On 8 March, to coincide with International Women’s Day, the UK launched an updated version of our cross-governmental Violence against Women and Girls Action Plan, “Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls. Taking Action – the Next Chapter”. The updated plan includes new measures to help keep women safe, including a new commitment to work with governments overseas to encourage legislative and policy reform to address the structural causes of violence against women and girls.
As the Foreign Secretary said in a statement to mark International Women’s Day, “Women’s rights and human rights will remain at the heart of British foreign policy.” The former FCO Minister of State Jeremy Browne also paid tribute in a podcast to the important role that women play internationally, and spoke of the need to ensure women’s full participation in politics, society and the economy. The FCO marked the day with activities in London and overseas, where our embassies and high commissions participated in a number of activities. In China, our staff held a series of events to promote women’s contribution to economic growth. These included a panel discussion in Beijing attended by prominent Chinese businesswomen, local civil society members and Chinese Paralympians, a training workshop for women on making the transition from management to leadership in Shanghai and a forum on “women in the workplace” in Chongqing. In Hungary, our Ambassador signed an agreement with the Hungarian ESZTER Foundation for the Rehabilitation of the Victims of Violent Sexual Attack to help fund a programme to provide psychological and legal support for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Our Embassy in Poland invited four female guest bloggers to share their views on the role of women in European society.
The Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, has put gender equality and the rights of women at the heart of the UK’s approach to international development. Under her leadership, DFID has identified opportunities for promoting women’s rights, including through the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the UK’s Presidency of the G8, and negotiations around a post-2015 development framework.
Lynne Featherstone, Ministerial Champion for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Overseas and former Minister for Equalities, visited Ethiopia and Uganda in April, where she met a range of senior government officials, including the former Prime Minister to Ethiopia, the Ugandan Vice President and the Ugandan Speaker of Parliament. She also met local women’s rights advocates and members of the diplomatic community and attended a number of UK-funded programmes to tackle violence against women and girls in both countries. She also attended the 56th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in February. The commission meets annually to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and develop concrete policies to promote global gender equality and the advancement of women. She met a range of senior UN officials, government officials and ministers to highlight the role of the global community in empowering women, including by boosting rural investment, tackling violence against women and challenging the way in which women are represented in the global media. In a UN first, she chaired a panel event on body image in the media, which explored how education can be used to help women and girls to battle negative body image and gender stereotyping.
We were disappointed that UN member states were unable to adopt Agreed Conclusions on the role and empowerment of rural women at this session of the commission. It is important that the international community works together to promote and protect gender equality and women’s empowerment. The UK is working actively with other member states to secure a better outcome at CSW57 in 2013, which will focus on violence against women and girls. Andrew Mitchell and Justine Greening, the former and current DFID Secretary of State respectively, and Lynne Featherstone, in her role as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, have put girls’ and women’s rights at the heart of DFID’s work. They have worked closely with leading NGOs and UN Women in efforts to secure strong agreed conclusions at CSW57, and have used their visits overseas to raise a range of women’s rights issues and share UK best practice, including on domestic violence, sexual violence, female genital mutilation and early marriage.
In April, the UN Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination Against Women in Law issued its first report, which set out a strategic framework and identified thematic priorities for 2012–2013: discrimination in political life with a focus on political transition and discrimination in public and social life with a focus on economic crisis. We share the working group’s view that women’s equal participation in the social, economic and political spheres is crucial to achieving sustainable progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment. We offer our continued support to the working group on the protection and promotion of the rights of women and the effective elimination of discrimination against women in law and in practice.
At the UN Human Rights Council in June, the UK participated in panel discussions on remedies and reparations for women who have been subjected to violence, and on women human rights defenders. We are concerned that female human rights defenders face particular risks because of their gender, and we call on all governments to regard all human rights defenders, including women, as legitimate actors working in the interests of their respective countries.
In 2012, we raised women’s rights with the governments of Finland, India, Morocco, the Philippines, Poland, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Guatemala, Pakistan, Peru, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland and Zambia through the UN Universal Periodic Review process.
The first ever UN General Assembly resolution on female genital mutilation (FGM) was adopted by consensus in the 3rd Committee on 26 November. It will be a biennial resolution. The current text should be considered therefore as a foundation to be improved and strengthened in the future.
We were pleased that the EU External Action Service’s (EEAS) Human Rights and Democracy Strategic Framework, adopted in June, includes a commitment by EU member states to support initiatives against harmful traditional practices, particularly FGM, and against gender-based violence. The UK will work with the EEAS and other EU member states to take this work forward throughout 2013.
The London 2012 Olympics were the first in the history of the games in which all nations participating had women athletes in their teams. The empowerment of girls and women through the practice of sport, promoting women’s equal inclusion throughout society and combating discrimination and violence against women, were important commitments within a Joint Communiqué launched on the occasion of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The communiqué was agreed by the United Kingdom, Brazil, Russia and South Korea and launched by ministers on 28 August.
Our embassies and high commissions worked directly with other countries to support programmes and projects to address the structural causes of discrimination and violence against women and girls to ensure their equality before the law and their participation in political and public affairs in accordance with international standards. Through the FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy Programme Fund, we are supporting a number of innovative new projects in the poorest countries and working with international organisations and governments overseas to promote women’s rights globally, from facilitating access to support services for victims of gender violence in Rio de Janeiro to empowering and training women leaders to participate and run in the coming elections in 2013 in the Philippines.
There has been encouraging progress on women’s rights in Turkey with the adoption in March 2012 of the Law on the Protection of Family and Prevention of Violence Against Women. This law aims to protect family members and those in relationships outside marriage from violence, and is a significant improvement on previous legislation. Turkey also ratified the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence in March. A National Action Plan to combat violence against women (2012–15) was adopted by the Ministry for Family and Social Policies. However, shortcomings still remain, with those who commit violence against women receiving only light sentences. Honour killings continue to be a major concern in Turkey, as do under-age marriages. The European Commission’s progress report highlighted the need for increased monitoring of the implementation of laws and more parliamentary engagement with women’s organisations.