EVAW Coalition - Autumn Bulletin, November 2017

News on policy developments relating to violence against women and girls, including major policy changes in schools and upcoming legislation

#MeToo – Sexual harassment and assaults in politics too

Major changes afoot in schools

Upcoming domestic violence legislation

Human rights, women’s rights and Brexit

 

 

#MeToo – Sexual harassment and assaults in British politics Too

The EVAW Coalition is writing to Westminster party leaders in connection to the ongoing revelations of sexual harassment and assaults in British politics. We are urging party leaders, the Speaker and all those with any responsibility for political workers and activists to ensure that it is possible to report sexual assault and harassment to an independent third party, and that complaints are independently adjudicated.

 

Following the Weinstein allegations, women across many fields, including journalists, lawyers, women in the arts, women in higher education, and many more have created a moment and are changing the acceptability of sexual harassment and assault at work. But the approach taken by MPs and others working in politics is critical because they determine broader policy and resources toward ending violence against women and girls. It is not a coincidence that independent, women-led sexual violence support services, like Rape Crisis Centres and BME women’s support services, still struggle for funding because no statutory commissioner, from criminal justice through to health and local government, recognises this provision as their responsibility.

 

Major changes afoot in schools

When questioned by the Women and Equalities Committee last month Schools Minister Nick Gibb agreed that girls should not be put back in class with boys they had made a complaint of sexual assault against. Further to the passing of legislation to make Relationships and Sex Education compulsory in all schools earlier this year, there are finally moves to ensure that school child protection rules ‘match’ this and give clear guidance on what schools should do in response to sexual assaults, and their responsibility never to tolerate sexual harassment of girls.

 

This follows the authoritative Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry into sexual harassment and violence in schools last year which recommended that clear guidance be given to schools, many of whom clearly have not known what to do in response to endemic abuse. BBC Panorama powerfully reminded viewers recently of the urgency of this situation, where girls have less protection school than adult women in good workplaces, as well as Girlguiding’s recent research and a worrying FOI investigation into the alarming number of school pupil exclusions for sexual misconduct.

 

The Government will soon consult on the guidance for Relationships and Sex Education. The EVAW Coalition hopes it will have regard to all forms of violence against women and girls and how they are connected to women’s inequality. School action on sexual harassment and assaults combined with high quality Relationships and Sex Education will take us a long way towards a truly “whole school approach” which can help end and prevent violence against women and girls in schools and afterwards.

 

Upcoming domestic violence legislation

The Government will also soon consult on its proposed Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill. The EVAW Coalition and many of our members and supporters recently wrote to the Home and Justice Secretaries urging them to “go further” than what is proposed, by including measures to tackle rape, ‘upskirting’ and child protection in the Bill, and ensuring that women are guaranteed protection from abuse no matter what their immigration status. The recent Ofsted-led joint inspectorates’ report on domestic violence and children clearly makes the case that wide systems change is urgently needed. The Bill is a chance to help make that happen.

 

Human rights, women’s rights and Brexit

The EVAW Coalition and Southall Black Sisters recently published a new legal briefing which sets out what an “essential tool” the Human Rights Act is for ensuring women’s access to justice in relation to gender-based violence. The briefing includes shocking illustrative cases of state failure in relation to women’s rights, and how the Act has been used to remedy these. The briefing is published in advance of the critical Supreme Court ‘Worboys decision’ expected very soon on police accountability for failing women in the case of a serial rapist, and is also a look ahead toward any attempt to reduce the standard of human rights protections for women during ‘Brexit’ negotiations and beyond.

 

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