Women's groups urge MPs to vote against sex selective abortion amendment
18 February 2015
UPDATE: 24 FEB - EVAW is relieved that last night MPs voted by a large majority to reject the amendment which would have criminalised sex selective abortion. We hope we can move on now to making commitments to protecting specialist BME women's services which are the best way of ensuring women at risk can get support.
18 February - The End Violence Against Women Coalition – a UK-wide coalition consisting of more than 60 women’s organisations, many of whom provide frontline services for women and girls who are experiencing abuse – is deeply concerned about Fiona Bruce MP’s proposed amendment to the Serious Crime Bill which would criminalise sex-selective abortion. We urge MPs to vote against it.
Dr Aisha Gill, EVAW Coalition Board member and Reader in Criminology at University of Roehampton, recognized expert in violence against women and girls including forced marriage and honour-based violence, and who has served as an expert witness in prosecutions relating to these ‘harmful practices’, commented:
“I am very concerned at the proposed amendment because while it purports to be based on women’s equality it is not clear at all that an assessment of the real life experience of women who have experienced and who are at risk of abuse has been taken into account – whether that abuse be forced abortion, forced marriage, so-called ‘honour-based violence’ or domestic and sexual violence.
“I am worried that there isn’t any evidence to show that this amendment is what is needed or that it would have any impact on women’s equality. Rather, if passed, it risks increasing the isolation of women in abusive relationships, as well as having a chilling effect on medical professionals to whom they might have disclosed fear and abuse.
“If we wanted to act on what we believe is son preference and a failure to value daughters the answers lie in better education, awareness raising, community work and demonstrating the value and equality of women and girls in every community, not legislation. This needs long-term commitment, not a last minute Westminster dog-whistle.”
Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters commented:
"SBS views sex selection abortion as part of the continuum of discrimination and inequality faced by many women in South Asia, where the problem has reached crisis proportions. However, the evidence of its prevalence in the UK is tenuous and this may well be a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. This amendment if passed will set a dangerous precedent and will undermine the hard won the right of all women to safe abortion. What South Asian women want is a more informed and resource rich approach to the question of discrimination against Asian women in the UK."
Diana Nammi, Founder and Executive Director of the Iranian & Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation (IKWRO) commented:
"We oppose all forms of gendercide, including non-medically motivated sex selective abortions. We work with communities to challenge patriarchy and end the mind-set of those who value females less than males. We oppose the proposed changes to the Serious Crime Bill on sex selective abortion, which if enacted, will criminalise women, could deter them from accessing crucial safeguarding and support and push them towards undergoing unsafe, unregulated abortions in the UK or abroad, from which they may suffer lifelong physical and mental health impacts. Criminalisation could also put women at risk of control and blackmail by perpetrators of “honour”-based violence and domestic violence. We must ensure that the law is on the side of women who are at risk and reverse the policies of funding cuts so that they can access all safeguarding and support that they need."
EVAW Coalition Acting Director Sarah Green said:
“Many of our members who work on the frontline with women who are still living in abusive relationships or who have fled them do not believe the arbitrary criminalisation of sex-selective abortion as proposed will help women or children.
“The evidence on the prevalence of this practice and on the effectiveness of criminalisation as a solution is poor, while we do know that it could well put a chilling effect on the relationship between medical professionals and women at risk who may need to disclose abuse.
“We urge MPs to vote against this amendment and to propose alternative ways of ensuring daughters and women are respected and valued. That might start with ensuring we talk about gender equality and respect in our schools, commitments to women’s equality in the home, the community and the workplace, and secure funding of the specialist women’s support services who are often the only place for women at risk to turn.”
Media information, interviews, briefings:
Sarah Green: 07984 717 817
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The End Violence Against Women Coalition is the UK’s largest coalition of organisations working to eradicate violence against women and girls; members include Eaves, Fawcett Society, Forward, Imkaan, Jewish Women’s Aid, Newham Asian Women’s Project, Rape Crisis England and Wales, Refuge, Respect, Southall Black Sisters, Standing Together, Women in Prison, Women’s Aid, WRC, The Women’s Institute, Amnesty International UK and the TUC.