Last week saw two controversial Bills receive Royal Assent: the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Policing Bill) and the Nationality and Borders Bill (also known as the Anti-Refugee Bill) became Acts of Parliament when they passed into law on the 28th April 2022.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) has consistently opposed both sets of legislation on the basis that they undermine our fundamental human rights. We will not allow the government to weaponise violence against women and girls to justify such regressive legislation, and we join a wide cross-section of society in continuing to resist these laws.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act threatens women’s rights, will put Black, minoritised and migrant women in harm’s way and will have little if any positive impact on violence against women.
By clamping down on the right to protest, the Policing Bill is a direct attack on democracy. The right to protest is of course a feminist issue, and throughout history it has been central to feminist movements to end violence against women. These range from demonstrations of the Suffragettes, to anti-racist protests in Southall which led to the birth of EVAW member Southall Black Sisters, to the annual Million Women Rise marches and the vigil held in Clapham Common in 2020 to mourn the murder of Sarah Everard and protest police violence.
New police powers to impose ‘noise’-based restrictions on public processions and to impose conditions on ‘static’ and one-person protests are a direct attack on our ability to challenge injustice, inequality and violence. EVAW joined a range of activists and human rights groups in opposing these measures.
The Policing Act also expands police powers and enforcement-led measures such as stop and search, which will worsen existing inequalities and increase surveillance and discriminatory treatment of already over-policed Black and minoritised communities.
We joined other women’s rights groups such as Rights of Women to challenge the Bill’s ‘Serious Violence duty’ and Serious Violence Reduction Orders. One of the many dangers of such measures is the risk of restricting victims’ and survivors’ access to vital services, out of fear that their data will be passed on to the police through these arrangements. This is particularly worrying for migrant survivors because it could put them at risk of immigration enforcement action as a result of seeking help.
Recent years have seen a series of high profile and ongoing revelations of institutional misogyny and racism, corruption and police perpetrated abuse in the UK. As policing faces a crisis of public confidence, it is alarming that the government is now handing the police more powers before the institution has got its house in order.
While the Act has now become law, we are thankful for all of the collective work that led to the removal of a total of 14 harmful measures in the Lords, including protest banning orders. We also saw the introduction of some safeguards to the Act, such as the requirement for a pilot and parliamentary vote before the roll-out of Serious Violence Reduction Orders.
Nationality and Borders Act
EVAW joined women’s rights groups, migrant rights campaigners and human rights organisations in speaking out against proposals dubbed the ‘Anti-Refugee Bill’.
Once again, the government weaponised survivors’ experiences and public concern about violence against women to make baseless claims that the law will have a positive impact on women’s rights and safety. But in reality, this racist law will have the opposite effect; putting migrant survivors directly in harm’s way – at greater risk of criminalisation, poverty, immigration enforcement and detention (institutions with records of sexual violence) and at risk of unsafe removal from the UK.
EVAW wrote to the Public Bill Committee to object to the government’s claim that the law will help women and girls fleeing violence. We also joined with Women for Refugee Women to create a template for other women’s rights organisations to submit their own evidence to the Committee, which was taken up by a number of groups.
We were also one of 52 women’s rights organisations that wrote an open letter to the Home Secretary, led by Women for Refugee Women, highlighting the harmful impact of the legislation on survivors and women fleeing violence, and we have since joined over 300 organisations in making a pledge to fight the Anti-Refugee Laws.
Janaya Walker, Public Affairs Manager at the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said:
“The Policing Act and the Anti-Refugee Act constitute some of the most regressive legislation the UK has seen in generations, and there are yet more raids on our rights on the horizon, with imminent plans to scrap the Human Rights Act in favour of a watered down ‘Bill of Rights’.
EVAW is proud to have worked with a broad and diverse alliance of organisations in opposing this legislation to date, and there is more work to come to highlight the essential role that the Human Rights Act has played in upholding the rights of women and girls to live free from violence.
Looking forward, EVAW intends to build upon this momentum and these movements to highlight how crucial the Human Rights Act and a rights-based culture have been in progress towards ending gender-based violence, including survivors’ abilities to challenge police failures to tackle sexual violence. It remains as urgent as ever to defend the rights that we have fought for, and it will rely on all of us to do so.”
We’ll be taking action over the coming months to challenge these new laws and fight to protect the Human Rights Act. Keep an eye out on our website for ways to get involved in resisting these laws.
Sinead Geoghegan, Communications Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org, 07960 744 502