This International Woman’s Day BIHR’s volunteer Charlotte is writing about the importance of remembering that women’s rights are human rights.
This Saturday, the 8 March, is International Women’s Day and although it is a time to celebrate the great achievements of women throughout history it is also time to remember the work that still needs to be done to make sure women’s rights are being upheld. Ban Ki-Moon, in his United Nations Secretary General’s message this year said “realizing human rights and equality is not a dream, it is a duty of governments, the United Nations and every human being.” So we should use this opportunity to remind ourselves and those in power that violence against and injustice towards women is a human rights issue, and our law – the Human Rights Act (HRA) – has real potential to protect women from violence and to ensure accountability and justice when women fall through the gaps.
Violence against women here at home
Violence against women remains one of the most widespread human rights violations worldwide and is not restricted by country borders, cultures, ages or social status. The UK is not exempt from this devastating abuse of human rights. Just this week the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) released a survey on violence against women which revealed the extensive abuse experienced by women and girls across Europe. The FRA Director Morten Kjaerum said the survey “shows that physical, sexual and psychological violence against women is an extensive human rights abuse in all EU Member States,” and that, “the enormity of the problem is proof that violence against women does not just impact a few women only – it impacts on society every day.”
The UK came joint fifth highest for incidence of physical and sexual violence (44%). Even taking into account measures which have increased reporting within the UK, it is still the case that almost half of British women surveyed stated they had been assaulted. These statistics highlight how important it is women know about their human rights and how they are relevant to the investigation of violence against women, and making sure that public officials do not undermine basic rights.
The Human Rights Act – getting justice for women
Just this week we have seen how important the Human Rights Act has been for helping women to hold the Metropolitan Police accountable for serious failures in the investigation of sexual violence. The two women, known as DSD and NBV, were both raped by John Worby the so-called ‘black cab rapist’. John Worboy was eventually prosecuted and jailed for life in 2009. However, this happened after numerous women reported attacks which were not taken seriously, enabling John Worboy to remain at large. DSD was attacked Worboy in 2003 and NBV in 2007, both under similar circumstances. Both women reported their attacks to the police but neither were believed and their cases were dropped. In 2008 a routine computer check linked 4 assaults with similar circumstance and Worboy was arrested. But by then the police had 105 allegations against Worboy.
Whilst Worboy was eventually investigated and convicted under the criminal law, there still remained serious questions about the accountability of the police for their failures to act. DSD and NBV took a legal case against the police. The High Court ruled that the prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment, in Article 3 of the Human Right Act included a positive duty on the Metropolitan Police to investigate particularly serious crimes such as rape and sexual assault. It was found that the assaults on the women, and the subsequent ordeal caused by the failure of the police to take the allegations seriously, amounted to inhumane or degrading
Speaking up for women’s rights, speaking up for human rights
This case highlights the importance of the UK’s human rights laws and how the HRA can help us secure justice and redress when our rights have been breached by those with power and responsibility to protect our rights. The DSD and NBV case is a good reminder of why the Human Rights Act is important and the potential it has as a tool for change is realised through action. There are many economic and political challenges in the current climate, so now is the time to use the laws and levers we have to make real changes for women experiencing injustice.