Boys' club Britain is more sexist than Italy, Azerbaijan and India, says UN human rights expert

Special rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo said the UK’s sexist culture was more ‘in-your-face’ than in other countries

Human Rights Correspondent

Britain has a “boys' club sexist culture,” according to a damning investigation by a UN human rights expert, that is more pervasive“ and ”in your face“ than anything she has seen before.

The findings are the result of a 16-day fact-finding mission by the UN special rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo, who has just finished travelling across the country examining the prevalence of violence against women. She said sexism was “more visible” in Britain than in any other countries she had visited, which include Algeria, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Azerbaijan, India and Croatia.

In a remarkable revelation, she also said she was denied entry into the controversial Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire by the government on Monday, despite having to monitor conditions for women in detention as part of her brief. She said she was told the refusal came at the request of those at the “highest levels” of the Home Office and was “of deep concern.”

She concluded that violence against women remains a “pervasive challenge throughout the United Kingdom,” drawing particular attention to the sexualisation of women and girls in the media (she referenced The Sun's Page Three), misogynistic advertising, harassment on tubes and in public spaces, the bullying of girls in school, the “disproportionate” effect of austerity measures on women, and the inability of the criminal justice system to respond to women and girl survivors of violence.

”I am also concerned by legal and policy responses that are often limited to some harmful practices, such as early/forced marriages of young women and girls, or female genital mutilation, while ignoring all the harms emanating due to a sexist culture that exists in the country; and which impacts all women and girls,” she added.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told The Independent that the statement “exposes the Government's blindspot when it comes to supporting women.” She added: “Under this Government, the clock has been turned back on gender equality. Women have been hit harder by the spending cuts and for the first time in 20 years, the pay gap has widened. Now we have a Government with fewer women sitting round the Cabinet table than at any point since 1997… urgent action is needed from this Government to stop a decline in women's equality.”

There were “isolated pockets of good practice,” identified by Manjoo, such as the government-led campaigns to educate young people about violence at home, in schools, and on social media, but said positive developments “are not applied consistently throughout the country.” She suggested that school curriculums include mandatory modules to “address what is a pervasive problem“ around stereotypes that are “undervaluing and devaluing women.”

Around 1.2 million women have experienced domestic violence in the last year, according to the Home Office, with 30 per cent of women having experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16. But Manjoo said that reforms to the funding of trauma services and the benefit system “continue to adversely affect impact women's ability to address safety and other relevant issues.“

She added that cuts to legal aid are endangering more women's lives, and had a disproportionate impact on women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. She said that was “particularly concerned” about the number of young women in Britain's prisons, before noting that women in the UK are “disproportionately over-represented in low-paid, part-time and insecure work.”

Protest against Page 3 outside The Sun’s offices in east London (Getty) Protest against Page 3 outside The Sun’s offices in east London (Getty)
Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, told The Independent that “it's absolutely vital” that we take the findings “as a wake-up call to recognise the depth and severity of the problem. We still have gender inequality in the UK [yet] we are so quick to point the finger at other countries and suggest women [here] are equal. The reality is that girls are suffering in schools, women are discriminated in the work place, and large sections of the media continue to portray women as dehumanised sex objects.”

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said the government has introduced a raft of measures to hand control back to women and girls victims of violence. “Violence against women and girls in any form is unacceptable and the Government has shown its commitment to ending it,” she said. “A comprehensive programme was drawn up for the Special Rapporteur's visit, including meetings with the Home Secretary, the Minister for Crime Prevention, and the Chief Inspector of Prisons. Several other options, including a trip to a women's refuge, were turned down by the Special Rapporteur. A tour of Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre was never agreed as part of this fact-finding mission.”

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