Letter: Women still lack basic rights

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Sir: The fact that women are failing to make significant inroads into senior positions in Whitehall, the judiciary and public services, as reported in your article 'Women 'still fail in promotions race' ' (17 October) contradicts the Government's claims in its new report to the UN Human Rights Committee that 'there has been significant progress for women at all levels of the Civil Service since 1984'.

As a signatory to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UK government is expected to enforce the fundamental human rights therein.

However, nearly 20 years after the government introduced the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, it is still denying women the right to equal political participation, the right to equal protection from violence and the right to non-discrimination in employment. Women constitute only 9.2 per cent of the total number of members of the House of Commons, 6 per cent in the House of Lords and 8 per cent of senior civil servants. In the 1992 elections, of the 318 women who stood as candidates, only 60 were selected.

Current immigration laws particularly affect women experiencing domestic violence, by forcing them to remain in abusive relationships rather than risk deportation.

Women continue to earn less than 80 per cent of men's pay. In contrast with the extremely low numbers of women in senior positions, 81 per cent of cleaners and 98 per cent of typists are women. The lack of child and after-school care provisions deters women who want to advance in employment, particularly as there is no requirement in British law for employers to provide facilities to enable fathers to look after children.

This country is breaching its international human rights obligations by not adequately promoting the rights of women. Indeed, it is an appalling indictment of the Government's record that the UK is still lagging far behind in its promises to improve the status of women.

The specific anti-discrimination laws have not worked - isn't it time that, rather than tinkering with legislation, we protect women's rights by entrenching them in the form of a Bill of Rights?

Yours faithfully, ATIYA LOCKWOOD Liberty London, SE1 17 October