UN says sexual discrimination is rife in Britain

Law Editor,Robert Verkaik
Tuesday 02 September 2008 00:00 BST

British women are under-represented in Parliament, paid less than men at work and increasingly being sent to prison for committing minor offences, a report on sex discrimination has found. The report, which was published by an influential committee of the United Nations, paints a damning picture of daily life for women living in the UK who continue to fight for a fairer deal in society.

Calling on Britain to do more to improve the standing of women, the committee argues for "benchmarks and concrete timetables" to increase the number of women in political and public life and to use "special measures" to promote women to positions of leadership. Only one in five members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords is a woman.

The UN's Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is also critical of what it describes as "gender segregation" in the workplace. In its report it says that its members are concerned about the "persistence of occupational segregation between women and men in the labour market and the continuing pay gap, one of the highest in Europe".

The average hourly earnings of full-time female employees amount to approximately 83 per cent of men's earnings, according to the findings. In its report, the UN also highlights the need for greater measures to tackle violence against women and the practice of forced marriages.

Amnesty International UK highlighted the committee's concerns about the discrimination against asylum-seekers. Liz McKean, Amnesty International's gender policy adviser, said: "We're delighted that the UN committee underlined the UK's need to review its policy to protect women who are victims of violence but who currently have 'no recourse to public funds' because of their insecure immigration status ... We would urge the UK Government to heed the United Nations' call to re-assess their policy so as to ensure that all women, regardless of their status, can access adequate protection and the support they need."

Amnesty said that it strongly supported the committee's recommendation that the British Government implement a national strategy to eliminate violence against women and girls. It added: "We would urge the Government to heed the recommendations offered by the UN committee and to redress these failings."

Although the committee acknowledges the work already done by the Government in bringing in new laws and policies to combat discrimination in public life and the workplace, the committee wants to see more being done across a broad number of issues.

It recommends: "To that end, the committee urges the state party (UK) to increase the availability of training and capacity-building programmes for women wishing to enter or already in public office." The report also highlights the treatment of women in prison. The authors say too many women are being sent to jail for failing to pay their TV licences or committing other minor offences.

The committee urges the Government to "intensify its efforts to reduce the number of women in conflict with the law, including through targeted prevention programmes aimed at addressing the causes of women's criminality."

Specifically, the UN wants to see "alternative sentencing and custodial strategies, including community interventions and services, for women convicted of minor offences".

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