A few choice words…
Powerful testimony of Theresa May at the end of last week came at the right time, following the fallout from the Bill Aitken interview debacle. She said:
“Violence against women and girls remains one of the most significant gender inequalities in the modern world, both in the UK and abroad. I want to see an end to all forms of violence against women and girls”.
Harriet Harman made a striking observation on twitter on International Women’s Day 2010. She “Can’t believe that Stephen Obrien MP will lead Thursday Commons debate on int. women’s day. Absurd! Tory women “seen and not heard”. Well Ms Harman, we couldn’t agree more: frankly, it’s embarrassing.
Pleasingly, the progress observed in our first post in mid-February continues. At that time, plans to implement s202 of the Equality Bill 2010 were being discussed, and Lynne Featherstone suggested that plans for equal marriage for all were afoot in Westminster. In the past fortnight, Tynwald has agreed the legalisation of same sex civil partnerships, which has been given royal assent and will become effective on 6 April. The Isle of Man legal system has developed at a very different pace to that of the Westminster parliament, homosexuality was in fact illegal until 1992. As such, this progress feels all the more significant.
£600,000 of funding for new rape support centers has been announced, as reported by Rape Crisis. The centers will offer dedicated support to victims. Last year, Baroness Stern delivered a report into the handling of rape claims. Her report called on the Government to uphold its duty to protect those who have been grievously harmed. This news comes on top of last month’s announcement by the Ministry of Justice that existing centers will get up to £10.5 million funding over the next three years. Long-term certainty over funding is vital to ensuring the success of these initiatives.
The mud-slinging appears to have been returned since our last post in mid-February. A month ago, Bill Aitken was feeling the heat from across the UK after his comments made about a rape victim provided a stark reminder of the bias that persists in the upper echelons of the judiciary. As reported by our colleagues in the first week of March, he has since resigned. Now it is the UK government’s turn to take the flack from Scotland. The Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray has made the accusation that the UK budget cuts “turn back the clock on the hard-fought progress that has been made on women’s equality”. The SNP joined in and accused the coalition government of “trying to water down an international agreement to protect women against domestic and sexual violence”. Indeed, Family Law Week’s coverage of the recent women’s aid survey into the effect of the budget cuts on domestic and sexual violence services suggests that:
- 60% of refuge services have no funding agreed from 1st April 2011
- 72% of outreach services have no funding agreed from 1st April 2011
Women’s Aid is concerned that the effect of the cuts is disproportionate and will increase the pressure on local authority and criminal justice resources, resulting in a “devastating, although sadly not unexpected” impact upon victims.
Reproduction & Parenthood
The impact of next week’s budget on maternity pay is being petitioned by parenting and women’s groups. Leaked details of the so called “growth strategy” to be announced in next week’s budget are thought likely to adversely effect maternity leave legislation for employees of SME’s, who could see their leave terms being negotiated on a case by case basis.
Topical commentary by Jack Downton of The Times law pages (sadly only available to subscribers) speculated that for women to improve their partnership prospects at law firms, maternity structures would be pivotal. Mr Downton observes that to achieve better female representation at board level, law firms ought to “accommodate women who want to be both mothers and law firm partners by encouraging part-time and remote working”. Sometimes the complexities that seem to hinder the recognition of the most commonsense suppositions are startling.
New rules which are coming in force on 14th March will announce improvements in the treatment of transgender prisoners. According to the Gender Recognition Act 2004, transgender individuals who wish to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) need to live in the gender they are changing to for two years. The new rules recognize this requirement, allowing trans-gender prisoners to wear clothes and other items such as bra inserts to help them live in the gender they want and thus start the process to obtain a GRC. The rules also permit a transgender individual with a GRC to placed in a prison according to their reassigned gender, caveat only by security considerations. These progressive rules are a step forward in recognising the difficulties faced by transgender individuals serving time in prison.
A Government announcement on the discriminatory ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood is anticipated shortly. The outdated ban prevents gay and bisexual men from donating blood because of fears of HIV transmission. The rule neglects the reality that HIV affects various groups including heterosexuals, and fails to acknowledge that testing procedures would identify any blood born irregularity. The existence of this rule demonstrates an inherent homophobia and disparaging of gay relationships. Campaigning for an understanding of HIV transmission and safe sex should be part of the focal points of tackling the HIV/AIDS issue.
More from afar…
In the US, the battle for same-sex marriage is heating up. After President Obama’s statement that the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional because it limits marriage to a man and a woman (See Volume 2 of Inherently Brief), the DOMA is now the subject of challenge in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The aptly named Respect for Marriage Act are two bills introduced by Democrats which aim to repeal the DOMA. While this is a big step forward, the Bills will face tough opposition from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. A panel set up by the House ruled 3-2 in favour of defending DOMA. Given that in Maryland, a bill to legalise same-sex marriage failed due to lack of votes and support, the Respect of Marriage Act is one to follow closely.
In South Africa, the campaign against ‘corrective rape’ is picking up and reaching both national and international ears. Corrective rape is the rape of lesbians by men with the aim of ‘correcting’ their ‘behaviour’. About 200 members of South African LGBT groups demonstrated in front of the Parliament to highlight this sexual violence. In addition, the leading group, Ludeki Sizwe has managed to collect a whooping 170,000 signatures in a petition. The campaign aims to petition the Government to take steps to make corrective rape a hate crime and to start research into this area.