Reflecting on the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s consideration of the situation of women’s human rights in the UK at CEDAW 72, Keina Yoshida explores the synergies between CEDAW and WPS.

UK Government representative of the Gender Equalities Office answering CEDAW members’ questions 

Introduction

It has been such a significant week for human rights and WPS, and for what some have termed Brexit and Chexit.  It is a week in which an international treaty body, an international court and the UK Supreme Court all affirmed the need for greater respect by the UK Government for human rights. The Chagos Island advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) handed down case on the 25 February 2019, the CEDAW Committee’s examination of the UK, the Women and Equalities Committee oral evidence session of abortion in Northern Ireland and the Pat Finucane decision of the Supreme Court all indicate the UK government’s failures to uphold human rights law, and highlight the determined fight for justice by families, activists, lawyers and women from around the world.

CEDAW 72

The examination of the UK government’s eighth periodic report by CEDAW in particular is likely to be of interest to readers of this blog given the Committee’s specific questioning of the UK about the arms trade and the UK’s 4th National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (NAP). As WPS scholars and practitioners will know, following General Recommendation No 30 on the situation of women in conflict and post-conflict situations, the CEDAW Committee monitors States party compliance with the WPS framework.  This blog and the WPS Working Paper series have hosted discussions about the shortcomings of the UK’s approach to the WPS framework particularly in relation to the lack of reproductive rights and GAPS have done important work (here) to highlight how the NAP does not extend the UK Government’s WPS commitments to Northern Ireland, refugee, asylum seeking, and migrant and trafficked women. Instead the plan is outward looking, ignoring the UK’s domestic responsibilities under the WPS framework.

On the 25 February 2019, approximately 50 NGOs from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland travelled to Geneva to address the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the situation of women’s human rights in the United Kingdom. Through a procedure known as the periodic review, the CEDAW Committee examines the extent to which the UK is complying with its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). During an informal meeting, NGOs have an opportunity to address the Committee members and to highlight concerns set out in their shadow reports such as indefinite immigration detention, austerity, Brexit, and lack of abortion in Northern Ireland.  Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) for example made important contributions about militarisation and highlighting increased military spending during a time of austerity and also the UK’s role as having second place in the global rankings of defence exports. The many Northern Irish NGOs present in the session highlighted that the Northern Irish Assembly has been suspended since January 2017 and that there has been no movement since the CEDAW Inquiry report finding violations of the Convention in relation to the lack of sexual and reproductive services and education in Northern Ireland, and that the 4th NAP excludes Northern Ireland.

On 26 February 2019, the Committee had the opportunity to question the UK Government representatives from the Gender Equalities Office, a summary of which can be found here.  While this note is helpful, it is not a complete reflection of the dialogue, as it omits the discussion on the arms trade and environmental concerns around fracking. The Government representatives were asked many questions by Committee members who ask have a number of timed minutes to ask  questions about the rights set out in the Convention. As per the usual process, questions were asked article by article and the Government had an opportunity to respond orally and in writing.

CEDAW GR30 and WPS

Palais De Nations, UN, Geneva

The UK delegation were asked inter alia, about the lack of a gender assessment in relation to rural women and the effects of fracking, about the case of Shamima Begum and the UK’s nationality laws, the lack of a children’s rights perspective in respect of Universal Credit,the export of weapons and the lack of implementation of 1325 in Northern Ireland. While the Government were congratulated in taking a leading role in tackling sexual violence in conflict, the Committee raised concerns about the narrow approach, specifically with respect to how the government was engendering peace in Northern Ireland. The Government were also asked about women’s participation and leadership in Northern Ireland, and its policies in relation to paramilitaries. The UK government’s response on WPS was to maintain the status quo and insist that WPS is an outward facing policy.

 

The exclusion of Northern Ireland in the NAP is very difficult to justify given its recent history and the ongoing struggles for truth and justice. Just one day later, the UK Supreme Court held on the 27 February 2019 that the inquiry held into the death of Pat Finucane, a lawyer who was shot dead in front of his family 30 years ago by loyalist gunmen in circumstances of state collusion was insufficient. The Finucane judgment underlines Northern Ireland’s post agreement/conflict context. The CEDAW72 session and the examination of the 4th NAP was a real opportunity for the UK government to indicate to the Committee that it was listening to women who have pushed for NI’s inclusion. The Government’s basis of the “outward facing” stance was that 1325, in the context of Northern Ireland “UK armed forces were deployed in support of civil power, so 1325 does not apply. We do however recognise the important role of Northern Irish women.” This is an extraordinarily narrow interpretation of the WPS agenda, as Fionnuala Ni Aolain wrote in International Affairs, while the conflicts considered to fall within the scope of the WPS agenda were narrowly defined,

“…the most recent WPS resolution portends to a widening of the range of conflicts and insecure settings to which the WPS agenda might apply by expanding the agenda to include the context of terrorism and counterterrorism. Despite this apparently inclusive move, I argue that the shift brings with it real risks of creating greater insecurity and gender essentialism in the management of war, conflict and security for women.”

In other words the criteria is narrow when it comes to domestic policy and accountability but wider in scope when the terms of inclusion suit the purposes of the UK’s governments foreign policy, rather than their commitment to rights set out in CEDAW30 or the WPS pillars in relation to women’s participation.

Conclusion

While the responses on the WPS/CEDAW nexus were disappointing, the procedure underlines the importance of the synergies between GR30 and the WPS framework as highlighted by Aisling Swaine and Catherine O’Rourke. The session was another opportunity for NGOs and civil society to push the Government into taking a more holistic stance to WPS and to highlight the ongoing gaps in the 4th National Action Plan. The contrast of the impact of the austerity policies on women and children, and the increase in military spending and profit of private security companies operating immigration centres, illustrated the clear links between violations of women’s rights and securitisation. The Concluding Observations (expected in March) are eagerly awaited.


About the author

Dr Keina YoshidaKeina Yoshida is a research officer on the Feminist International Law of Peace and Security research project at the Centre for Women Peace and Security and a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers. She attended the #CEDAW72 sessions along with Centre member Lisa Gormley and many other members of civil society.
Keina thanks Lisa Gormley for her comments on this post.