Last week the UN agency for women launched its first report. Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice takes a brave and broad look at women’s access to around the world, covering issues such as domestic violence, rape and discrimination.
The report also charts some of the important reforms that recent years have brought, but highlights the need for further progress. For example while 52 countries have made marital rape a crime during the last century, more than 2.6 billion women still live in countries without this legal protection.
The report makes 10 recommendations to improve women’s access to justice, including support for specialised women’s services and legal organisations, reforming laws that discriminate against women, training judges in women’s rights and monitoring judicial decisions.
Here in the UK, In Pursuit of Justice comes at an appropriate time. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment Bill currently making its way through our parliament will limit access to justice for women who have faced domestic violence in several ways.
Firstly it will leave many women who have experienced domestic abuse unable to get legal aid for matters such as child custody or financial support. This will mean that they will have to represent themselves, and could end up being cross examined by their abuser. Inevitably it will mean that many women simply avoid the courts, to the detriment of them and their children.
Secondly, the Bill will also cut legal aid for women making applications under the ‘domestic violence rule’. Under this rule women who come to the UK on a spousal visa but then face domestic violence can leave their marriage and apply for permission to stay in the UK in their own right. Applications are complex and have to be completed within a very limited time frame. The woman also has to produce various pieces of evidence, all at a time when she is trying to get her life back together.
IKWRO usually links women with a legal aid solicitor to help them through the process. If the reforms go ahead women will have to do the application on their own. Strict controls on who can give immigration advice mean that organisations like IKWRO will not be able to advise these women without breaking the law.
IKWRO and many other women’s organisations took part in a recent Ministry of Justice consultation on the reform of legal aid but the Ministry of Justice has not listened. We are campaigning for amendments to the bill before it is voted into law. Last week we met with MP Bridget Phillipson to raise our concerns. Bridget, who previously ran a women’s shelter, has promised to raise the issue in parliament.
We have also contacted conservative MPs who have shown commitment to fighting violence against women, including Eleanor Laing, Nicola Blackwood and Sarah Wollaston. We are urging them to take action against these proposals and the impact they will have on access to justice for victims of domestic violence.
If you live in the UK you can support our campaign and protect access to justice for women who have faced domestic violence by emailing your MP. See here for a template letter and simple instructions on how to contact your MP.
Please take two minutes to email your MP today. Together we can stop these proposals.