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Northern Ireland Women's European Platform _NIWEP_

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					Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform

Submission on the list of issues for the CEDAW Committee pre-sessional
working group meeting, October 2012 Geneva



The Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform (NIWEP) welcomes the
opportunity to make this submission to the Committee. NIWEP is an umbrella body
with a membership of national and local organisations and generalist and specific
bodies. NIWEP aims to facilitate and increase women’s contribution to the social,
economic and political agendas both domestically and internationally. The
organisation takes action at a strategic level, ensuring that women in Northern
Ireland participate in and contribute to debates locally, nationally and internationally.



This paper focuses on issues specific to Northern Ireland and on the key areas
where we feel the Committee should seek information and clarification from the UK
Government. We also endorse the issues raised in the submission by the UK NGO
Working Group on CEDAW and we are working closely with the Equality
Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights
Commission in preparing our shadow report. NIWEP will submit a full shadow report
shortly before the Committee’s examination of the Government. NIWEP is the co-
ordinating organisation for report which is based on consultations with our wide
membership, input from expert NGOS and other bodies and our monitoring and
analysis of the implementation of Committee’s 2008 recommendations.


Many of the issues raised by the Committee in its 2008 examination of the UK
government and included in the Committee’s Concluding Observations have not
been addressed by the Government, including a number of issues specific to
women in Northern Ireland – for example reproductive rights and the application of
UN SC RES 1325. There is also a lack of clarity in the report about when policies
and actions apply throughout the UK or DO NOT apply to some or all of the devolved
areas. This is evident in relation to substantive areas of social policy and the


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government should be asked to clarify this across the range of policies referred to in
the report. In general the report submitted by the government is short on detail,
referring to the setting up of working groups or the introduction of policies or
strategies with no analysis of the impact or potential impact of these on women
across the UK.


The application of the CEDAW Convention across the UK

In previous reports the Committee has expressed concerns about the even
application of the Convention across the UK. The existence of devolution in the UK
does not detract from the responsibilities of Westminster Government with regard to
the implementation of the various human rights conventions although Government
attempts to argue (as it does in its most recent report to the CEDAW Committee)
that responsibility rests with devolved governments. Indeed the CEDAW Committee
in its 2008 report noted its concern that devolution was resulting in the uneven
application of the Convention across the UK and was clear that overall responsibility
rests with the State party.



In terms of the overarching approach to CEDAW, the Committee in its concluding
observations (paragraph 16) called for the ‘development and enactment of a unified,
comprehensive and overarching national strategy and policy for the implementation
of the CEDAW throughout the United Kingdom’. In paras 6-9 of the UK Government
report reference is made to the limited actions taken by government to co-ordinate
CEDAW across the UK and to raise awareness of it. The existence of devolution is
used to justify the absence of a national action plan on CEDAW with clear outcome
related targets. However, the Westminster government has ultimate responsibility
for the application of the Convention throughout the UK. The continued absence of a
national strategy and action plan contributes to inequalities between women in
different parts of the UK .


Furthermore, the abolition of the Women’s National Commission (WNC) (a UK wide
public body) has reduced the capacity for systematic critical assessment of the
application of the Convention across the UK. As an established and funded body
with representation from every country of the UK (and with each representative being
well linked into networks in their own regions), the WNC was able to collate data and
analyse developments in relation to women’s equality and inequality across the four
countries. The ‘alternative’ arrangements being considered have not taken into
consideration the complexities of working across regions with devolved
administrations or fundamental inequalities such as the digital divide and the need
to adequately resource participation. The ‘special measures’ to increase equality
outlined by the UK Government in the seventh report have not been established in a


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way (in terms of representation and ways of working) that suggests they are meant
to have significance in Northern Ireland.


The Committee should ask the government to provide information on:

          Differences across the 4 jurisdictions of the UK in relation to policies and
           strategies referred to in the report;

          Evidence of the outcomes of the meetings and actions outlined in paras 6 and
           7 of the report which the government argues have been introduced to ensure
           that the convention is applied evenly across the UK and to explain the
           reasons for the differential experiences and entitlements experienced by
           women in the UK because of where they live (for example with regard to
           reproductive rights, childcare provision and political representation Northern
           Ireland lags well behind Britain);

          How the government monitors and measures the success of the strategies it
           describes as being in place to Increase public knowledge and use of the
           CEDAW Convention and OP. Given that this requires long term commitment
           and engagement what will the government do over the next 4 years with
           regard to promoting understanding and use of CEDAW and what financial
           resource will be committed to this?



Women’s Representation in Political and Public Life

Women in the UK continue to be seriously under–represented in electoral politics
and in public life. This is particularly striking in Northern Ireland where there has
been only marginal improvement in the representation of women in electoral politics
in the past ten years and a decline in representation on public bodies.

The low number of women in the Northern Ireland Assembly is a matter of concern
for democratic decision making. Twenty out of 108 members of the Northern Ireland
Assembly are women (election was in 2011). This is a marginal increase of 2 on the
last elections in 2007. In the 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly elections the
candidate list was 83% male. Twenty three per cent of councillors in local
government are women.

There has been no improvement in the representation of women on public bodies in
Northern Ireland since the UK Government last reported to the Committee in 2008.
Figures for 2010-20111 show that 33% of members of public bodies are women –
down 1% on the previous year; 18% of chairs of public bodies are women (down 4%
on the previous year) and 248 applications were received from women (down 10%

1
    Office of the First and Deputy First Minister Annual Report of Public Appointments 2010-2011

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on the previous year). The representation on women in public bodies is a highly
significant issue as public bodies in Northern Ireland are responsible for key areas
of social policy provision – including housing, health and social services and
education.

The government report (para 98) refers to the ‘aspiration’ that, by 2015, 50% of all
new appointments being made to public boards will be women but no detail of how
this will be achieved. There is no reference to any specific initiatives to increase the
number of women in public life in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is a society still emerging from over 30 years of violent conflict. A
considerable body of international work has emphasised the importance of women’s
participation in politics and decision making to the creation of peaceful and stable
societies. The CEDAW Committee in its 2008 Concluding Observations (para 284)
called for the ‘full implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) in
Northern Ireland’. Since then the UK Government has consistently refused to do so.
In the seventh report (para 300-301) the government outlines its commitment to the
implementation of UN Res 1325 internationally. However, it also notes (para 301)
that ‘The UK National Action Plan applies to the UK as a whole and addresses how
we will adapt our policy, programmes, training and operational procedures to ensure
that Women, Peace and Security is incorporated into our overseas work on conflict.
As such, there are no plans to integrate provisions relating to the implementation of
UNSCR 1325 in Northern Ireland into the UK‟ s National Action Plan. Nevertheless,
some aspects of UNSCR 1325, such as women‟ s participation in peace building
and political processes, are relevant to all states. Also, the UK Government will
continue to work towards increasing the representation of women in Northern Ireland
in public and political life’


The UK government continues to adopt this inconsistent position with regard to UN
SC RES 1325 despite persistent lobbying by groups in NI and Britain urging
government to use this valuable instrument. A very recent example of the lack of
willingness and the failure to address the under-representation of women on
important decision making bodies is the decision regarding the membership of the
board which is tasked with the responsibility of developing a new peace building
centre on the site of the former Maze Prison. Of the eleven member board – only
one is female.

The Committee should ask the government:

      Why it has not introduced temporary special measures, as recommended by
       the CEDAW Committee in 2008, to address the continued under-
       representation of women in public life in the UK;



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       To account for its continued refusal to implement the UN SC RES 1325 in
        Northern Ireland;

To provide detailed information about what it is doing/will do to increase the
representation of women in Northern Ireland politics and public life with targets and
timescaleWomen’s Economic Dependence (Articles 10, 11, 13)

Welfare reform and public expenditure cuts

Since the government submitted the seventh report there is increasing evidence of
how the recession in the UK and the austerity measures introduced by the Coalition
Government at Westminster and the devolved administrations, are impacting
negatively on women. A significant factor affecting women’s employment will be the
decline in public sector jobs. The loss of large numbers of public sector jobs will
disproportionately affect women due to the higher numbers of females employed in
the public sector. This is particularly the case in Northern Ireland where women
account for almost two thirds of the Northern Ireland public sector workforce.

The radical welfare reform measures being introduced across the UK will increase
lthe vulnerability of many women including lone parents, women with a disability and
unpaid carers.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies2 estimated that after London, households in Northern
Ireland, will be the hardest hit by the radical tax and benefit changes being
implemented between January 2011 and April 2014/15. This is due mainly to higher
numbers of people in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) who will lose out
because of the replacement of this benefit by a new benefit with a stricter eligibility
test. This will affect women who are themselves disabled but also those with a
disabled child or adult in the family.


The changes to the social security system include the decision to replace a range of
social security benefits (including in work and out of work benefits) with one single
meanstested benefit – ‘Universal Credit’. This will be paid to one nominated person
within the household and there is considerable concern that by default position this
will be the male within many households. There is also concern that the new benefit
and taxation system will have a regressive impact on female employment by
increasing the liklihood that women will take on part-time low wage work3 .

2
 Browne, J. (2010) The Impact of Tax and Benefit Reform to be introduced in Northern Ireland
between 2010 and 2011 and 2014-15 in Northern Ireland. London: Institute for fiscal Studies
3
 Hinds, B (2011) The Northern Ireland Economy: Women on the Edge?, Belfast: Women’s Resource and
Development Agency


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The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has been very critical of the Equality
Impact Assessment process 4 for the welfare reform legislation believing it failed to
consider impact as required by Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act (Northern
Ireland’s specific equality legislation). The Northern Ireland Women’s Ad-hoc Policy
Group in evidence to the Social Development Committee in the Northern Ireland
Assembly, argues that the reforms will result in reductions to women’s income and
reduce opportunity and capacity to work and to gain economic autonomy.


The claim made in the government report (para 160) that work is the best route out
of poverty for most people is nor borne out by the statistical and research evidence.
For example, half of the 120,000 children living in poverty in Northern Ireland live in
working households5 . This is concerning given the policy emphasis on getting lone
parents (over 90% of whom are women) to enter the labour market and the
increasing conditionality and sanctions being applied to social security benefits for
this group.

The measures to be introduced as a result of Welfare Reform will be rolled out as
further public sector cuts are being implemented and as the economy continues to
struggle. PricewaterhouseCooper estimates that public expenditure cuts in NI will
result in a loss of at least 20,000 jobs with part-time workers likely to be
disproportionately affected pushing up the number of women likely to be made
redundant6

Childcare

The negative impact of these reforms on women and their families in Northern
Ireland is exacerbated by the very poor childcare provision. OECD data7 shows that
the UK has among the highest charges in Europe for childcare. In 2011 as a result
of changes to the Tax Credit system the government cut support for professional
child care expenses resulting in families entitled to full support having to pay 30%
rather than 20% of the full cost. In other parts of the UK there has been a policy
initiative around the area of extended schools (ie: schools which are open and

4
 Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (2011) Response to the Department for Social
Development’s consultation on the Welfare Reform Bill (Northern Ireland) 2011 Equality Impact
Assessment. Belfast: ECNI
5
  MacInnes, T., Aldridge, H.,Parekh,A. and Kenway, P. (2012) Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion
in Northern Ireland. York: JRF
6
 Hinds, B (2011) The Northern Ireland Economy: Women on the Edge?, Belfast: Women’s Resource and
Development Agency
7
    OECD (2011) Doing Better for Families – http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/61/32/47701096.pdf


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provide extra-curricular activities from 8am to 6pm to accommodate working
parents). While there are some extended schools in Northern Ireland there is no
policy which requires education authorities or schools to make this provision and
funding for extended schools is linked to tight criteria which has limited the number of
schools able to provide this service8. Many schools showed a willingness to provide
wraparound childcare but are not in a position to do so financially.

Northern Ireland is the only UK region that does not have a childcare strategy. The
Northern Ireland Executive has also failed even to produce one, despite the fact that
Northern Ireland has the worst childcare provision in the UK and has no equivalent of
the Childcare Act 2006 which places a statutory duty on local authorities in England
and Wales to ensure there is sufficient childcare provision in their areas. In March
2011 the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland
announced a £12 million allocation to childcare over four years a long way short of
what would be required for a comprehensive system of childcare. However even this
limited amount of funding has not been allocated. While government has advised
that a strategy will be published later in the year there is no reassurance about
exactly when, or that it will be a comprehensive strategy or that it will be adequately
resourced.

The Committee should ask the Government :

          To provide information collected to date on the impact of welfare reform on
           women;

          To provide information on the adequacy of data and monitoring systems to
           track the impact of tax change and welfare reform on women;

          What steps will be taken to safeguard vulnerable groups, including lone
           parents, women vulnerable to domestic violence and disabled women and
           unpaid carers from the negative impact of welfare reforms;

          What steps are being taken to help women access employment – especially
           women who are being made redundant as a result of public sector cuts and
           taking into account the contraction of private sector employment in Northern
           Ireland?

          Given the evidence on the extent of in work poverty in the UK what steps will
           the government take to ensure that lone parents moving into work will receive
           an adequate wage?



8
    Employers for Childcare (2012) Wraparound Services in Primary Schools. Belfast: Employers for Childcare

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        When will the childcare strategy for Northern Ireland be published? What
         evidence is there that this will be a unified and comprehensive strategy? What
         resource will be allocated to this?

Reproductive Rights

The UK Government report makes only brief mention of reproductive rights in
Northern Ireland and does NOT address the issues raised by the CEDAW
Committee in 2008. Abortion law in Northern Ireland is still bound by the 1861
Offences Against the Person Act, which includes life imprisonment for any woman
found to have terminated a pregnancy. There is no provision in Northern Ireland for
abortions to be legally carried out on grounds of rape, incest and fetal abnormality.
An abortion can only be carried out legally in Northern Ireland if continuance of the
pregnancy constitutes a serious permanent or long term risk to the woman’s physical
and mental health. Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 places
a duty and legal obligation on medical professionals to report to the police an
‘arrestable offence’. These penal provisions contained within the legislation relate to
a medical procedure and health risk only experienced by women.

This continuing discrimination against women has been the subject of
recommendations by the CEDAW Committee in 1999 and in 2008. In 2008 it
recommended that a process of public consultation should be initiated, that abortion
law should be amended to remove punitive provisions imposed on women who
undergo abortions and that health services should be delivered in a gender-sensitive
manner to all health concerns of women.9 These concerns have been further
validated by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, who in their
concluding observations on the UK and Northern Ireland in 2009 called upon the
State party to amend the abortion law of Northern Ireland to bring it
in line with the 1967 Abortion Act in Britain.10

The systematic breach of women’s reproductive rights in Northern Ireland have been
repeatedly raised by NGOs and exhaustive attempts have been made to engage
government with this issue. Government’s failure to acknowledge this harm to
women or to positively respond to concerns clearly establishes a pattern of failure on
behalf of the UK government to adequately address the grave and systematic
violation of women’s reproductive rights in Northern Ireland. The UK government
continues to bypass and ignore recommendations made by UN Committees and has

9
  Concluding Observations of CEDAW regarding: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern
Ireland, 18 July 2008, C/GBR/CO/6, at paras. 41 and 42.
10
   Concluding Observations of CESCR regarding: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern
Ireland, 22 May 2009, E/C.12/GBR/CO/5, at para 25.




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made no effort to challenge the discriminatory social and cultural patterns that
underpin opposition to women’s reproductive rights in Northern Ireland.

Pressed to clarify the position regarding abortion the Department of Health, Social
Services and Public issued guidelines in 2007, allowing abortion when a woman's
mental or physical health is in 'grave' danger of 'serious and permanent damage'.
The Northern Ireland Assembly voted in autumn 2007 to reject these as being too
liberal. A new draft set of guidelines, allowing abortion only if a woman’s life is in
immediate danger, was issued during the summer months of 2008 and, following
attempts by the Assembly Health Committee to again amend them, were issued in
March 2009 as guidance to all doctors and medical staff. The Guidance was explicit
that abortion is not legal in the case of rape or foetal abnormality. However, that
Guidance was withdrawn also, following a judicial review taken by the Society for the
Protection of the Unborn Child. The revised guidance was issued for consultation in
July 2010, with a final date for responses to the consultation of 22 Oct 2010.

The Committee should ask the Government:

      How it will take to ensure that women in Northern Ireland have the same
       access to reproductive health services as women in the rest of the UK?




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