Creating a fairer Britain
As an accredited National Human Rights Institution, the Commission participates in UN committees and activities. On International Womens Day (IWD) this year we will have a representation at Human Rights Council (HRC) meeting 16.
Today we celebrate the centenary of International Women's Day (IWD). The UN acts as a valuable focal point for the global pursuit of women’s rights and gender equality. The Beijing Platform for Action affirmed that women's rights are human rights. The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women gave voice to this and is considered by women around the world as effectively, their international bill of rights. And this year we have a new UN agency, UN Women, to act as a global champion for the empowerment of women and girls.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission would therefore like to take this opportunity today at the Human Rights Council to celebrate the progress we have made on women’s rights in the UK and around the world to date, to remember the sacrifices made by human rights defenders along the way, and to remind ourselves that that there is still some way to go.
100 years ago life expectancy for British women was 55 years, today it is 82. In 1911, 355 women per 100 000 live births died as a result of childbirth or pregnancy related causes. Today in the UK that figure is just 14. On IWD we remember that in many developing countries life expectancy and maternal health are still the foremost barriers to women's enjoyment of their rights, and we urge states to step up efforts to fulfil theUN Millenium Development Goals.
100 years ago the Suffragettes in Britain were campaigning for the right to vote to be extended to women. In the words of Emmeline Pankhurst “we have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half”. Despite universal adult suffrage being finally granted in Britain in 1928, these words still resonate today. Representation of women in the British Parliament today is 22%, in the Scottish Parliament it is 35% and in the Welsh Assembly it is 48%. CEDAW calls on states to adopt temporary special measures to address entrenched inequalities and in the spirit of the Convention we urge states to consider what measures they can take to increase the representation and participation of women in political life.
100 years ago only 35% of British women entered the workforce, they earned two fifths of average male earnings, and female civil servants were required to give up their jobs once they got married. Today 57% of British women are in paid work and discrimination against women in employment – whether married women, pregnant women or older women – is illegal. However women are disproportionately employed in low paid, part time jobs, they still undertake the bulk of caring and domestic responsibilities and they still earn less on average than men. We therefore urge states to heed the words of UN Women’s Executive Director Michele Bachelet, that: “women’s strength, women’s industry, women’s wisdom are humankind’s greatest untapped resource.”
There is one issue which cuts across national, cultural, religious and socio-economic lines and that is violence against women and girls. Each year, 3 million women in Britain experience rape, domestic violence, stalking or other violence. The UN estimates that 70% of the world’s women experience violence in their lifetime. We welcome the UN Secretary General’s UNiTE to end violence against women campaign and urge states to achieve the 5 UNiTE goals – to enact national laws to punish VAW, to adopt national action plans, to strengthen data collection, to increase public awareness and to end sexual violence in conflict – by the target date of 2015.
Today we honour all the activists from the past 100 years who have campaigned and sacrificed for women to enjoy the rights they do today. As we celebrate progress, let us also renew our efforts to make women’s empowerment a reality for all the world’s women, in all spheres of private and public life.