This general election offers an opportunity for all political parties to explicitly support equality for women. Women’s lives have changed significantly in the last 50 years but there is still lots of work to do.
Women’s and human rights organisations have joined forces to launch a ‘Manifesto for Women and Girls’ to empower voters to have conversations with political candidates about issues facing women and girls and transformative policies for gender equality.
The ‘Manifesto for Women and Girls’ builds on our collective experience to recommend how the next government can:
Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society said: “The Fawcett Society is delighted to be part of this strong coalition of women’s organisations. This general election falls between 100 years since women got the right to stand in parliament and 50 years since the landmark Equal Pay Act. Yet, when women go to the polls in December, the pay gap means they will already effectively have stopped being paid for the year. Meanwhile violence against women is increasing, women still undertake the majority of unpaid care and, basic rights to healthcare, safety and housing are out of reach for many migrant women. At a time when women’s voices are being marginalised in politics, this election presents an opportunity for women to raise their voices in unison about the issues that are important to them, we hope that this manifesto will empower voters to have meaningful conversations with their candidates about improving women’s equality.
The ‘Manifesto for Women and Girls’ is supported by:
The legal advice will be provided by Rights of Women legal staff and volunteer women employment lawyers through a dedicated telephone line. Women calling will be able to get specialist legal advice on what behaviour constitutes sexual harassment, how to bring a grievance against their employer, how to make a claim in the Employment Tribunal, settlement agreements and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and other related legal problems faced by women experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace.
The advice line is funded by the TIME’S UP UK Justice and Equality Fund, managed by Rosa, the UK Fund for Women and Girls, kickstarted by donations from British actor and activist Emma Watson and others.
The money for this fund was donated by the public after the scale of the problem of sexual harassment was revealed by the #MeToo movement, which saw millions of women across the globe share their stories of sexual harassment and sexual abuse.
Actor, activist and TIME’S UP UK catalyst Emma Watson says:
“I’m honestly delighted that the funds raised by the public through the Justice and Equality Fund, which TIME’S UP UK catalysed in collaboration with women’s organisations, is powering the only free, specialist legal advice line for women in England and Wales experiencing sexual harassment at work*.
However, it’s completely staggering to think that this is the only service of its type given that research has found that as many as one in two women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. It finally feels like people are realising the scale of the problem, and I’m certainly hopeful that with global standards such as the recent International Labour Organization treaty on harassment at work, we’ll start to see a new climate of prevention and accountability on this issue domestically.
Understanding what your rights are, how you can assert them, and the choices you have if you’ve experienced harassment, is such a vital part of creating safe workplaces for everyone, and this advice line is such a huge development in ensuring that all women are supported, wherever we work.”
Deeba Syed, Senior Legal Officer at Rights of Women says:
“The evidence shows that sexual harassment in the workplace is at epidemic levels. While sexual harassment is one of the most common forms of violence against women, it has remained a hidden issue with many women believing it was an inevitable part of their jobs or that it would jeopardise their careers to assert their legal rights.
For too long there has been a gap in available legal advice in this area for those who need it most. Many women still do not have access to the right help and support they need to hold their employer and harasser to account. Our advice line will help plug that gap.
This advice line’s purpose is to empower women to exercise their legal rights in the workplace. By advising women about their legal options and increasing their understanding of equalities and discrimination law, we will be able to help them make informed choices about next steps including how to navigate the legal system with confidence.
We know that complaints of sexual harassment at work are still frequently responded to in a gendered manner that is negative, undermining or can lead to victimisation. That is why Rights of Women will also work towards dismantling the underlying structural problems that puts the burden on victims and makes it difficult for women to come forward through its policy work.”
Dame Heather Rabbatts, Chair, TIME’S UP UK says:
“I am delighted that the independent selection panel for the TIME’S UP UK Justice and Equality Fund chose to fund Rights of Women’s free, specialist legal advice line. Many forms of sexual harassment are still prevalent across the UK workforce and women urgently need legal advice and information to understand and use their legal rights and remedies to find safety, justice and equality.
The government is consulting on the introduction of a duty to ensure employers are made legally responsible for following up sexual harassment reporting. TIME’S UP believes that this will ensure that workplace protections are in place and are enforceable. Having begun my career as a volunteer at Rights of Women many years ago I know how valuable this service is for women seeking advice at such a vulnerable time”.
Seyi Newell, Project Director, Rosa, the UK Fund for Women and Girls, said:
“The funding supporting this vital service was born of a desire to stamp out the culture of abuse and impunity around sexual harassment and abuse that has existed in our workplaces and communities for far too long.
By ensuring women have access to the right advice and support, we can create an empowered workforce where women have the confidence to call it out and employers recognise it and take action, so that together we make work and social spaces better for all of us.”
Joint Committee on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill recommends a thorough review of the protective measures currently available before going ahead with its proposals for Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs)
Specialist charitiesRights of Women and Respect share concerns that proposed scheme will be unworkable and will fail victims
Today’s publication of the report from the Joint Committee on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill raises important questions about the Government’s proposals to replace domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs) with DAPOs while leaving the existing injunction regime in place.
Both Rights of Women and Respect, who are leading charities that support survivors, provided evidence to the Committee that warned of the problems with the new DAPO scheme.
We are pleased the Committee has taken on board many of our concerns and has recommended a thorough review of the protective measures currently available before going ahead with these proposals.
Today we have published a briefing about the introduction of Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to set out clearly why, in their current form, they will not achieve the Government’s stated aim of providing additional protection for victims of domestic abuse. We agree with the Joint Committee that “the simple question which the draft Bill does not address is which organisation or organisations are to be responsible for the monitoring of positive requirements. Without this clarity, the provisions relating to this proposal may fail.”
We have made recommendations for improvements to be considered in any review based on the following key principles:
The voice of the victim is central to decisions about her protection.
IDVAs play a crucial role in advocating for victims and ensuring the appropriate support is in place.
Not all perpetrators are the same. What is an appropriate intervention for one may not be appropriate for someone else. Specialist assessment is necessary to ensure the right interventions are used.
Positive requirements should not be put in place without appropriate monitoring and reporting on the outcome of the work especially to the victim.
For interventions to be successful, the system must work effectively to ensure that the correct intervention is ordered, the intervention is of high quality and any action to address breaches is properly enforced.
IDVAs and specialist programmes must be properly resourced.
Olive Craig, Senior Legal Officer at Rights of Women said today:
“The proposed new DAPO regime requires much more thought and resourcing to even begin to make it workable. Domestic abuse injunctions play a critical role in providing protection for women against perpetrators. The cost of introducing a flawed scheme will be women’s safety; we urge the Government to rethink their approach.”
Jo Todd, CEO of Respect said today:
“Whilst we are pleased that the government is focusing on perpetrators, we are concerned that the proposed DAPO measures have not been sufficiently thought through and instead of protecting victims of domestic abuse might actually make things worse. We hope to be able to work with the government and our partners in the sector to ensure that any scheme is safe, effective and accountable.”
We are pleased to announce that Rights of Women has received government funding until March 2020 to provide support to vulnerable EU citizens and their family members applying to the EU Settlement Scheme.
Background to the EU Settlement Scheme
The UK’s decision to leave the EU will affect the rights of residence of EU citizens and their family members living in the UK.
EU citizens and their family members must apply to the ‘EU Settlement Scheme’ to get the immigration status they need to continue living in the UK. The deadline to apply is 30 June 2021.
Our telephone advice line provides legal advice and assistance to women who are vulnerable due to Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) to enable them to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme.
Our telephone advice line is staffed by women immigration solicitors or barristers who are qualified to give advice up to OISC Level 3.
We can advise on applying to the EU Settlement Scheme including helping you to understand:
what the EU Settlement Scheme is
what criteria you need to meet
how to make an application
what documents you will need to apply
what type of status you are eligible for
Here are the details you need to access our EU Settlement Scheme advice line:
020 7118 0267
Calls will be charged at local rates. Please note that calls made outside the opening hours will not be answered but will still be charged when connecting to our voicemail service. Our voicemail service will inform you about our service’s opening hours but does not accept messages.
Tuesdays: 11.00am – 1.00pm & 2.00pm – 4.00pm
Wednesdays: 11.00am – 1.00pm & 2.00pm – 4.00pm
Individuals are eligible to use our service if they meet the following criteria:
· living in England & Wales
· experienced or at risk of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)
· EU citizen (including EEA and Swiss) or the family member of an EU citizen
A third-party (e.g. support worker) calling on behalf of a woman who meets these criteria is also eligible. To ensure best practice, we ask that the woman is present, wherever possible.
We are only able to advise in English.
Callers who require an interpreter can request one from us when they call and we will endeavour to provide a telephone interpreter where possible.
Our EU Settlement Scheme advice line will open on 4th June 2019 and will be open weekly until our government funding ends on 31st March 2020.
We are part of a group of family and human rights lawyers who have signed to a letter sent to the Ministry of Justice calling on them to carry out a full independent inquiry into protection for survivors of domestic abuse and their children in the Family Courts.
The letter welcomes the Government’s proposal to review the treatment of domestic abuse in the Family Courts but, we feel, does not go far enough. For justice to be done, an independent inquiry is necessary.
We are pleased to see within these documents that the Government recognises the Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) scheme is in need of reform and in particular the acknowledgement that it “will also work with legal professionals and the advice sector to explore opportunities to simplify the ECF scheme and ensure it works as effectively as possible.”
In addition to announcing that it will consider simplifying the ECF scheme to improve access and whether a new urgent case procedure is needed and it has also committed to improving the speed of ECF decision-making.
Our report’s findings provide an evidence-based consideration of the matters the Government has identified it wishes to address including its inaccessibility to individuals, chronic delays in decision making and an urgent case procedure that is not fit for purpose.
We are hopeful that this will assist the Government in taking the necessary steps swiftly and effectively to overhaul the ECF scheme and improve access to justice without delay.
Throughout 2018 we carried out a series of consultation exercises with women survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence to inform and shape our work going forward. This article gives a summary of what we did and our key learning points. We will be publishing a report coproduced with survivors in 2019 and will be continuing to support survivors to drive our work going forward based on its recommendations.
The aims of the consultation and our approach
Our aim was to understand how well our services meet the needs of women survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence and how they can be improved. As part of this, we were particularly interested to understand how we could expand our services and increase our use of technology in the future to reach more women.
Specifically, our evaluation focused on the current delivery models and approach of our Family law and Criminal law legal advice services (which involve provision of a national helpline, legal guides, handbooks and resources on our website.)
It was paramount to us to engage meaningfully, safely and ethically with survivors to do this and gather learning that would not only inform our approach now but also lead to long term partnership working with survivors.
The women we worked with
We are extremely grateful to the women who worked with our team and cannot emphasis enough how much we learnt from these experts-by-experience.
We tried to work with as broad a range of women as possible. The women we worked with included:
Women survivors who had used our services before
Women survivors who had not used our services before
Women in prisons
Women with diverse ‘protected different characteristics’ (for example: race and ethnicity, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation, disability)
Women with complex or multiple needs
Women involved in survivor support groups
Individual women not involved in survivor support groups
We are also grateful to the three other organisations who worked with us to enable this consultation to happen: a survivor group, an NGO working in prisons and an organisation that hosts a BMER women’s group.
The activities the consultation involved
We focused on establishing trust, ensuring safety and building relationships with the survivors we worked with in a manner that best suited their needs.
This included: working in small groups, one-to-one meetings (these were conducted by an external expert facilitator/survivor that they trusted), meeting several times with the same groups of women to build trust, travelling to meet the survivors for focus groups as well as inviting them to where we are based, meeting individuals with a facilitator present. Most contact was face-to-face but some survivors also provided written feedback. Some activities were structured but we also ensured space for a less structured approach to allow individuals to contribute fully.
The types of questions the evaluation sought to answer
These are some of the questions the evaluation sought to address and are indicative of the fuller set, which will be published in our final report.
Evaluating our Family and Criminal law advice models of support
What is the overall impression of our service / organisation?
How important is our women-led and women-focused model?
How well does our organisation cater for all women, for example women from BMER backgrounds or women with complex or multiple needs?
When women have contacted us, why they have contacted us specifically?
What were the impact or benefits of contacting us longer term?
Our advice line gets very busy and we are aware we cannot meet the high demand for our advice. Are there any suggestions on how we could improve on our current system?
How useful are our online resources and website and how could they be improved?
How clear is it to women what help they can get from us from the way we describe our services on our website?
Are there any interactive online tools that survivors would find helpful for us to introduce?
Does our sexual violence handbook reflect the survivor’s journey and the questions they have?
How accessible are our short guides?
Does the use of images improve the users experience of these?
Key learning points summary
The following are some of the key learning points we gained from the evaluation:
Our ‘by and for’ women model is essential to trust and fundamental to the reason why women contact us
Emphasising that we are independent and non-judgemental is important to gaining the trust of women who have not used our service before particularly in relation to addressing cultural barriers
Our advice line model:
Our one-off intervention telephone advice model can have a lasting impact on assisting women to understand and make decisions about options then following a course of action with confidence
Improving and speeding up their pathway to support: Even if we are unable due to our limited resources to provide follow-up casework, if we were able to supplement the advice we provide over the phone with short and targeted follow up, for example a letter confirming an aspect of the advice provided, this could make a huge difference in certain circumstances in moving them forward.
Our legal information handbooks are valued as highly accessible and useful but we could improve them by:
Ensuring we include service users from the start when devising and creating them as this will ensure that they can influence the approach and therefore get the most out of the final product
Exploring appropriate language tone and content further with service users when talking about the law. Women service users (who are not lawyers), including some with learning difficulties, told us that we should not adjust our language unnaturally to try to simplify the law for them as it is unnecessary.
Women do not always want to access all the information about a legal process all at once as it can be overwhelming to them depending on where they are in terms of recovery or processing (this was in relation to our sexual violence handbook). They would like us to break down the same information to ‘bitesize chunks’ so they have more freedom to choose what information they view and more control over choosing their own pathway to obtaining information.
Our website and written guides are a valuable resource both to women have accessed our advice line and those who have tried but cannot get through. We could add to them by including short explanatory videos on legal topics as this could ‘humanise’ the interaction with our materials. It was highlighted to us that ‘hearing the human voice’ of another woman could be very reassuring to a woman seeking advice when navigating our website, especially if she had been unable to get through on our advice line that day to speak to someone.
Experience of the process of the consultation:
Women felt listened to and empowered by being asked to be involved in our work. Many also expressed what a contrast it was in comparison to their many negative experiences of navigating legal processes and legal system generally to now be treated as an expert whose opinion mattered. Feedback included:
‘We discovered that nothing can compare to the dynamic of women meeting face to face in a safe space and on equal terms’
‘A sense of turning the negative energy of the abuse suffered into something that could bring about change’
We are excited to announce that Rights of Women will soon be expanding our immigration advice line services.
From 21st November, we will be providing a dedicated telephone advice service to non- legal professionals supporting vulnerable migrant women. The advice line will run once a fortnight on a Wednesday between 10am and 12pm. This new service will enable professionals to understand their client’s immigration advice needs and signpost them more effectively. For more information, and future dates please see here.
*Please note that the provision of immigration advice and services is a regulated activity and can only be undertaken by qualified individuals.*
For 71 years, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – also known as the world’s biggest art festival – has been attracting people throughout the globe to celebrate and enjoy established and undiscovered comedy, theatre, music and more.
This year, against the current political climate, there is set to be a heavy focus on #metoo stories. Amongst them is Love Songs;written and performed by Alissa Anne Jeun Yi and presented by emerging British Asian theatre company Trip Hazards. Developed through the Soho Theatre and supported by Camden People’s Theatre and Arts Council England, Love Songs is a coming-of-age story with a twist.
Love Songs interweaves comedy, spoken word and rap to explore an autobiographical experience of heartbreak and sexual assault. The play ultimately seeks to empower women who have gone through similar experiences and provokes audiences to make an active change.
“It made sense to choose Rights for Women as the charity we should support. I myself studied Law at university, and a large part of the show is set against this backdrop. The work that Rights of Women do is absolutely essential in helping women understand their rights and breaking down the complexities of the law when something like this happens to them.”
“Despite the fact I was actually studying sexual offences when I was assaulted, I was too confused to understand what had happened or to take any action at the time. Although my career path has headed in a completely different direction since leaving university, I still care a lot about making a positive social and political difference in the world – especially where women’s rights are involved.”
“Combining the emotive effect of our show with the practical work that Rights of Women do is a great way to create debate and discussion around sexual assault, sexual education and what can be done to both decrease cases of assault and to increase figures of reporting this crime. It is my hope that with us trying to engage empathy about such issues and then directing them towards Rights of Women afterwards, hopefully we can work together to make an active change.”
Estelle du Boulay, Director of Rights of Women says:
“We applaud Alissa for her bravery in speaking out about her own experiences to highlight the devastating impacts of sexual violence. Her play carries an empowering message that calls time on the everyday normalisation of abuse against women. The #metoo movement is a reminder of how a powerful culture shift can occur when women unite to amplify each other’s voices in speaking out against harassment and abuse – we are proud to be working in partnership together with Alissa and thank her for informing women about the support and help services we provide.”
Love Songs will be on as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Delhi Belly, Underbelly Cowgate from the 2-26 August (not 15). There will be a collection for Rights of Women after each show, with legal guides about understanding sexual assault available to anyone who needs them.
If you are interested in coming to see the show but are worried about or would like to know more about the content, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay up to date with our fundraising progress by following @rightsofwomen, @_TripHazards, @alissa_ajy and #LoveSongsShow on Twitter.
The judgment in the case of Tini Owens, who was refused a divorce by the Supreme Court last week on the basis that her complaints of being in an unhappy marriage did not reach the standard needed to meet the criteria for ‘unreasonable behaviour’, has sparked a debate on whether current divorce laws are fit for purpose.
Rights of Women’s position on this debate is that divorce laws are in urgent need of reform and we would like to see the introduction of ‘no fact’ divorces (an alternative name for what is better known as ‘no fault’ divorce).
Our position is informed by an evidence-base we have gathered through our own work in relation to this issue which suggests that current laws are failing women and can have a particularly detrimental effect on women who are survivors of domestic abuse and / or women who are on low-incomes. We have produced a briefing on this that explains our position in more detail.