Women’s Rights in Law: Recent Developments in the UK

Prepared by: Ana Morina, Beat Sexism UK

It can be seen that the UK has made attempts to rectify the disparity of the treatment of women and further promote equality in recent years.

Since the Equality Act 2010, the UK has taken further action to bridge the gap between differences in salary for men and women performing the same roles in a company. This was carried out in 2017 where regulations expanding on the aforementioned Act came into force, requiring companies with over 250 employees to publish data annually on their gender pay gaps. These regulations are laid out in Equality Act 2010 (gender pay gap regulation) Regulations 2017, and failure to abide results in an investigation by the government. This shows the will of the UK government to assert equality for the working-class woman.

Another prevalent issue is domestic violence and abuse against women, which is a direct result of deep-rooted inequalities in society. However, there have been some advancements in the UK in recent years to try and tackle this issue. In 2015, the UK became the first country to adapt the definition of domestic violence in legislation to include the term ‘coercive control’, under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. Therefore, it is now recognised in law that domestic violence does not simply involve acts of physical violence, but includes financial, psychological, sexual and emotional abuse of controlling and coercive nature, and so a broader range of abusive acts can now be punishable by law.

The UK has also recently signed up to a number of international agreements that focus on the issue of abuse, such as the Istanbul Convention 2011, which makes it mandatory for the state to take active measures in its prevention, protection, and prosecution.

Considering that the average abusive relationship lasts 5.5 years, and with reports indicating that overall violence towards women is on the increase (despite government claims), any such advancements are welcomed and will hopefully increase the confidence of women and men alike in the justice system.

Additionally, the lack of acknowledgment of sexual violence used as a war tactic has been an obvious discrepancy in the law with such depraved crimes being seen as an inevitability of war, rather than a punishable offence. The 1990s saw some of the worst acts of violence against women with the systematic rapes in the former Yugoslavia region and Rwanda, with the most prolific instances seen with the establishment of rape camps in Bosnia. In several landmark judgments by the UN criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, sexual violence as a war crime was labeled as a ‘crime against humanity’.

Moreover, in 2009 the UN established the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, which acknowledges that sexual violence in conflict is punishable under international law, and not an ungovernable consequence of war. The UK, being a member of the UN, enforces all UN legislation and policies.

There is increasingly greater visibility to wartime sexual violence, exemplified with the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, for their efforts to stop sexual violence as a weapon of war and to educate the public of the atrocities committed. The fact that people are honoured and publicly recognised for their efforts is evidence of progression and the general consensus that the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war is a war crime and a threat to international peace and security (as established in the Rome Statute 1998).

These are just a few examples of legal developments in the 21st century to the benefit of women, yet it is apparent that this progression is a mere beginning to achieving full equality and fair treatment and establishing women’s rights both domestically and internationally.

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