No woman should be missed out.
If you are a woman in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who is threatened with or has been raped by soldiers you may receive help from the Foreign Secretary’s initiative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. However were you to be one of the few women who escape the DRC and claim asylum in the UK, chances are the Home Office will refuse you asylum.
The TUC is an active member of the Charter of Rights of Women Seeking Asylum which I facilitate through my work at Asylum Aid. With over 300 other organisations including the NUT, NASUWT, NUS, NAPO, PCS Women’s Forum, ASLEF Women’s Committee, British Red Cross and Amnesty International UK, we are seeking to persuade the Home Office to develop a gender-sensitive asylum system.
In March this year our successful Missed Out campaign resulted in the Government including half a dozen actions in their Violence Against Women strategy that will benefit women seeking asylum. Until then the strategy covered women settled in the UK with protection from and services relating to rape, domestic violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and honour-based violence. The strategy also covered protection and services for women affected by such violence in other countries (through the work of departments such as International Development). But I was struck by the noticeable gap for women coming from abroad to escape gender-based persecution and seeking protection here.
Nowadays we see senior police officials and even the Director of Public Prosecution on the news advocating the importance of believing victims of rape or sexual abuse. But our research at Asylum Aid has demonstrated that women who seek asylum in the UK, often having been victims of similar human rights abuses, are not believed by the decision-makers in the Home Office. We see that women seeking asylum are missed out of the policies and strategies that relate to other women.
This week the Government is being examined on its activities to eliminate discrimination against women by the Committee of the UN Convention on Women (CEDAW) in Geneva. How ironic that at the same session the Committee will also be examining the DRC government. Maybe when they hear how bad things are for women in the DRC (which the United Nations describes as the rape capital of the world) they may realise that women from DRC seeking protection in the UK need better quality decision-making. The Charter has contributed to a shadow report for the CEDAW Committee detailing the gap that exists for women seeking asylum, whichever country they come from. We are urging the Committee to make the following recommendations in relation to the UK:
- fully include the rights of women seeking asylum in its integrated strategy on VAWG
- ensure that Immigration Judges have appropriate guidance for making decisions on women’s asylum cases including those involving gender-based persecution
- ensure the implementation of its own Credibility Guidelines and Gender Guidelines in asylum cases
Because no woman should be missed out.