Women who flee sexual violence abroad need rights in the UK
This week sees the start of a campaign by the Women’s Asylum Charter whose 350 supporters include the TUC, ASLEF Women’s Committee, GMB, NAPO, NASUWT, NUT, PCS Women’s Forum and Unison. In supporting this Charter, the TUC and its member unions are standing up for the rights of women who come to the UK seeking protection from human rights abuses abroad.
You may remember in London this summer seeing the unlikely couple of Angelina Jolie and William Hague on the news.
As Foreign Secretary and Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees respectively, they co-chaired the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. At the end of this huge event, they signed off an international protocol. This protocol promotes best practice for collecting evidence and investigating abuses while protecting the rights of survivors.
As a result of this international protocol a woman raped by soldiers during a civil war who goes through an investigation process has the right to:
- a female interviewer and interpreter if she prefers,
- for the interviewer and interpreter to be trained on trauma issues,
- not to speak in front of her children,
- to counselling for the trauma she has experienced,
- to information about the process.
But if the same woman flees the conflict and reaches the UK, our asylum system does not guarantee these same measures. Even though the women in question may have fled the exact same conflict and sexual violence.
This means a woman can ask for a female interviewer and interpreter but won’t be guaranteed this. In addition to the sensitivities about disclosing sexual violence, women seeking asylum face the fact that they may come from countries where they are not even allowed to speak to a man who is not a family member.
If the woman has children, being newly arrived means she is unlikely to know anyone to leave her children with during her asylum interview. She then faces a postcode lottery as to whether her local asylum office provides childcare – some do, some don’t.
Psychologists tell us that experiencing traumatic events severely affects your memory. But if a woman’s story of rape is inconsistent or there are gaps, our experience at Asylum Aid and research by ourselves, by Amnesty International UK and by UNHCR shows that this will be held against her.
Women who arrive in the UK have often been through the most horrific human rights abuses in their countries of origin with the majority having experienced sexual violence. Yet on arrival there is no automatic referral to counselling services or psychosocial help.
Although the Home Office provides information about claiming asylum this has limited focus on women’s rights. So a woman may know that political activity against her government is relevant to her claim but not know that domestic violence or threat of honour crimes with no protection from your state is also relevant.
The TUC through its support of the Women’s Asylum Charter is part of the new campaign to get the Home Office to provide the measures listed above to women seeking asylum.
If you believe that women seeking asylum should have equivalent rights to women abroad facing human rights abuses please take action to close the Protection Gap today.