Thank you for this opportunity to participate in this one day national seminar concerning the ‘Legal scenario on emerging vistas of crimes against women in India’. I am grateful to University Law College and the P.G. Department of Law at Bangalore University for their invitation.
Human rights and diversity are an important element of the British High Commission’s work in India. One area of focus has been on ‘Violence against Women’ (VAW). These are serious crimes which have a huge impact on our economy, health services, and the criminal justice system.
What are we doing in the UK to tackle violence against women?
In the UK we are working to end violence at home and abroad by allowing women to check their partner’s criminal history; introducing domestic violence protection orders; criminalising forced marriage; and prioritising women and girls in our work overseas.
We are building on this work by doing more to tackle the drivers of crime, to intervene earlier in the abuse cycle including doing more to deter and rehabilitate perpetrators as well as to continue to improve the protection for victims, and to bring offenders to justice.
Protecting women and girls from violence, and supporting victims and survivors of sexual violence, remains a key priority. We are working with local authorities, the National Health Service and Police and Crime Commissioners to ensure a secure future for specialist Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage units, refuges and rape support centres.
We continue the urgent work of overhauling how our police, social services and other agencies work together to protect vulnerable children, especially from the kind of organised grooming and sexual exploitation that has come to light in towns and cities across the UK.
To protect victims, we seek to ensure that all publicly-funded advocates have specialist victims’ training before becoming involved in serious sexual offences cases.
Later this year the UK will publish a refreshed VAW strategy setting out how we will build on our previous work by doing more to tackle the drivers of crime, so as to intervene earlier in the abuse cycle including doing more to deter and rehabilitate perpetrators, as well as to continue to improve the protection for victims, and to bring offenders to justice.
So, what has been achieved?
In 2010 the UK government published a cross-government strategy, ‘A Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls. In March 2015, the government published a progress report.
Achievements include: making domestic abuse an offence; rolling out Domestic Violence Protection Orders and DV Disclosure Scheme nationally; criminalising forced marriage; new stalking laws; criminalising possession of realistic rape depictions; making revenge porn a specific offence; strengthening the law on female genital mutilation; and new civil orders to manage sex offenders.
In July 2015, the UK launched a new £3.2 million fund that helps local authorities prevent and tackle domestic abuse.
In August 2015, the US and UK Foreign Ministers co-wrote an article in The Guardian, calling for tougher measures against violence against women. They acknowledged recent social movements that raised awareness about sexual violence as a war crime.
In September 2015, the British Business Minister asked for a new taskforce to work with the higher education sector, to develop a code of practice to reduce and tackle violence against women and girls on university campuses.
In October 2015, UK Prime Minister David Cameron proudly declared that a third of his Cabinet colleagues are women. We have a while to go before women can claim fuller equality in the UK and globally. But meaningful representation in governance is an essential starting point.
In November 2015 the UK worked with 29 countries, discussing strategies to tackle online child sexual exploitation at the ‘We PROTECT’ Summit in Abu Dhabi. Over a dozen Ministers and close to 40 senior law enforcement officials from across the world attended this event jointly hosted by UAE and UK.
What has the UK government been doing with India?
We are supporting several projects across India:
- building awareness around safety and sexual harassment among girls and adolescent girls in Hyderabad;
- ensuring greater participation of tribal women in political and traditional ethnic institutions in the north-eastern states;
- capacity building of civil society organisations across India who work with women’s rights; and
- supporting women parliamentarian’s as they aim to improve delivery of governance programmes.
In 2015, BDHC Chennai supported a first-of-its-kind project to complement efforts in India to prevent and tackle ‘Violence against Women’ (VAW). A series of workshops supported by respective state academies offered key inputs to 300 legal, police and judicial officers from across Tamil Nadu and Kerala who wish to share that learning across their states. The workshops drew on new vernacular versions of two FCO-supported VAW booklets and fed into preparation of a new, first-of-its-kind Training of Trainers Manual for VAW practitioners called ‘Learning and Sharing Manual on Violence against Women’ launched on International Women’s day this March. This gives trainers across India, evidence-based theoretical and practical content to improve the quality and impact of future VAW-training.
Closer to home our Life Sciences Sector Lead at the British Deputy High Commission, Bengaluru, Priya Varadarajan, divides her time between promoting UK trade and her volunteer work with the NGO Durga around skill development for women and girls regarding sexual harassment in public spaces. Recent Durga projects include the Durga Alarm for use in public transport. The NGO is working with the Bangalore Political Action Committee to get this adopted.
All this is important work and the UK is in the forefront globally in seeking to tackle these issues.
I wish this seminar every success.