Women’s inequality knows no borders

Kat Banyard, the founder of UK Feminista, explains why justice for women seeking asylum is a key demand for today’s Feminist Lobby of Parliament

Today I am going to Westminster for UK Feminista’s Feminist Lobby of Parliament. We will be calling on MPs to stop the growing attacks on women’s rights and to start driving forward progress on equality. Among us will be a number of women refugees. Because central to our demands is a call to end the culture of disbelief at the UK Border Agency (UKBA) which denies so many women justice when seeking asylum in the UK.

We are making a number of demands at the lobby. 84 years on from women finally winning the right to vote feminism today remains an unfinished revolution. Women are outnumbered four to one in parliament. The full-time pay gap is 15%, and 40% of ethnic minority women live in poverty. Up to three million women and girls in the UK experience rape, domestic violence, stalking or other violence each year.

These inequalities are being compounded by new threats to hard won rights. The Government’s program of cuts are disproportionately hitting women and rolling back women’s economic independence.

Complacency is also a huge threat to women’s equality. All too often, women’s equality is treated as a side-issue in parliament, an afterthought. Women’s voices are not being heard, and women’s experiences are not being properly taken into account in Government policy and practice.

This is only too clear in the case of asylum.

Women’s inequality knows no borders. Every year, many women come to the UK seeking asylum from gender-based persecution. This persecution can include sexual violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and commercial sexual exploitation. If women are fleeing genuine persecution they do have a right to asylum under the terms of the Refugee Convention. But the people who make the decisions on asylum in the Home Office do not adequately understand the scope and impact of  gender-related persecution. There is a culture of disbelief that particularly surrounds women’s claims and leads to the UKBA doubting the credibility of applicants’ accounts for no good reason.

In research conducted by Asylum Aid, 87% of women’s cases where initially refused, the majority because the women were not believed. However, at appeal 42% of these decisions were overturned and this figure rises to 50% when including decisions made after the reconsideration of an initial appeal. This figure is far above average for all asylum cases which stands at 28%. The poor initial decision making in women’s claims leads to a high number of unnecessary, lengthy and costly appeals. But most importantly, it exacts a heavy toll on the individual women whose claims are refused. Women for Refugee Women’s recent research into the experiences of women whose claims have been refused reveals the devastating hardships that these women experience.

The changes needed to make the asylum system fair for women are well known. The problem is a lack of political will to put these into action. It is crucial that Ministers and other politicians show leadership on breaking down the culture of disbelief in the Home Office and add to the pressure on the UKBA to implement further necessary changes.

At today’s Feminist Lobby of Parliament women seeking asylum are coming to lobby MPs. Side by side with them are women and men from around the UK, as well as a broad range of women’s organisations, united in their quest to make equality a reality for all women.

Women seeing asylum are demanding justice. It’s time for politicians, and all of us, to join them.

This article was co-authored by Elli Moody, Policy & Campaigns Manager at UK Feminista. For more information on the Feminist Lobby of Parliament, go to www.ukfeminista.org.uk

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