The UN special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, ended a two-week visit to the United Kingdom today, and she was not impressed. In her initial report and as covered in the media, she voiced some important criticisms, including sexism in the UK, that deserve to be taken seriously. I want to highlight two other important points she’s made.
One of the issues she highlights is how changes to the visa system prevent migrant domestic workers from changing employers, increasing the vulnerability of these women, who are hired to cook, clean, and help raise children. We couldn’t agree more. Just a couple of weeks ago, Human Rights Watch published new research findings documenting the horrible abuses these women suffer in the UK – including forced labor – and calling for the right to change employers to be restored.
Also of serious concern is the fact that Manjoo was barred from entering the immigration removal center, Yarl’s Wood, a place where women migrants and asylum seekers are held before they are removed from the UK. The details behind the decision to deny her entry have yet to be clarified, but this reported explanation from the UK Home Office – that she had failed to request access in advance – is inadequate. UN mandate holders should have full access to all facilities when they are conducting a country visit, and she was absolutely right to ask for a visit to this particular center.
When I visited Yarl’s Wood four years ago, I was struck by the stories of women there, many of whom claimed to have suffered from domestic and sexual violence. I learned about how badly their claims were handled there, and how being in detention made it much harder for them to articulate and prove their claims. Human Rights Watch issued a report on the topic in 2010.
The government should acknowledge that the UK might be excellent on some women’s rights issues, but it has a very long way to go on others.