Legal system ‘failing’ women and in need of reform, says Fawcett in landmark sex discrimination law review

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Photo by UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan CC BY-NC 2.0
23 January, 2018
A ground-breaking report released by the Fawcett Society concludes that our legal system is failing women and needs fundamental reform. The report, which is the conclusion of the Fawcett Society’s Sex Discrimination Law Review (SDLR) Panel, also found that violence against women and girls is ‘endemic’ in the UK.
The SDLR Panel was made up of a team of legal experts and chaired by Dame Laura Cox, DBE, a retired High Court Justice. It was set up to review the UK’s sex discrimination laws in response to the risk that long-established rights could be eroded or weakened as a result of Brexit and leaving the EU single market. It also considered the effectiveness of current laws and how best to balance the rights of the individual with the responsibilities of the organisation.
The report, which is the first of its kind, calls for a number of specific changes to the legal system. These include strengthening the laws on sexual harassment at work to protect women from harassment by third parties, making ‘up-skirting’ an offence, making misogyny a hate crime, making any breach of a domestic abuse order a criminal offence and extending protection from pregnancy discrimination to 6 months after maternity leave ends.
Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society said:
“What we see is a deeply misogynistic culture where harassment and abuse are endemic and normalised coupled with a legal system that lets women down because in many cases it doesn’t provide access to justice.”
Dame Laura Cox, Chair of the Review Panel added:
“The evidence we received, of increasing levels of violence, abuse and harassment against women, was deeply disturbing. A lack of access to justice for such women has wide-ranging implications not only for the women themselves, but also for society as a whole and for public confidence in our justice system.”
Key findings - violence & harassment
  • Half of all women have experienced sexual harassment at work
  • 64% of women of all ages have experienced unwanted sexual harassment in public places
  • 1 in 5 women aged over 16 have experienced sexual assault
  • In some sexual offences cases, a victim’s sexual history evidence is being inappropriately used in court
  • Evidence of complacency and a blame culture against women: 38% of all men and 34% of all women said that if a woman goes out at night, wearing a short skirt, gets drunk and is the victim of a sexual assault she is totally or partly to blame.
Key findings - employment, pay, leave and access to justice
  • Progress on closing the pay gap has stalled, a lack of transparency prevents women from challenging unequal pay and legal cases can take many years to resolve
  • 54,000 pregnant women and working mothers are pressured to leave their job early each year but just 1% of cases go to tribunal. Women are not protected after they return to work from maternity leave
  • Statutory maternity and paternity pay is amongst the lowest in Europe
  • Shared Parental Leave is not enough to enable many fathers to take time off work to care
  • If someone is discriminated against because of more than one aspect of their identity they are not protected by the law
  • The number of legal centers around the country has halved in ten years
To read a summary of the key recommendations of the SDR panel to address these findings, and to read the full report, click here.
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