Conservatives’ stillborn feminism

On 8 March 2011 Mrs Theresa May bigged up her party by putatively expressing solidarity with women’s causes on the occasion of the 100th International Women’s Day. With most people distracted by the ongoing debate about a “British Bill of Rights”, not many analysts bothered to examine the potholes in the government’s preposterous claims which it has opportunistically been peddling about its achievements. Inveterately, the government has opted to falsely place itself at the apex of all achievement in the “human rights” field. In fact nothing could be further from the truth and this post aims to clarify the government’s misrepresentations about gender issues.

Mrs May’s statement  (thematically structured around issues such as rape, wage discrimination, FGM, domestic violence, human trafficking and honour killing) was purposefully designed to extract political mileage by currying political support with women at home and abroad: there was even a pledge by the government that 0.7 per cent of the UK’s GNP would be provided to poor countries as aid in order to implement the prime minister’s “bold and radical” ideas to alleviate the misery of the poorest women in the world.

But yet again the government’s poppycock was lambasted (and quite rightly so) by the JCWI which exposed the home secretary’s real intentions (see their post here).

My post hopes to expand upon that well deserved criticism of the government (and its predecessors). For Habib Rahman and the JCWI the paradoxes (in the statements made by the home secretary) are numerous: firstly, the government talked tough about the rights of victims of human trafficking yet it has opted out of the EU’s Human Trafficking Directive (EC Directive 2004/81/EC); secondly, restrictive immigration policies such as language tests for dependants are at variance with women’s rights; and thirdly, any discrimination between migrant and local women will not produce “choices” for women (which the government is eager to exhibit itself as doing).

In answering the question what makes human trafficking tick? Castles (2003), Towards a sociology of forced migration and social transformation, cogently argues that:

The growth in people trafficking is a result of restrictive immigration policies of rich countries. The high demand for labour in the North, combined with strong barriers to entry, has created business opportunities for a new ‘migration’ industry. This includes ‘legal’ participants, such as travel agents, shipping companies and banks, as well as illegal operators.

Equally, recent publications in the field of migration are universally militant in condemning successive British governments for having failed to strike the right balance when managing women’s asylum claims. For example, in her recent book Asylum, migration and community, criminologist Maggie O’Neill makes some very incisive points in relation to the position accorded to women when consideration is given to their asylum claims. For O’Neill (2010):

Women claim asylum for the same reasons as men, They flee to escape persecution for their political activities, for supporting rights to freedom and free speech, for hiding people, passing messages, providing food and shelter. They seek asylum out of fear, because they do not conform to social norms or expectations; as a response to humiliation, inhumane and degrading treatment; they seek better lives for themselves, their families and their children. However, because their political activity is often deemed at a lower level than that of men, they are perceived as being at less risk and so it is harder to prove that there is a well founded fear of persecution, especially when the risk of violence is from family members such as in domestic violence, genital mutilation or ‘honour crimes’.

Moreover, research written on the immigration and asylum theme in connection to women emphatically makes the point that even as late as 2001 gender specific asylum statistics were entirely missing from the immigration and asylum discourse. Woefully, the UKBA takes the view that women who are persecuted can be expected to return home to relocate internally. The problem with such an approach is that it does not appreciate that an abused woman will not be able to relocate to a new part of their “home” country as such relocation is likely to result in additional persecution.

In PO (Nigeria) the Court of Appeal corrected the manner in which the Upper Tribunal applied the country guidance for Nigeria in relation to gangs in PO’s case. If the Upper Tribunal can be found to approach the subject of gangs from an African nation incorrectly, then what chance is there that a UKBA caseworker/owner will be able to follow similar guidance in relation to African or Asian countries? Answer: No Chance.

Asylum Aid’s publication Unsustainable: the quality of initial decision making in women’s asylum claims explains that in the first instance 87 per cent of asylum claims made by women were refused by the UKBA and that 42 per cent of refused claims were reversed by immigration judges in the immigration tribunals in comparison to the overall average of 28 per cent for all UK asylum cases. Asylum Aid also noted that the UKBA’s staff lacked the training to make informed decisions on asylum matters. Therefore, the UK’s sacrosanct legal obligations were compromised and according to Asylum Aid:

  • One woman – whose passport had been confiscated by her husband (who had subjected to her to threats, abuse and humiliation) – was informed by the UKBA that she was not considered a victim of domestic violence because her husband had only tried to hit her once
  • One refusal letter made repeated reference to an arranged marriage when considering the case of a woman who had been forced into marriage at fourteen to a man who had subsequently abused her over many years
  • At one asylum interview, the case owner stated that they had never before heard the term “female circumcision”

In the UK gender guidelines in the asylum process require that upon request a female asylum seeker must be given the right to be interviewed by a female. However, in Home is where the heartbreak is,Shackle (2009) argues that “caseworkers report that gender guidelines are rarely enforced.”

Given that restrictive immigration policies in fact nurture problems such as human trafficking it is only fair to say that like their immigration policies the Conservatives’ feminism is stillborn.

Pakistan’s former cabinet secretary and former ambassador to the UN in Vienna, Dr Masuma Hasan  (now the treasurer of Aurat (“Women’s”) Foundation) explained to the editor that while she did agree with the home secretary that women should be globally empowered, she would like to see the UK do more than just pay lip service to its gender related duties. Eminent Indian feminist Dr Rashmi Varma agreed with Dr Hasan and both of them took the view that the UK (and all other countries in the world for that matter) must do more to comply with its/their gender specific legal duties.

About Asad Ali Khan, BA, MSc, MA, LL.B (Hons), LL.M

Senior Partner, Khan & Co, Barristers-at-Law
This entry was posted in Asylum, ECHR, Immigration Law, Persecution, Spouses, UKBA, Women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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