This blog was contributed by Elizabeth Sclater, Secretary General of the Older Women’s Network, Europe
It’s just over a month since I returned from the UN in Geneva. I was accredited by the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO), one of 40 people representing UK NGOs gathered for four days in July to lobby and support the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee members as they ‘examined’ the UK Government’s progress in implementing women’s human rights in the UK. As the only one with a focus on older women, it was important to ensure older age was mainstreamed in all our work, as well as highlighting the continuing and particular human rights challenges we as older women face in the UK.
It was great to see the openness of the Committee members to our lobbying on the three days prior to the hearing. They were quick to pick up on key issues; e.g. equality legislation changes (no more gender impact assessments), the impact of Legal Aid changes on women’s access to justice, the reduction in services to meet the needs of women experiencing violence, and the continuing challenges regarding health and reproductive rights in Northern Ireland.
During a morning session I borrowed an iPad and was able to contact the chair of the Women’s Budget Group (an NGO) in the UK. By lunch time, the Rapporteur (who was leading on the UK examination) had a draft of their Gender Equality Impact Assessment of the recent UK spending review. Monitoring the gender impact of Government spending reviews was specifically mentioned in the concluding remarks.
The CEDAW does not have a specific mandate (other than in relation to pension provision) to address older women’s issues directly, and we were reliant on supplementary questions to pick up on the wider issues. Access to public transport for older and disabled women in rural areas was raised at the last session of the day, sadly with limited time for response. We were all incredulous with the Government response, which was woefully inadequate – indicating that this was only an issue for older women in Wales and Scotland and that bus travel was free.
For the first time a coalition of gender and age NGOs had developed an older women’s shadow report which the Committee had clearly read. Transport was a key issue raised by members of the rural focus groups Age UK ran for us in 2011. We spoke to the Committee members at the end of the session and were invited to submit recommendations for their consideration and inclusion in their concluding remarks.
Initially I was disappointed that the remarks were not more specific about older women, however on reflection it does give us as NGOs a wide brief to hold Government to account over the next four years, when it will report back to the Committee on actions taken to implement the recommendations. Paragraph 21 of the concluding observations reads:
The Committee urges the State party to mitigate the impact of austerity measures on women and services provided to women, particularly women with disabilities and older women. It should also ensure that Spending Reviews continuously focus on measuring and balancing the impact of austerity measures on women’s rights. It should further review the policy of commissioning services wherever this may undermine the provision of specialised women’s services.