It was an honour and pleasure to be invited by Doughty Street Chambers, a British set of leading specialist barristers who are involved in national and international tribunals on issues ranging from International criminal law to international human rights law, to celebrate their 2nd annual festival commemorating International Women’s Day. The festival was an all-day seminar involving panelists of lawyers, judges, NGOs and civil society activists who shared their experiences, expertise and knowledge and discussed how the law could be used to support women, address gender imbalance, and provide redress for grievances faced by women.
Violence Against Women and Girls
Chair: Keina Yoshida (Doughty Street Chambers)
Dr Helen Durham AO (Director of International Law and Policy at the International Committee of the Red Cross)
Pragna Patel (Southall Black Sisters)
Lisa Gormley (London School of Economics)
“2017 marks the 25th anniversary of UN CEDAW’s General Recommendation 19 on violence against women. Since that time, international standards on violence against women and girls have markedly improved. Despite this, violence against women and girls, in its many manifestations, remains prevalent both domestically and internationally. The UK has more to do in this area, particularly by ratifying and implementing the Istanbul Convention. This expert panel considers some of the means through which we combat VAWG and highlights the on-going challenges faced by lawyers, advocates and those on the ground to protect, prevent, respect and fulfil women’s rights to live without violence.”
I was particularly moved by Pragna Patel’s speech on the lack of proper accountability when it comes to women’s rights violations and how women are deterred from speaking up because, even in the UK, they have been arrested and charged in some instances where they had reported violence against women and girls.
Pragna highlighted how activism works because what happens inside the courtroom can only reflect what we the people want outside the court. Citing the domestic violence cases of Seetha Kaur and Kiranjit Ahluwalia, Pragna said that perpetrators forum shop to commit crimes where they believe they can get away easily. She said that we must stop providing lethal patriarchal spaces and States must stop making excuses.
She stated how deeply worrying it is that Prime Minister Theresa May wants out from the ECHR, as that will lead to a vacuum in legislation protecting GBV. We must not retreat from international human rights norms and have parallel legal systems. She concluded by saying that the struggle to keep law and religion separate is probably the biggest struggle feminists face today.
Helen Durham from the ICRC talked about how reintegrating girl child soldiers is very difficult but during armed conflict, women show incredible tenacity and resilience. They change the ways they traditional engage with their communities, become breadwinners, etc. They are not just victims but play incredible roles. She talked about prosecution, prevention and practical issues.
Having the weight of jurisprudential issues now is demonstration that we’re progressing in having the issue on the table. There has been extraordinary progress in Akayesu case, where the ICTR ruled that sexual violence could amount to genocide and CaH. Similarly, “comfort women” she had worked with knew that they won’t ever get justice but felt great that what happened to them is now recognised as a crime that one can be prosecuted for. The symbolic value of jurisprudence that identifies it is unacceptable to treat women this way is huge.
She talked about how armed conflict exacerbates preexisting inequalities in society and it’s incredibly important to speak with women and tap into their knowledge and expertise. In South Sudan, the ICRC understood the practical implications of lighting in refugee camps and in the DRC, the ICRC set up listening houses where women could talk about their experiences and psychological stigmatisation.
Lisa Gormley, who was part of the drafting of the Istanbul Convention, discussed the document and how it is extremely important in addressing the implementation gap when it comes to the physical, psychological, sexual, and economic violence that women endure. Citing cases such as Bulgaria v MC, and analysing articles 8, 9 and 11, amongst others, Lisa emphasised that gender based forms of persecution must be recognised and that we must have a more complete response to women survivors of sexual violence.
Pragna answered some questions stating with the new immigration rules change, you see everyday border agents. The police is obliged more to confirm the immigration status of the complainant and the affected woman is returned to her country of origin without any recognition of her roots here in the UK or the persecution she will face back home. It is important to highlight these stories and make it central in the Violence against Women and Girls campaign, strategies and policies. It is critical to campaign in inter-sectional ways and also tackle the implications of the UK’s immigration policies. We need to be visible and multi-dimensional. When you pack out galleries, raise awareness and protest, judges can see that there is public scrutiny.
Women and Prisons
Chair: Aswini Weereratne QC (Doughty Street Chambers)
Jane Ryan (Solicitor, Bhatt Murphy)
Frances Crook (Howard League for Penal Reform)
Ulele Burnham (Doughty Street Chambers)
“In March 2007 Baroness Corston’s review of vulnerable women in the criminal justice system was published, calling for a radically different, woman-centred approach, and scrapping large prisons which act as social dustbins for vulnerable women. A decade on, little has changed. Indeed, many aspects of the system have worsened – the closure of HMP Holloway will result in London women being placed further away from their children and support networks. Transgender women are placed in male prisons, and there have been three apparently self-inflicted deaths of trans prisoners in the past year. This expert panel will consider the urgent need for change and what can and should be done.”
Women’s Rights in the US: A view from across the water in the age of Trump
“Linda Moreno, renowned American criminal and human rights attorney, and an Associate Tenant at Doughty Street Chambers, will give her perspective on how women’s rights are being impacted by a new Presidential administration. She will also discuss how federal and state prison systems treat women, with reference to current cases.”
Chair: Angela Jackman (Partner, Simpson Millar)
Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC (Doughty Street Chambers)
Merry Varney (Partner, Leigh Day)
Dilys Cossey OBE (Abortion rights and reproductive health campaigner)
“Our expert panel will consider questions of autonomy and reproductive rights. 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the ground-breaking Abortion Act 1967, and we will discuss its importance, the campaign to decriminalise abortion, and the need for change in Northern Ireland. We will also consider important developments in fertility and reproductive rights, including three parent birth certificates, access to IVF services and surrogacy.”
Fair Play: Gender, Sport and the Law
Chair: Heather Williams QC (Doughty Street Chambers)
Eniola Aluko (Chelsea FC and England footballer)
Kendrah Potts (Director, Mishcon de Reya)
Sophie Cook (TV presenter, sports photographer and campaigner)
“Recent years have seen huge strides in the way that women’s sport is perceived, funded and represented. From the Lionesses’ record 3rd place finish in the 2015 World Cup to the incredible medal haul from the Rio Olympics, women’s sport is flourishing. So too is the visibility of women in other areas of sporting life: from pundits to referees to lawyers, the sight of a woman in what was always a ‘man’s world’ is becoming less and less remarkable. Yet, compared with their male counterparts, women continue to be underfunded, underexposed, and, still, under far more scrutiny. We’re delighted to have such an illustrious panel of speakers to discuss what more the law can do to help women secure a level playing field.”
Women’s Voices: Getting Heard
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC (Doughty Street Chambers)
Fatima Manji (News correspondent, Channel 4 News)
Sara Ryan (#JusticeforLB campaign)
Gill Phillips (Director of Editorial Legal Services, The Guardian)
Cris McCurley (Partner, Ben Hoare Bell LLP)
“In 2016, attempts to silence women moved from Twitter to the floor of the House of Representatives. As women take to the streets in their masses to loudly call out misogyny, it’s time to change the conversation. We bring together some brilliant, vocal women – heroes of campaigns, the legal world and broadcasting – to speak about their experiences and to start a conversation about how best to ensure women are heard with authority.”
“Baroness Helena Kennedy QC will round up some of the themes which arise during the conference, and will invite delegates to make their pledges as to how they plan to use the law to better support the women whose interests they represent.”