Sexism in the UK is more pervasive and “in your face” than other countries, a United Nations (UN) investigator has claimed.
UN special rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo said there is a “boys’ club sexist culture” in Britain that influences perceptions of women and girls.
Following a 16-day visit to Britain, Ms Manjoo also warned Government cutbacks have hit violence-against-women services and confirmed reports she was blocked from entering controversial immigration detention centre for women, Yarl’s Wood.
In an initial report on violence against women, the South African human rights expert said legal and policy responses focused on harmful practices, such as early and forced marriages but ignored the harms coming from a “a sexist culture that exists in the country”.
She added: “Have I seen this level of sexist culture in other countries? It hasn’t been so ‘in your face’ in other countries.
“I haven’t seen that so pervasively in other countries. I’m sure it exists but it wasn’t so much and so pervasive. I’m not sure what gives rise to a more visible presence of sexist portrayals of women and girls in this country in particular.
“What is clear from these indications of portrayals of women and girls is that there is a boys’ club sexist culture. That exists and it does lead to perceptions about women and girls in this country.”
She is not the first UN special rapporteur to hit out at UK policy after housing official Raquel Rolnik last year criticised the so-called bedroom tax for causing ”great stress and anxiety” to ”very vulnerable” people.
In her report, Ms Manjoo said it was a “regret” that despite repeated requests, her access to privately-run Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire was denied.
Serco-run Yarl’s Wood has been subjected to heavy criticism by human rights campaigners amid reports of sexual misconduct by staff, women being detained for long periods of time and pregnant detainees being held without justification.
Last month Jamaican detainee Christine Case, 40, died in the centre after suffering what is thought to have been a heart attack.
The UN special rapporteur said: ” I regret that, despite my repeated requests, a visit to Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre was not facilitated by the Government, and that my access to the centre was denied when I tried to visit it independently.
“Due to receiving information from the third sector, I was keen to speak to detainees in this facility to objectively seek information on violations being experienced.”
Following visits to London, Leicester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Cookstown, Cardiff and Bristol, Ms Manjoo said she had identified “isolated pockets of good practice”, however, these were still not practised consistently throughout the country.
She said many groups had raised the impact of austerity measures, adding that cuts were having a ” disproportionate impact” on the provision of violence-against-women services, as well as other areas affecting women, such as poverty and unemployment.
The special rapporteur said: ” Access to trauma services, financial support and housing are crucial, yet current reforms to the funding and benefits system continue to adversely impact women’s ability to address safety and other relevant issues.”
She also raised concerns about the impact of legal aid cuts on women who have experienced domestic violence, as well as the overall numbers o f young women in prison being too high.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: ” Violence against women and girls in any form is unacceptable and the Government has shown its commitment to ending it.
“A comprehensive programme was drawn up for the special rapporteur’s visit, including meetings with the Home Secretary, the minister for crime prevention, and the chief inspector of prisons. Several other options, including a trip to a women’s refuge, were turned down by the special rapporteur.
“A tour of Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre was never agreed as part of this fact-finding mission.”
A statement from Asylum Aid said: ” Asylum Aid is very disappointed that the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, wasn’t allowed to visit Yarl’s Wood detention centre during her mission to the UK to see this for herself and offer advice, given her international expertise.
“Recently one woman who fled East Congo and was detained in Yarl’s Wood was perplexed to see William Hague and Angelina Jolie on British TV promoting their campaign to stop rape being used as a weapon of war in East Congo.
“Yet when she and other women like her come to this country seeking protection from exactly the same forms of violence, we lock them up.”
Ms Rolnik, the UN special rapporteur for housing, labelled the so-called ”bedroom tax” a ”shocking” policy in need of being scrapped.
She said anecdotal evidence during her fact-finding visit to Britain has raised concerns about the happiness of those affected by the welfare reform measure.
Conservative chairman Grant Shapps wrote to UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon demanding an apology and explanation for ”disgraceful” comments.
End Violence Against Women (EVAW) Coalition co-director Liz McKean said: “The EVAW Coalition is very disappointed that Ms Manjoo’s requests to visit Yarl’s Wood detention centre were denied by the Government.
“The UK would be among the first to criticise a foreign government which denied access to a special rapporteur.
“Jamaican woman Christine Case recently died at the facility and an investigation is ongoing.
“Women’s organisations are very worried about multiple reported abuses at the site.
“We urge the Government to talk to women’s groups about urgent changes to the detention regime there.”
She added: “The EVAW Coalition hopes that this spotlight on current UK work to end violence against women and girls will be used by all the political parties to develop better, more effective, more concerted commitments to end abuse in our lifetimes.
“As local and general elections loom, and as women’s rights activists are again very visible on the political and social scene, let’s hope we see a real offer to women and the whole community that everything possible will be done to eliminate violence against women and girls.”