COVID-19, Structural Inequality and Violence against Women and Girls: One Year On (Part Two)

Posted in: COVID-19

Part Two: A Reversal on Rights and Protections

Microaggressions is a term used to identify indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against a marginalised group occurring through laws and policies. Discussed above, such microaggressions have been evident in funding structures especially since Labour’s austerity measures introduced over 15 years ago. Microaggressions in funding occurred through exclusion criteria where organisations serving specific groups with protected characteristics were excluded or assessed unfavourably. Black and minoritised women’s organisations, migrant and disabled women’s organisations, among other groups, were excluded from funding in favour of non-specialist generic organisations which could deliver more cost-effective provision because they reached wider groups. This type of funding regime relied upon three specific policy measures: the alignment of grant funding with state priorities making grant funders responsive to the government’s agenda; the inclusion of women’s refuges within the public procurement regime; and the dismantling of the Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010 allowing local authorities to performatively comply with regulations. As highlighted above, the BME women sector was underfunded by as much as 39% through these policy-driven practices before the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 created a context for further emergency laws and measures to be introduced by government that were designed to reduce rights and protections and which exacerbated existing structural inequalities. The Coronavirus Act 2020 received Royal Assent on 25 March 2020 and provided government with emergency powers. The Act suspended established rights and safeguards under the Care Act 2014 requiring local authorities to only have a duty of care to provide support to disabled people where their human rights were at risk of being breached replacing the duty based on established thresholds of need[1]. The Act also made changes to the Mental Health Act extending the time people could be detained through the arbitrary decision of a single doctor.[2] The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 made it a criminal offence for potentially infectious people to refuse to co-operate with Police or Public Health officers giving Police power to intervene and arrest.[3] Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill introduced in March 2021, the powers under the above regulations are extended while the Bill fails to address specific measures to reduce violence against women and girls or calls for the reform of the criminal justice system regarding the reporting, prosecution and sentencing of rape and sexual violence cases.

Microaggressions from the Domestic Abuse Bill are already evident in the government’s approach to a dual strategy – one strategy that covered so-called gender-neutral domestic abuse and the other covering violence against women and girls. This approach creates fragmentation in women’s lives because of the failure to recognise the context for violence in women’s lives and intersectional issues. From a policy perspective, the lack of a co-ordinated approach embedded in a rights-based framework reduces rights and protections for women. The tension within this approach is that violence is considered as an individual experience that some women have rather than the result of structural inequalities and patriarchy as defined by CEDAW and the Istanbul Convention. The individualisation of VAWG creates a context in policy and strategy, and ultimately in the ways laws are implemented that entertains the notions of abuse minimisation, victim- blaming, gas lighting and tolerance of VAWG.

In the effort to ‘build back better’ and to ensure that it is not business as usual, microaggressions reverse the clock on the right and protections that Black and minoritised, disabled and other groups of women have struggled for over decades. The recovery from COVID-19 must be grounded in strengthening the human rights framework addressing the intersecting realities of all women’s lives.


Baljit Banga, Executive Director of Imkaan 


[1] Case law under the EHCR which sets high thresholds of access to care as referenced by Sheil, F. 2020. Lessons from Lockdown. A Study in Collective Resilience in Imkaan’s Membership. London. Imkaan.

[2] Via retrieved 30.06.20 and referenced by Sheil, F. 2020. Lessons from Lockdown. A Study in Collective Resilience in Imkaan’s Membership. London. Imkaan.

[3] Ibid.

Posted in: COVID-19


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