Rashida Manjoo, a South African human rights expert, was charged by the UN Humans Rights Council to monitor violence against women in the UK and report back to them. She warned that sexual bullying and harassment were now "routine" in UK schools, according to NGOs she had interviewed, and recommended that schools have mandatory modules on sexism.
Ms Manjoo shared her preliminary findings on Tuesday and said: “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.”
Her comments were dismissed by former Conservative health minister Edwina Currie who said: "Most of the women I know like living [in the UK] and enjoy being in a diverse and interesting society."
Ms Manjoo, who has reported on violence against women in more than 10 countries since 2009, including Somalia, Zambia, Algeria, Jordan and America, said her findings came from meetings with UK government officials, civil society organisation and individual survivors of violence as she travelled throughout the UK.
She is also a Public Law professor at the University of Cape Town, in South Africa, which has some of the highest levels of sexual assault in the world and is one of the world's top ten most violent countries.
Ms Manjoo, summarising her UK meetings, said: “The sexualised nature and portrayal of women and girls came through very clearly from all interviews that were conducted, but including from the state sector, where preventative programmes are being developed."
In particular, she highlighted “the easy availability of porn, the use of social media including influencing young children around images” and “harassment on the [London] Tubes", referencing the current 'Women Who Eat On Tubes' trend of people taking pictures of women eating on the London Undergound, and posting them onto Facebook.
“When you’re sitting on public transport and it’s OK to harass someone, to inappropriately touch them, it’s sexist culture,” she said.
“If I was walking down the street and there were whistles - which won’t happen at this stage in my life - but that’s sexist culture. It means it’s OK, it’s normal, what’s the problem?”
Ms Manjoo said it was the Government’s responsibility to battle sexist culture, saying that schools should consider having mandatory modules on sexism.
“The state has a responsibility to protect, to prevent, to punish, to provide effective remedies,” she said. “These are part of the state’s responsibility.
“So in terms of prevention, is it necessary to mandate that certain modules are mandatory for children in schools considering the quite pervasive levels of bullying, sexual harassment and harassment on the tubes which is part and parcel of violence?
“The general view is that it should be mandatory.”
However, Ms Currie dismissed Ms Manjoo’s comments, saying she doesn’t think the UK has a problem with sexist culture.
“There are people around who are quite convinced that there are things wrong with British society and I’m not one of them,” she told Telegraph Wonder Women.
“Why can’t she go to a country where women can’t drive cars, or have maternity leave? There are plenty of countries where women face serious problems. You can’t say they have a big problem in the UK.
“Most of the women I know like living here and enjoy being in a diverse and interesting society. Many of the men I know think that we live in a female dominated society and it’s women who call the shots.”
Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, said: “I would say that it’s really important that we take this seriously.
“What she says about the importance of teaching this in schools is absolutely paramount. We know [young people] are exposed to [sexism]. The question is, are we going to give them tools to deal with it?”
But Ms Bates said she does not think it is entirely the Government’s responsibility to tackle sexist culture in the UK, adding: “I think it has to be both: support from the Government and organisation, but also individuals playing their part in changing what we consider to be normal and acceptable.”