Whatever Leavers claim, Brexit puts women’s rights at risk

by Susie Courtault | 14.09.2018

The government insists our rights and protections as EU citizens will be safe after Brexit. We’re told that they will be carried over into UK law and, anyway, the UK is more progressive than the EU in many areas. This dangerously downplays the risks of Brexit.

Women’s rights are a prime example. The EU makes its commitment to gender equality explicit in the Lisbon Treaty, signed by all member states in 2007:

“In all its activities the European Union shall aim to eliminate inequalities and to promote equality between men and women”

This means that all member states must strive to achieve a more equal balance between men and women and that combating gender equality should be part of all of the work that the EU carries out.

The UK, in contrast, lacks a written constitution. This means that everybody’s rights are theoretically vulnerable to the government of the day – sometimes based on the slimmest majorities in Parliament. For 45 years we’ve been largely protected from this by EU law. There’s a distinct possibility of a hard-right Tory government coming to power after Brexit hellbent on slashing “red tape” such as equal pay and maternity rights. Women in the UK should be concerned.

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The government’s track record is already patchy. Take austerity. The Women’s National Commission was one of the first things to be axed in 2010. Local government programmes to help vulnerable women ended, leading to refuges and other domestic services being condemned as “not fit for purpose”. And it is estimated that of £94 billion of the cumulative tax cuts in social security that will have been implemented by 2020, 86% of it will come out of women’s incomes.

The UK still hasn’t ratified the 2011 Istanbul Convention on eradicating violence against women and girls. More than this, the government continues to fail at gender mainstreaming – the concept that all public policy should be considered in terms of gender equality.

Now look at how EU law has forced the UK, often through cases in EU courts, to enhance women’s rights. It gave women equal pay for work of equal value, and protection from being dismissed for becoming pregnant. Part-time workers – overwhelmingly women juggling work and child care – have also gained equal pay and benefits, leading to 400,000 women gaining an occupational pension for the first time.

Brexit means women will lose out on future gains, for example rights on work-life balance in the pipeline which will include parents and carers. 58% of all carers are women – over 3 million people – and women are also more likely to carry out round the clock, 24-hour care. After Brexit, UK courts would no longer be bound to interpret UK law in line with EU rules.

Brexit also threatens critical EU funding programmes, for example supporting women fleeing domestic violence, helping them re-train and regain their independence. The EU has dedicated £445 billion for such initiatives in order to eliminate violence against women and girls. The government claims they will honour the funding until 2020, as long as these commitments align with “domestic priorities”, whatever that means.

And while Theresa May promised to move over all EU law to the UK statute books in time for Brexit day, it turns out that doesn’t include the Charter on Fundamental Rights.

All women, whether they voted leave or remain, need to be aware of how much is at stake. And if they’re concerned, they must make their voices heard by calling for a People’s Vote with an option to stay in the EU.

Susie Courtault is vice chair of Britain for Europe and convenor of Women4Europe which campaigns to bring women’s concerns to public attention and for a People’s Vote with the option to remain. Women4Europe will be holding a roundtable at 2pm and march and rally at 4pm in Brighton on the second day of Lib Dem conference this Sunday. For more information on the campaign you can follow on Facebook and Twitter or visit the Women for Europe website.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “Whatever Leavers claim, Brexit puts women’s rights at risk”

  • A typical scream of anguish from a brexiteer: dear Phil Winwood, could you please find the arguments to back up your silly claim and then use legible English to tell us? Just because maybe you have a valid claim that all should be aware of? Cheers mate!

  • Peter you will never get any evidence or rational argument from people like Phil Winwood. Being an extreme Brexiteer is to be a member of a cult religion, a flat earth advocate and a climate change denier all wrapped up in one package.