April 24, 2017
Guest blog post by Sjoukje van Oosterhout,MSc EU Politics student at the London School of Economics (LSE). For the last two years she has worked as the Dutch youth representative to the EU and the Council of Europe (2014-2016).
Le Brexit, der Brexit, el Brexit, regardless of the language in which you use this masculine noun, UK’s self-inflicted path to isolation will hit women harder than men. In terms of economic setback women tend to have much more to lose than their other half. Secondly, when it comes to women’s rights post-Brexit Britain will not provide the same blanket of women rights as the European Union. The few women in male-dominated Westminster should be aware of these risks and make extra efforts that leaving the EU is not reduced to a simple economic cost-benefit analysis. In the run up to the snap election in June we need to accurately talk and address the consequences of Brexit for women in order to protect and preserve women rights bitterly fought for at European Union level and to mitigate the detrimental effects Brexit will have on women.
I will be the last person to defend the many imperfections of the EU. During my two -year tenure as the Dutch Youth Representative to the EU, I witnessed and dealt with the many flaws, quirks and plain anomalies of the Union. Gender equality is however one area in which the EU has proven to be an important and constant driving force for positive change. A concrete example are the Union’s endeavours in closing the pay gap between men and women. As far back as in the treaty of Rome one could find references to the equal pay of women and men and that the Union “prohibits discrimination on grounds of sex in relation to pay”. These kind of politics and policies also had a positive effect on the UK’s development of women rights. After a decision by the European Court of Justice in 1970 which indicated that the UK did not live up to this directive, the UK was forced to change its Equal Pay Act. Moreover, when the Equal Pay Act did not cover pension schemes for part-time workers, who are mostly women, the ECJ made a plea for the inclusion of part-time workers into the Act.
Years of progress is now at stake. With the UK leaving the Union, the supremacy of the ECJ is likely to disappear and with that also a driving force for gender equality in Britain. The ECJ also serves as a final stand that assures that the UK will not reverse these commitments. Those who claim that the situation in the UK “isn’t that bad” should take a look at the most recent research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies; the pay gap in the UK is currently 18% well over the EU average of 16,5%. As European Commissioner Jourava stated: “ We are far from reaching equality”.
In addition, the UK will also lose access to EU funding for strengthening and promoting gender equality. The European Commission recently introduced a programme called the “Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality 2016-2019” . It consists of a whopping 6.17 billion euros to promote equality in a range of areas such as participation in the labour market, economic independence and equality in leadership positions. With regions, farmers and Universities cueing up to have their EU funding replaced with national money it remains to be seen whether the UK will find resources to match the EU financial commitment to gender equality. I for one seriously doubt it.
More important than politics and policies is the impact of Brexit on the daily lives of women. If the predictions are right and UK would enter into a recession, this will simply hit women harder than men. From previous crises, such as the economic crisis in 2008, we have learned that economic shocks and austerity measures are more detrimental for women since their position on the labour market is already weakened. Research has indicated that low-income households will be hit hardest by Brexit, with 90% of the single-parent households being women, the financial prospect for women does not seem promising at all. Moreover, the public services aimed at activating and protecting women will be depleted and let’s be honest; gender equality issues in general are the first nominee to be side-lined when the government needs to deal with more ‘pressing’ issues.
While the Brexit debates featured a whole array of topics and angles, the female voice was neither represented nor heard. A poll from ICM indicated that the campaigns on both sides did not succeed in addressing issues that matter most to women. White male experts focusing on migration and the economy dominated 84% of the debates. (84%) Cynically, the absence of women in the political debate is neither new nor incidental. Despite May being prime-minister, the UK still has a severe underrepresentation of women in politics, with a disappointing 29% in parliament. Compare that to Sweden’s 43%, Spain’s 39% or even the European Parliaments 37%.
It remains doubtful if a strong female caucus would have prevented a Brexit. But we should be honest about which sex will bear the brunt of Brexit and put it on the agenda for the election in June to make sure that the voters will have the full picture before going to the ballot. Moreover, the elections provide an excellent opportunity to climb from rank 47 of the world ranking of women in parliament to a more UK worthy position.Blogactiv Team