Today has undoubtedly been an incredibly momentous day in British history, as the news broke that Britain was to leave the EU after a nail-biting referendum. Whether you were in the ‘Remain’ or the ‘Leave’ camp, I think everyone can agree that we’ve all been hit with quite a shock.
While the immediate consequences of Brexit have been the crash of the British pound, the resignation of our Prime Minister and lots of bickering on Facebook, the question that dawned on me as the dust started to settle was how this was going to affect women.
- Employment rights
As an employment lawyer, I know that a large number of our rights at work are derived from and enshrined in EU directives, such as the right to maternity leave, the right not to suffer sex discrimination and the right to equal pay for equal work. While it would be very unlikely for the Government and employers to start reneging on the benefits and protections we have now grown accustomed to, it does raise serious questions about who exactly is going to be looking out for the best interests of women if we are an insular and self-serving nation with no accountability to a higher structure.
Labour MP Harriet Harman raised similar concerns during the campaign stating, “We are not in a state of nirvana on women’s rights at any stretch of the imagination. With women it is two steps forward, one step back. We have to be careful this isn’t a major step back.”
It is important to acknowledge how much the EU has helped women’s rights, because we were not able to rely on our own parties to provide what women were so desperately seeking . “It is a paradox. The EU is as every bit woefully male-dominated as our own politics here…But Europe was an incredible strength to our elbow, because someone was agreeing with us. Because we couldn’t just be brushed aside.”
- Violence against women
While the rights of women in the workplace are hugely important, another issue to consider is the potential impact of Brexit on women’s physical safety.
The statistics on human trafficking show that 80% of its victims are women; something which the EU continues to tackle with the Anti-Trafficking Directive. When this was implemented in 2011, it sought to create a multinational framework of protection through support, prevention and a goal to fight the problem at grassroots level.
One of the most prevalent arguments for the ‘Leave’ campaign during this referendum was immigration. The recent ‘migrant crisis’ has seen refugees fleeing unimaginable suffering and hardship in the search for safety and a brighter future.
The leader of the Women’s Equality Party, Sophie Walker, wrote today, “Within the new catch-all term ‘migrant’, there are women fleeing persecution, violence and human rights violations and many of them have come to Britain for the chance of a new beginning. Let us not close our doors to them. Let us instead make our country the kind of place where they can thrive, where their gender does not limit their right to safety, to employment, and to a home.”
It’s unfortunately well known that the group which suffers the most during times of war is women. Displacement and poverty are important factors in this, but there are also more gender specific issues such as sexual violence and pregnancy to take into account. Like many, I now fear that our closing borders will mean that helping these women is going to be a bigger challenge than ever.
- Power for women
Thanks to the EU, several initiatives have meant that women have had the opportunity to get into science, technology and entrepreneurship. This has enabled women to enter the labour market, something which would obviously benefit the world economy if it were able to happen globally. Not only this, the very existence of the EU has raised the question of female representation in politics. Since 2003, the European Commission has spent considerable time questioning and analysing how gender parity has progressed and has encouraged women to be placed in decision making positions.
For those who, like me, were hoping that Britain would remain in the EU, it can be easy to feel negative about the result. However, after a day of dwelling on disappointment it is important to see what positives we can find in this situation.
Breaking off from the EU will mean that there are going to be a lot of changes going on in our country. The fallout from this outcome will mean that a great number of decisions will need to be made, as our country recovers and seeks new leadership. Could this finally be an opportunity for women to get involved in important decision making and help to create a new Britain which is a step closer to equality? A happy Britain is going to be one where all sectors of society feel that their needs are being met. Surely that means that we need diversity at the very table where these changes are going to be made?
I know I speak for a lot of people when I say that I still consider myself a citizen of Europe. While we will never get rid of borders, we all exist as one human race. While there will always be things that separate us and make us different, our similarities will connect us. While we may have been divided in everything from politics to geography today, I still believe that we are better off united. The world’s problems cannot be solved unless we learn to put our differences aside and tolerance, love and respect first. Whatever has happened today, I still have hope for the future of equality.
Thanks for reading,