There has been somewhat of a social media uproar since last Friday. Just in case you’ve been residing under a rock somewhere quiet, Britain have voted to leave the European Union. There have been countless blasts sent into the social-sphere and shared by the thousands detailing the future of our country as a result of our new independence. It is claimed that our nation will now dip into another recession, that European Laws will be wiped out from under our feet, that we will lose a record number of jobs and therefore witness the breakdown of some of our most valuable organisations; the NHS, for example.
Vote Leave won over Vote Remain with 51.9 per cent. However over 75 per cent of voters under the age of 25 voted to remain in European Union, ruling it the best decision for their future. These voters (and many more in support of remaining in the EU) have met the result with feelings of anger, sadness and an overwhelming wish to participate in a second referendum.
We’ve been warned about what consequences this referendum could have on our economy, our jobs, our housing prices, our laws and our immigrants. What’s been surprisingly undiscussed, however, is the effect this will have for women. We make up over half of the UK’s population, and yet are seldom mentioned in anything referendum related. Prior to the 23rd June, there were groups dedicated to educating women on which way they should vote, but since we have witnessed next to no communication regarding the future of women in the UK.
Reportedly, one in five female voters were undecided in the run up to the vote. Not a huge surprise, considering the scaremongering and campaigning both sides were force-feeding the public. Saying this, the whole we have been largely underrepresented in the Brexit debates. Labour MP, Harriet Harman, publicly complained about the lack of gender balance in the debate.
The European Union has been incontestably influential in changing women’s position in society. The EU encouraged our nation to take strides towards achieving gender equality and European legislation has vastly improved the quality of women’s lives and has provided a platform for a better work/life balance for all citizens. It has guaranteed equal pay between women and men, ensured the right to paid holidays and paid maternity leave and gifted the population with flexible working, parental leave and freedom from discrimination.
It was the European Commission’s Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality 2016-2019 that funded our nation over £6 billion since 2014 in order to achieve gender equality objectives – namely, promoting equality in business decision making and reducing the gender pay gap. Equality is a founding principle of the EU. Treaties dating back to 1957 boast the need for equal pay among men and women – a considerable amount of time before 1973’s Equal Pay act was introduced to the UK. The EU Equal Treatment Directive ruled it illegal to discriminate against women in the labour market, education and training. Funding has become more readily available for projects aimed at bringing women into the labour market through the European Social Fund, consequently reducing the gender employment gap and alleviating poverty.
It is an EU law that guarantees women at least 14 weeks’ maternity leave; including women who are self-employed. Said law also entitles women to social protection and protection from maternity-related discrimination. The EU recognises parental leave rights, giving working parents the right to leave of at least four months following the birth or adoption of a child.
Violence against women is not something strictly confined to Europe; however it is every 30 seconds on average that the British police receive an emergency call relating to domestic violence. In response and attempt to prevent further violence against women, the EU introduced a Victim’s Directive, the European Protection Order and the Anti-trafficking Directive. These offer protection for women travelling anywhere in the EU, guarantee specialist support to those effected, and guarantee prevention, support and direct police cooperation in regards to human trafficking. The Equal Treatment Directive also works to prevent and prohibit sexual harassment of any kind. EU membership advantages British women with the option to flee domestic abuse within the EU and receive protection and support – we now owe the same duty to survivors who find themselves in the United Kingdom. Polly Neate, CEO of Women’s Aid claims “If we were not part of system that actively seeks to end violence against women, it could slip off the radar altogether”.
Staying in the European Union would have ensured far greater support and protection for women and their rights. Having said this, we are now looking at a potential range of female leaders such as Theresa May, Harriet Harman, Nicola Sturgeon and even Hillary Clinton. It is with faith in womankind that we lend full control of our rights to these women - to ensure we are granted the protection once offered to us by the European Union.