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Women and Brexit: Who Will Bear the Cost?

By Mariela Hernandez

Since 2016 #Brexit has ignited fierce conversation, not only in the UK but all around the world. We have been in the clutch of uncertainty about Brexit’s consequences and it seems many have disengaged entirely, confused and disillusioned by the entire process. What is predictable, whether a no-deal Brexit or not, is that women will disproportionately bear the cost of leaving.

Whilst a lot of the onus has been placed upon business and economic interests, not a lot of attention has been given to the likely costs for ordinary working people. Whilst people disagree about the role of the EU and whether we are better off with or without it, it is hard to deny the part it has played in progressing equal opportunities for women. The Equal Pay Act enacted in 1973 allowed women to demand equal pay to men in a ‘like for like’ job, however it was only due to the European Commission that the UK government was obliged to include the EU’s 1976 equal pay for equal work directive. Post–Brexit could see these rights on which many women rely sacrificed- for example, protection of part-time workers of which around 45% are women compared to only 13% men. It was thanks to the EU law in 1977 that part time workers were given equal pay and benefits compared to full time workers. This is because unlike the rest of the EU member states Britain does not hold a written constitution which means post-Brexit, politicians will be free to remove, modify and diminish rights. These rights include, but are not limited to, equal pay, parental leave, paid holiday rights, anti-discrimination law, anti-harassment and marriage bars; all employment and social protection rights procured from European directives and treaties.

Along with employment rights is the threat to funding for women’s services. Women’s refuges and domestic abuse safe houses, having already experienced cuts under austerity, are expected to suffer in particular. Estelle du Boulay, director of women’s legal rights charity Rights of Women and Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of ‘Agenda’ have both expressed growing concern about the impact of Brexit on women’s abilities to access safety and legal help in the face of domestic abuse or violence. These services, already underfunded and unstable, are thought to become even more vulnerable without EU funding or support.

It is important to note that although women as a whole will be affected, there are minority groups within who will be affected even more. This include the BAME community which is expected to be particularly hit by Brexit. According to a report by the ‘Women’s Budget Group’, Black and Asian households have seen a 0.4% decrease in their standards of living since austerity began in 2010. The cuts to services such as small-scale charity organisations and women support groups are expected to exacerbate the effects felt, BAME are catered for by small organisations who understand their specific needs whereas larger, more established organisations support women as a homogenous group.

These are just a few examples, but they encompass the different areas in which Brexit is likely to have a marked effect for women, and whilst our male leaders gesticulate about ‘taking back control’ and ‘going back to how it used to be’ it is salient to remember that women might not fair so well.