As with all the debates running up to the EU referendum in the UK, there were two ways of looking at how leaving the EU might affect British women and girls. The Leave campaign argued that Britain had a track record of introducing legislation on equal pay, FGM, divorce and reproductive rights without EU intervention; the Remain campaign pointed to the role of the European Court of Justice in ensuring that equality legislation was actually applied, justly and across the board.
Again, as with other contested subjects in the UK‚Äôs debate over EU membership, there was an element of truth ‚Äì and an element of misinformation ‚Äì in both campaigns. Yes, the UK had an Equal Pay Act before joining the EU ‚Äì but it wasn‚Äôt until the European Commission took legal action against the UK government that the Equal Pay Act ensured the right to equal pay for work of equal value, not just equal pay for the same job. On the other hand, the Remain campaign often failed to mention that in many cases, the UK government goes way beyond the minimum EU requirements; for example, the UK offers 39 weeks of parental leave, where the EU only mandates 14 weeks.
So was the Remain campaign correct in saying that leaving the EU would roll back the clock on gender equality? No. And the Leave campaign‚Äôs contention that the UK does legislation that‚Äôs good for women better than the EU? Also not true.
In voting to leave the EU, the UK has not automatically plunged itself back into the bad old days of overt sex discrimination and disenfranchisement. However, it has lost a powerful check against gender inequality. Where previously we could look to the EU to hold the British government accountable, now we need to do it for ourselves. They Work For You is a website which helps you understand who your local MP is and what they stand for; whilst Parliament.uk lists all upcoming bills so that you can see what changes to the law are being proposed. We need to arm ourselves with knowledge and use our power (by¬†petitioning Parliament, for example) to ensure that the UK remains a safe, supportive and equal place for women.
What we can say for sure is that the EU has expanded opportunities for British women and girls. On average, 65% of UK students choosing to study abroad through the EU‚Äôs Erasmus university exchange programme are female. In the European Parliament, 41% of the UK‚Äôs representatives are women (a significantly higher proportion than in the UK parliament, where only 29% are female). Part time workers (who are disproportionately female, often attempting to achieve the elusive ‚Äòwork-life balance‚Äô between career and family) were only guaranteed the right to equal pay, benefits and parental leave by the EU‚Äôs intervention in UK legislation.
Girl Museum Inc.