Monday, November 13, 2017

BREXIT Repeal Bill. Women's rights may be dumped in the wheelie bin.

Please feel free to circulate my article. I would appreciate if you attribute quotes by name to Lesley Abdela. Thanks!

The last time Britain's laws were up for modification on such an immense scale it was under the Normans. It took  800 years before women got back rights they lost in the process. Unless amended the Government ‘Repeal Bill’ may ultimately result in women’s rights being dumped in the wheelie bin of history. 

Women in the UK have mostly relied on EU law and the European Court of Justice to make sure our rights get meaningful protection.  Ministers will import thousands of EU rules and regulations on to our statute books as part of the Repeal Bill. All existing EU legislation will be copied across into domestic UK law. Under the Government’s proposed fast-speed ‘Henry V111’ procedures unless there is oversight and scrutiny it will be all too easy for business interests to persuade Government  to get rid of what they perceive as ‘red – tape’. Warning Signals for UK  women to beware of losing their employment rights in the BREXIT transition process are coming thick and fast.

The Sunday Express announced, ‘Equal pay diktat is just more red tape for business. [1]

A Telegraph article titled ‘Cut the EU red tape choking Britain after Brexit to set the country free’ stated, ‘Britain must sweep aside thousands of needless EU regulations after Brexit to free the country from the shackles of Brussels, a coalition of senior MPs and business leaders has demanded.’[[2]

MEP Martin Callanan said in a speech, ‘One of the best ways to speed up growth is to … scrap the Pregnant Workers Directive and all of the other barriers to actually employing people if we really want to create jobs.[3]

The EU has been at the forefront of driving greater gender equality for women including: equal treatment for part-time workers (the majority of whom are women); anti-discrimination legislation on employment, training and working conditions; the pregnant workers directive which gives women the right to take time off work to attend medical appointments; sex discrimination rules which place the burden of proof on the defendant. And it was the European Court of Justice that obliged the British government to amend the legislation to provide equal pay for work of equal value and to ensure women had equal pension rights with men. EU directives provide a minimum standard for Member States. It is possible to go beyond these standards, but Member States cannot go beneath the floor.

I have worked on women’s rights in over 50 countries and seen how in the turmoil of a society in transition whenever an opportunity arises to roll back women’s civil,  social, economic and political gains, they will be rolled back. It can happen with frightening speed.  I saw first-hand how women's rights gained in the Soviet era - often considerable,  due to industrial development, were scrubbed, out as financially costly and unnecessary in the new free market world in the opinions of men from the corporate world.

More recently we witnessed a dramatic example of rapid reverse during and after the uprisings in the Arab World. At the height of the revolutions men welcomed women as partners in the struggle for democracy as, for example,  in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.  But after the uprising women’s rights were deliberately damned and reversed as a hangover from the ancienne regimes.

Here at home in the UK the loss of EU protection after Brexit would mean the British government can do whatever it feels appropriate, unimpeded by international floors. The  EU, safety net status for women’s rights  will be removed. Brexit  secretary David Davis  has told Parliament any substantive policy issues would be dealt with by new laws scrutinised by parliament with a topping up by  a fast-track process now dubbed the ‘Henry Vlll’ process after the Statute of Proclamations 1539 which gave him the power to legislate by proclamation. This will not involve the usual Parliamentary scrutiny process, opposition parties (and some Conservatives)  have protested at Ministers being handed "sweeping powers" to make hasty, ill thought-out legislation.

When Britain's laws were last up for modification on such an immense scale. It started a few miles from where I live in East Sussex, at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The evidence which has survived from Anglo-Saxon England is that women were more nearly the equal companions of their husbands and brothers than at any other period before the modern era. In the Anglo-Saxon legal system women Anglo-Saxon women were their own creatures and not merely appendages to their husbands. In the higher ranges of society this rough and ready partnership was ended by the Norman Conquest which introduced into England a military society relegating women to a position honourable but essentially unimportant.  It took over 800 years after the Norman conquest before Britain's women gained the right not to be viewed as a husband's property, with the Married Woman’s Property Act of 1882!

What can you do?
Please ask MPs and Peers to propose an amendment demanding  the public sector equality duty (section 149 Equality Act 2010) be used to protect women's rights during the BREXIT Repeal Bill process.
The Equality Act  imposes a duty on all public authorities and bodies performing public functions to give ‘due regard’ in the performance of functions to the need -
a) to eliminate discrimination; b) to advance equality of opportunity;
c) to foster good (gender) relations. The need to give 'due regard' to the advance equality of opportunity means identifying the barriers to equal opportunity in any particular context and considering what steps could. 
This duty is often honoured more in the breach, or in an entirely 'tick-box' way, but the UK Supreme Court says it must be conducted "in substance, with rigour and an open mind" (Hotak v London Borough of Southwark, 2013).

MPs and Peers should be Government Ministers the following questions  :
Will the repatriation processes be monitored in compliance with Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010?  If so, by whom at each stage? What powers will they have? For example, will there be opportunities for outsiders with particular interest and expertise to scrutinise areas considered important from the women’s rights perspective to ensure that in all political, employment, economic and societal spheres women and girls do not lose rights they had gained.  

In addition to my suggestion you can support ‘Face Her Future’. A call to action by over 20 women's and equalities organisations



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