UK women beware of losing your rights! Alarm bells are clanging. Whether you voted to remain or leave the European Union or abstained – pay heed.
Boris Johnson’s new Brexit chief, David Frost, wants to scrap Theresa May’s commitment to protect British workers’ rights. This could result in women’s rights being consigned to the wheelie bin of history.
I have worked on women’s rights and Gender issues in over 50 countries and have watched with alarm 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 as it did in former Communist countries and in the Arab uprisings. It is happening here in the UK.
David Frost former chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was appointed last week by Mr Johnson to replace Olly Robbins as Downing Street’s EU chief, a role that will see him leading any future talks with Brussels. Just two months ago David Frost former chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that EU rights should not automatically be written into law after Brexit.
Frost is not the only man happy to scrap women’s hard won rights. Over the period of the BREXIT debate:
A headline in the Sunday Express was specific:
Former Conservative 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”.
The EU has been at the forefront of driving greater gender equality for women. It has often felt over the years as though the UK needed to be dragged along towards progress on women’s rights like an elephant on a piece of elastic. Without intervention from the European Union we would not have:
· 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.
Women's hard won rights, are prone to reversal at times of major changes and upheavals. This first came to my attention in the years immediately following the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. I was working as a Consultant for programmes on women’s leadership with the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard and with the EU across 11 former Communist countries from Ukraine, Bulgaria, Hungary to the Baltics in the 1990s transition period.
Despite hopes that women would be one of the prime beneficiaries of the Arab Spring uprisings, they have instead been some of the biggest losers, as the revolts have brought conflict, instability, displacement and a rise in conservative religious groups in many parts of the region.
Until now here in the UK we women have mostly relied on EU law to make sure our rights get meaningful protection. 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.
An article in the Telegraph was headlined:
The article said: ‘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 have demanded.’
Calls to unravel what is seen by some as ‘European red tape’ are actually a threat to women’s hard won rights. Red tape also means regulations that protect citizens – women and men.
The loss of EU protection after Brexit would mean that the British government can do whatever it feels appropriate, unimpeded by international floors as the EU, safety net status will be removed.
At a meeting last year, to shine a light on how to ensure precious rights gained by the majority gender during our long membership of the European Union are not set aside, Professor Catherine Howard, Professor in European Union Law and Employment Law at the University of Cambridge, explained “Under the current system if there is a conflict between EU and UK legislation, EU law would trump the UK directive. This means that an individual can go to their local court and get that corpusof the EU law enforced by the British courts. This principle is important for women. By abandoning such a system, rights for individual women and men are at risk of being downgraded.”