Today is International Women’s Day, and in the UK, Brexit will affect women more than men, on top of the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus crisis and economic fallout.
As leading employment lawyer Michael Ford QC warned: “It is difficult to overstate the significance of EU law in protecting against sex discrimination. A history could be written based on the theme of progressive decisions of the ECJ correcting unprogressive tendencies of the domestic courts.”
This covers hugely important legislation, including: equal pay for work of equal value; the right to protection from discrimination on grounds of pregnancy; equal pensions; and increased sanctions and compensation for workplace discrimination.
Here are just some of the key statistics highlighting the disparities – each of which will be even worse as a result of the pandemic:
- Women will bear the economic brunt of Brexit – 86% of austerity cuts came at women's expense, who will also shoulder the majority of Brexit costs to households of £850-6,400 per year.
- Women worker's rights are threatened by any post-Brexit deregulation and loss of EU protections – including paid holidays for five million UK women and protections for 430,000 pregnant workers and new mothers every year.
- Public spending cuts and falling numbers of EU care workers will force women into unpaid care work at four times the rate of men, costing women £315 million in lost earnings.
- The government's ‘right to reside' system discriminates against 1.8 million EU-born women – including 53,000 EU women suffering from domestic violence; the 90 per cent female EU nationals who are full-time caregivers; and two-thirds female workers in low-paid work.
And the situation will get even worse if the UK does not match upcoming EU protections for workers’ rights, like the Work-Life Balance Directive, which brings in the right to a guaranteed minimum five days’ carers’ leave, extends the right to request flexible working arrangements, and enhances parental leave rights.
The EU is also committed to closing the gender pay gap, advancing gender balance in decision making, ending gender-based violence and promoting gender equality beyond the EU – including using trade deals to further women’s rights, development, sustainability and human rights. The UK government, by contrast, may say the right things, but their commitments are meaningless without binding guarantees in trade deals.
Brexit represents a backwards step for equality, impacting women more than men. And that is why, this International Women’s Day, we must redouble our efforts to work to hold the government to account, rebuild our relationships with the EU, and build back what we lost, brick by brick.