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Girls & Women

Brexit Could Cost Women Their 'Fundamental Rights', Warns Human Rights Report


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Generations of women and allies have fought for growing gender equality in the UK. But, while hard-won, these rights can still be lost if we don't pay attention to legislation that's going on around us. The UN's Global Goals call for gender equality, as well as for reduced inequalities, and you can join us by taking action in support of these issues here

Everywhere you look right now, you see strong, powerful women demanding their rightful place in society. 

But those hard-earned rights could be stripped away again when the UK leaves the European Union in March 2019, according to a new report. 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has warned that Brexit could represent a significant step back in terms of gender equality in the UK, in its broadest-ever review into women’s rights.

Take action: Sign This Petition to #LevelTheLaw and Empower Girls and Women Around the World

The report, “Pressing for Progress: Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in 2018,” was published Monday and sought to demonstrate the extent to which gender equality affects the various facets of women’s lives. 

“Women’s rights, gender equality, and social norms have been the subject of much national and international debate in recent months,” says the report. 

“In the UK, a series of incidents have called into question the rigid set of assumptions many still have of women and girls and the significant problems they face, such as sexual harassment in schools and in the workplace,” it adds. 

And yet, following the EU referendum in June 2016, “there continues to be significant constitutional uncertainty in the UK,” it adds. 

Read more: Britain Quietly Passes Vital Brexit Amendment That Could Hurt World's Poorest

It warns that, once the UK has officially Brexited, the gender equality protections currently afforded by the EU aren’t necessarily included in UK domestic legislation. Particular areas of concern for the EHRC are employment rights and funding for women’s services.  

For example, right now in Britain, the Equality Act 2010 provides protection against various forms of discrimination, particularly in areas such as work, the provisions of goods and services, and education. 

But the sweeping act isn’t included in the current version of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which was introduced in the UK parliament in July 2017. 

The accompanying White Paper (a government report giving information on an issue) states that “all the protections covered in the Equality Act 2006, the Equality Act 2010 … will continue to apply once the UK has left the EU.” 

But this isn’t included in the bill. That means the provisions included in the act won’t be binding under UK law after Brexit. 

Read more: David Attenborough Literally Wants You to Count Butterflies to Distract From Brexit

The Brexit bill, if passed in its current form, also wouldn’t include the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights that, among other things includes the right to non-discrimination, the rights of children, and the right to fair and just working conditions, according to the report. 

After Brexit, the report also warned, there’s potential to see a loss of funding in key areas for promoting gender equality and preventing violence against children — including the EU Rights Equality and Citizenship Fund.

Wales, for example, currently receives £370 million a year from the EU to invest in programmes such as the 2012-2015 “Women Adding Value to the Economy” project, which helped tackle the underlying causes of the gender pay gap.

The report didn’t only talk about Brexit, however. 

Read more: Jeremy Hunt Replaces Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. Here's What That Means.

It also highlighted and commended the progress made in the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) since it was last reviewed in 2013, including: 

  • Criminalising forced marriage
  • Introducing the Modern Slavery Act
  • Introducing shared parental leave
  • Bringing in tougher gender pay gap regulations
  • Committing to establish mandatory, age-appropriate relationships and sex education 

But it pointed out that there are several areas where progress on women's rights in the UK is still needed, and said women are being “failed” in many areas of life.

“It is estimated that only 15% of survivors of sexual violence report their experience to the police, and social movements such as #MeToo continue to shine a spotlight on areas where women are being failed,” said ECHR chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath. 

Inequality still exists in the workplace, in politics, in the legal sphere, in the leadership of public and private organisations, and the violence women face in the domestic and public sphere, reported the Guardian.

Read more: These Female Parkour Players Are Breaking Barriers — and Jumping Over Them — in Egypt

More members of parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons than ever before are female — but its still just 32%. What’s more, just 4% of MPs are ethnic minority women. 

The report also highlights the particular vulnerability of immigrant women, and expresses that “serious concerns about the detention of pregnant women and survivors of sexual abuse, rape, and other forms of violence remain largely unaddressed.” 

“The priority must now be ensuring that women and girls of all ages can enjoy their basic right to feel safe in their everyday lives,” Hilsenrath continued.

“Our recommendations are intended to improve the lives of women and girls and to protect their fundamental rights,” she added. 

Read more: The Heartbreaking Reason 20 Women in India Die Every Day

A number of recommendations for the government are laid out in the report. These include:

  • To ensure “there is no regression in the respect, protection, and fulfilment of human rights” following Brexit.
  • To ensure the loss of EU funding “does not undermine the UK’s equality and human rights infrastructure , including the already scarce funding available to specialist services, such as those that support women survivors of violence and domestic abuse.” 
  • To better support survivors of domestic violence, and take steps to improve the reporting and recording of domestic violence and abuse.
  • To increase the prosecution and conviction rates for violent crimes against women and girls. 
  • To ensure that victims receive appropriate support, and that all support services have sufficient and secure funding on a long-term basis, including those that provide specialist services to black and ethnic minority women, women with learning difficulties, and women with complex needs.