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Women of Britain – it’s time to make sure our voices are heard

Young women campaigning against Brexit. Photograph: Ik Aldama/PA/DPA. - Credit: DPA/PA Images

80% of young women did not vote for Brexit. Ahead of the ‘Women Against Brexit’ event in London on Sunday, NINA DE AYALA PARKER explains what is at stake.

Women, especially young women, listen up – of the 18-24 year-olds who voted in the EU referendum, eight out of ten of us voted to Remain. Landslide. Putin or Mugabe would envy such a level of support. There were no guards outside the voting booth, no threats made to us or our families, so just why did we vote en masse against Brexit? The answer is simple: Brexit, in the words of Robert Guerrina, the Head of Politics at the University of Surrey, ‘poses the greatest modern-day threat to women’s rights and gender equality policies in the UK.’

Here we are, celebrating the centenary of female suffrage – if we get a chance to vote on the final deal, we owe it to the memory of the suffragettes too, to use it. And we owe it to ourselves to fight to get that vote and reverse the catastrophic path we are on.

Shared-parental leave, equal pay, anti-discrimination laws, special funding for women-led projects and protection against harassment and human trafficking are all enshrined in EU law. And now they’re all at risk of being diluted thanks to the EU Withdrawal Bill. It will be harder for female EU citizens to claim ‘settled status’ because they are less likely to be in full time work.

Anti-Brexit campaigner Nina de Ayala Parker (Photograph: Nina de Ayala Parker) – Credit: Nina de Ayala Parker

A project driven by Jacob Rees-Mogg, who, if he could, would have the state prevent women from choosing whether or not they should have an abortion, and Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage – two men famed for their respect for women, is not a project women look forward to. Brexit is a male project. Sure, Theresa May, a woman, is Prime Minister. But she did not vote for Brexit and she is not pursuing it because she believes in it, but because the Rees-Moggs and Johnsons are making her, and making sure she understands, one false move and she gets thrown overboard.

One issue that gets me womanning the barricades is human rights. Cue airy dismissal of the snowflake generation from the Brextremists who claim to be taking back control but who risk losing hard-won rights, especially for women. ‘Brexit poses the greatest modern-day threat to women’s rights and gender equality policies in the UK’, Professor Roberta Guerrina, Head of Politics at the University of Surrey reports in a recent gender study. Such findings are further confirmed by reports from the Women’s Budget Group and Fawcett Society.

It will also be harder for female EU citizens to claim, ‘settled status’ (the government’s bandage to the inevitable trauma for EU citizen’s rights in the UK once we leave) if they are not in full-time work. This is because mothers and grandmothers are less likely to be classed as ‘skilled workers’ if their main reason for being here is linked to family, care and household. This particular group is majorly exposed from a human rights perspective, to the threat of being deported, despite a partner’s legal right to stay.

The majority of part-time, agency and casual workers are women, not least because of childcare duties. Employment law in the UK is predominantly made of EU law, much of which safeguards part-timer workers’ rights. Does anyone seriously believe that the men driving Brexit, Johnson and Gove, Rees-Mogg and Farage, have that as a priority for their post-Brexit Britain?

‘Equality’ between women and men is one of the EU’s founding values. In fact, the principle of ‘equal pay’ was in the Treaty of Rome of 1957! Do we have an equivalent in the UK? No. Furthermore, fewer than 4,000 out of 9,000 employers have published their gender pay gap so far.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, soon to be obsolete, further enshrines ‘equality’ in Article 23: ‘Equality between women and men must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay’. Period.

The progress on equality is at risk. Gender issues are at the back of a long Brexit queue. If we don’t fight for them, we lose, and we lose fast.

Let’s admit it, if Brexit were a gender it would be a male. A Boris/Rees-Mogg hybrid, with Nigel Farage’s teeth and a Jeremy Corbyn ‘my way or the highway’ demeanour. Although we do have an ounce of hope with Jezza – seeing as he is the most ‘human’ dare I say it. Perhaps he will eventually accept that his years of Eurosceptism (which thousands of us had NO CLUE about when we elected him) has lost its momentum (pun intended).

There are some great women doing amazing things from Nimco Ali’s continuing fight against Female Genital Mutilation; to the ‘Pink Protest’ – a young female collective currently on a mission to end period poverty in the U.K.

We need our whole generation of women to understand the importance of the support framework we have built up over the last 40 years.

And don’t even get me started on what Brexit means for transgender and underrepresented minority groups in this country. Let’s rewind to 14th June 2016, when LGBT activist Charlie Craggs warned that Britain choosing to leave the EU could lead to ‘marginalized communities finding themselves in worse situations’. Unfortunately, Cragg’s premonition has become reality. Vile, and vicious, hate crime fuelled by nationalism has descended upon the country.

One story stood out and made me shiver to the core. A Polish woman, pregnant, was kicked so hard in the stomach. She lost her twins. The attack was unprovoked, the women was simply speaking Polish.

So this is even before Brexit has happened, and it has changed this country for the worse. Remember Jo Cox. We cannot just drift into the decline and the nastiness that has already begun. Brexit is not just about the economics, grim enough though they are. It is about women’s rights; gender and transgender rights, minority rights and safety. They are at risk. The Brexit path being taken is very male, very right wing, deeply un-progressive, extremely unrepresentative. If we do not fight for these rights, we will lose them.

This movement is about our sisterhood, within the country, with our fellow EU citizens and across Europe, and the world. It’s about maturity and responsibility and not the braying of immature Brexiteer men. To quote Jess Phillips in her new book, I ‘am writing this as a call to arms to activism after all’, for women to unite in securing a brighter future for the UK. All genders must unite.

For my part, I have chosen to fight by becoming active in OFOC! – a youth movement, set up by a human rights advocate, led by young activists, seeking to secure a brighter future, one which continues to uphold human rights at the forefront of debate. OFOC! Stands for Our Future, Our Choice. We have to fight for both.

• Nina will be campaigning with Our Future Our Choice, Women 4 Europe, Best For Britain and Britain for Europe at the ‘Women Against Brexit’ event on Sunday May 13th in London. Meet the campaigners from 1.30pm outside Europe House – all genders are welcome.

MORE: Find out about more anti-Brexit events being held across the UK here on The New European website

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