Brexit has been dominating the headlines for the past two years, with the last few months in particular gifting us with depressing headline after depressing headline. However, that does not mean we should become complacent about the very real impact Brexit will have on our lives when it happens, especially when it comes to already vulnerable demographics. Members of British society will be impacted differently according to socio-economic status, class, caring duties, political power and a number of other, currently underrepresented identities. Including, of course, women.
Shockingly, there has been no official government assessment – looking at you David Davis – of the gendered impact of Brexit, although they managed to find time to (unsuccessfully) stage a rather pointless lorry ‘trial run’ in the case of a no deal, and to celebrate the ‘return’ of the blue passport, despite the fact that the burgundy colour was never mandatory. So what happens to women (and other marginalised groups) in the looming post-Brexit future?
Economists predict an overall economic slump, with the severity depending on the nature of our exit. However, it has also been noted that women will be hit hardest, particularly those who work in the garment and textile industries. This is due to such industries, which predominantly employ women, being vulnerable to trade barriers or unfavourable tariffs. Additionally, likely cuts to the public sector in case of a decline in GDP, which again, is dominated by female employees, will result in reduced income or job loss for women. The NHS is one critical example of this, with the already severe shortage of (again, mostly female) nurses predicted to worsen as uncertainties over the migration system drive European nurses away.
The cost of food and living is also highly likely to rise, which will impact the poorest families and single parent families, 90% of which have women as the head of the house. The UK’s poorest women and girls already suffer from unaddressed gendered costs, such as period poverty, and a dip in income, no matter how minor, can force some to have to make a choice between tampons and food.
Dependency on foodbanks will increase as well as malnutrition levels, which will have long term impacts on our healthcare system and overall health. Furthermore, EU regulations over workspace rights – not to mention the Equal Pay Act – will no longer apply to the UK, meaning rights such as flexible working hours, part time work and parental leave will need new regulations. The quantity and quality of available work is currently up in the air. Although this won’t necessarily adversely impact women, it is important to note that many working women rely on part time/flexible schedules, especially those who also have caring duties.
None of this has been addressed by the government, and the actual negotiation of Brexit has been predominantly male dominated, with little effort to accommodate concerns of vulnerable groups, single mothers, women of colour – or indeed, people of colour – those with disabilities, and other marginalised groups. According to Women4Europe, men have taken up 75% of TV coverage and 85% of press coverage for Brexit-related news. Women stand to lose a set of important rights and protections, yet the lack of their voice – Theresa May aside – is deafening. The UK has yet to ratify the Istanbul Convention, which commits countries to invest in eradicating violence against women and girls. The UK will also lose crucial EU investment through the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIFs) and the European Social Fund that are funnelled towards victims of domestic violence, women and minority groups and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups.
Whilst everyone will be affected by Brexit in some way or the other, the lack of consideration of gender risks negating the very urgent, very real needs of women in the post-Brexit future. The lack of public awareness and government acknowledgement of this is alarming. The voices dominating the Brexit headlines are almost all male, with the exception of Theresa May and Amber Rudd, and therefore key decisions are being made without the consultation of those who will be most adversely impacted. This is nothing new in the history of historic political decisions, but I would have hoped that by 2019 the glaringly obvious hyper-masculinity currently dominating the Brexit process would have been swiftly challenged and forced to take a seat. Instead, women have continued to be marginalised, and as the clock ticks down to an increasingly arbitrary exit date, women’s rights continue to lie silently on the chopping block.