Why we need to make the Brexit vote work for women

Sophie Walker
Women were included late in the Brexit debate (Source: Getty)

Imagine voting with a sense of hope that you can make your life and country better. Imagine voting - and then being told that you were wrong and that you don't count.

Many people on either side of the Brexit vote are feeling that way now, but many women have been that way after every election for years.

We've been voting in the hope of equal pay, affordable childcare and a fair say in how the country is run. We've been voting for the chance to have an equal education and the right to walk home at night without feeling scared.

But no-one’s been listening.

Right now, women earn just 39 percent of the wages in the United Kingdom and make just 34 percent of pension contributions. Two-thirds of Britain’s poorest are women, and I don’t see anything in post-referendum political attitudes to suggest any of the other parties will tackle these inequalities any time soon.

White, middle-class men shouting at each other

Throughout the EU referendum campaign, the Women's Equality Party (WE) and a host of other groups called for politicians to look more closely at the impact of Brexit on women’s lives.

But the campaign continued along the same old lines: white, middle-class men shouting at each other.

Read more: EU referendum: Both campaigns have let women down

In England, female politicians were invited to join debates only in the final weeks, around the same time that female voters were consulted on safety and healthcare - the issues deemed appropriate for our gender.

As a result we now find ourselves in a situation where nobody knows what impact the decision to leave will have on important workplace legislation that came about as a result of our EU membership and affects women deeply - rights on equal pay, maternity leave, pregnancy protection and freedom from sexual harassment.

None of this legislation is perfect - one WE member who had voted leave told me she did so because she didn’t see the point of the EU if it couldn’t address Britain’s 20 percent pay gap - but it does form a basic template to build upon.

Many women, myself included, are now concerned that a complacent and self-interested political establishment will strip back our rights under the guise of cutting back red tape.

Investing in the male economy

The raft of Brexit plans unveiled in recent days by politicians vying to hold on to power has not been reassuring. They read like Old-School Politics 101: cut corporation tax, invest in infrastructure and construction (men’s jobs), push for as many trade deals as possible and cut immigration.

No mention of the impact of tariff deals on money for vital public services upon which women disproportionately rely, no mention of issues like the gendered violence against women that prompts so many female migrants to seek safety in our cities.

Read more: Women must have a crucial role in saving the high street

Building a new Brexit Britain should be a chance to do things differently. Decisions about trade and the economy and our society demand an understanding of the experiences of the whole population.

Our budget should focus on reducing inequalities, rather than increasing them. It should invest in childcare so that women can participate in the workplace and men can participate in their families. Just a 10 percent increase in the proportion of mothers working could raise £1.5 billion in increased tax revenue and reduced in-work benefits.

And now there’s a political party that will make it happen. WE understand the opportunity there is right now to do politics differently so that everyone can flourish.

All of this can happen - it’s just going to be a matter of political will.

Brexit Britain: What you need to know

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