Women's advocacy group lament "uncertainty" of women's rights post Brexit

In evidence to scottish parliamentary committee charity lays out case for mainstreaming of gender issues in Scotland

SCOTTISH FEMINIST group Engender has expressed concern over the security of women's rights as the UK prepares to exit the European Union (EU) and take Scotland with it.

The group also mentioned the need for women's voices in Scotland to be included at the centre of the process of negotiations over Brexit as they gave evidence to the European and external relations committee.

Although it commended the EU institutions and some Scottish Government actions it maintained that more needed to be done to entrench issues such a pay equality, violence against women and the disproportionate impact of austerity on women, in the public mind.

"This is highly relevant to the current political context. Equality is often side-lined during times of crisis and upheaval, with the understanding that economy or security can be considered without a gendered approach." Jill Wood

Jill Wood, policy manager for Engender, said: "Gender inequality is perpetuated when it is made invisible in political and public life. Gender mainstreaming is an internationally-used mechanism for bringing gender equality to the heart of decision-making and political thinking, with the explicit aim of reducing inequality and harm to women. 

"Mainstreaming approaches are employed to counteract ingrained institutional sexism by bringing gender issues to the surface, and providing imperatives for proactivity on women’s equality.

"This is highly relevant to the current political context. Equality is often side-lined during times of crisis and upheaval, with the understanding that economy or security can be considered without a gendered approach.

"This overlooks, of course, the fact that inequality is integrally linked to such matters and is likely to be exacerbated yet further at times of instability.

"As an example, the failure to gender the response to the ‘crisis’ of the UK deficit has seen 86 per cent of cuts to social security spending come from women’s pockets. 

"As the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament develop thinking and plans related to Brexit, they must make sure that gender and  other equality concerns are embedded from the outset."

Women make up 75 per cent part time workers in the UK, and 55 per cent of temporary workers, despite representing 48 per cent of the workforce overall.

Engender stated their belief that being in the EU guaranteed protections and rights for women that are under threat from policy proposals from the UK Government.

The scrapping of the Human Rights Act (HRA), and the reaction of women's organisations in Scotland was described as vital, along with a range of directives which secured maternity rights, sex discrimination and positive action in the workplace.

The group additionally pressed the Scottish government to redouble its efforts on representation at all levels of decision making, commenting that there are only five women sitting on the standing council of experts on EU membership convened by the First Minister, from a total of 18 members.

Wood explained the groups position on this and said, that: "Balance on decision-making and policy-influencing bodies does not guarantee robust gender analysis or positive outcomes for women, but evidence is clear that equal representation for women is an essential component of progress."

There are only five women sitting on the standing council of experts on EU membership convened by the First Minister, from a total of 18 members.

Past UK Conservative governments have planned to cut into working or maternity rights in the name of drives to cut red tape. Engender pointed to research by the TUC which demonstrates the benefits for women in EU legislation in areas like part time work and maternity conditions.

Women make up 75 per cent of part time workers in the UK, and 55 per cent of temporary workers, despite representing 48 per cent of the workforce overall. The EU Part-Time Worker Directive in 2000 and Fixed-Term Worker Directive of 2002 bolstered women's ability to challenge unfair dismissal.

Although the UK originally had better maternity rights than EU law in terms of weeks of paid maternity leave, Engender testified that paid leave for ante-natal appointments  was part of an extra layer of protection provided by the EU. 

It is estimated by the TUC that 54,000 women lose their jobs each year in the UK in relation to pregnancy and maternity, even with the additional protections from the EU.

Wood said:"Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, it is vital that we do not lose hard-won ground on maternity rights."

Picture courtesy of European Parliament 

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