British women have gained enormously since the United Kingdom joined what is now the European Union in 1973. Gender equality has always been a core objective of the EU and continues to be so. We are still a long way from this being fully realised, but our membership of the union has already resulted in significant improvements in pay equality, parental leave, care for pregnant women and new mothers, childcare, social welfare, protection from discrimination, access to justice and ending violence against women and girls. We should take the very best of what the EU has accorded us and remind ourselves that these values are and always have also been our own.
€100 million has already been allocated to measures which will improve the rights of women and girls. In 2012, 28 % of the EU’s aid included gender equality and women’s empowerment as a principle or significant objective. If the UK leaves the EU, this funding will no longer be accessible.
I have faith in everyone in Britain to be creative and to put our energies into the future. However, at this worrying point in time, we must also look at how we are going to secure the lives of women to benefit from equal opportunities and to be free from violence and discrimination. The EU recognises the specific everyday realities that women deal with. We are more likely to work part-time or flexibly. We are more likely than men to live in poverty and we are much more likely to face sexism, to deal with sexual violence, or to be trafficked into the sex trade.
But the risks facing women are more complex. Tell MAMA, which measures anti-Muslim attacks, has just issued the report on which murdered MP Jo Cox was collaborating. Attacks committed against Muslim women in public areas of the UK rose by 326% in 2015. Being a woman and from a minority community means you will face discrimination on both counts.
Events in the world show us that particularly in times of great upheaval - often when they are most needed - human rights take a back seat.
Events in the world show us that particularly in times of great upheaval - often when they are most needed - human rights take a back seat. Whether the UK is inside or outside the EU, there is something very urgent that the government can commit to doing. To underscore its strong commitment to ending violence and discrimination against women, it must ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women. This was partially shaped - and signed - by the UK. With so much now in jeopardy for women in the UK, this would at least be a firm commitment to indicate that the rights, safety and well-being of British women will not become part of any Brexit collateral damage.