Brexit could potentially have catastrophic impacts on women’s rights, as research conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has shown that a large number of organizations fighting to uphold women’s rights are funded from within the EU. Gender is also one of the most legally dense social policy areas within the EU and social policies on issues such as domestic violence and pregnant employee rights are represented in EU laws. The loss of EU funding and legal protection would force marginalized women who rely on such laws and organizations to become increasingly vulnerable. Supporting this, negative impacts of austerity measures are profoundly gendered. Women are predominantly employed within the public sector and are collectively over represented in low paid job roles. Will the UK offer an alternative vision for women’s economic and social rights? This is a question which has alarmingly not been addressed - emphasizing that national fiscal policies have been negotiated in isolation to their impact on the welfare state.
In response to the uncertainties of Brexit, the ‘People’s Vote’ calling for a second referendum has gained momentum, with the ‘People’s Vote’ march attracting an estimated 700, 000 protestors in October. However, the prospect of a second referendum and the impact of its backlash has daunting prospects for marginalized groups. There was an unprecedented rise in hate crimes following the first referendum, and immigrant women, particularly those who were BAME, visibly Muslim women and refugees, were at greatest risk and faced the full force of anti-immigrant rhetoric and violence. Hate crimes, and the fear of hate crimes severely impacts the social mobility of women who are at risk of them. Women who experience multiple oppressions due to the intersections of their identity, such as their race and religion, suffer the most. There are legitimate fears that a second referendum, irrespective of its result, will embolden the far right and lead to another surge in hate crimes in the short term, and a counter-insurgency of far-right nationalist politics in the UK in the long run. Paradoxically, the most vulnerable women in society will pay the price for a ‘People’s Vote’, despite also being the greatest victims of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. European Council President, Donald Tusk described Brexit as a ‘lose-lose’ situation - it is clear that this is especially true for women.
The future of women’s rights in the post-Brexit era remain uncertain, but what we do know is that in all outcomes Brexit demands us to be bold and radical in our demands for greater gender and social justice. This will include a significant restructuring of the current welfare state, and a strong and united stance against fascism and bigotry.