Europe – why women should vote Leave

Posted On 27 May 2016 at 9:03 pm

Harriet Harman MP recently told women to vote to stay in the EU. She suggested the EU has secured women equal rights and British politicians might undermine them.

In fact, the most significant equal rights legislation was passed before we entered the Common Market and won after hard struggle by our own women’s movement, reforming politicians and trade unions.

From the Sexual Offences Act (1956), the NHS (Family Planning) Act (1967) and the Abortion Act (1967), through to the Equal Pay Act (1970) these were rights won here in the UK.

The strike over equal pay by British female workers at the Ford car factory in Dagenham led directly to the passing of the Equal Pay Act.

Between 1972 and 1974, it was local women who set up Women’s Aid refuges and rape crisis centres to challenge violence against women.

Jean Calder

Jean Calder

British people voted to endorse the decision to join the Common Market in 1975, the same year the Sex Discrimination Act was passed. This followed a campaign by the UK women’s movement, owing nothing to Europe.

Also in 1975, following domestic campaigning, the Employment Protection Act introduced statutory maternity provision and made it illegal to dismiss women due to pregnancy.

This pattern of domestic campaigning has continued. As the EU tightened its grip on British legislation, there was no significant related increase in women’s rights.

The EU failed to protect lesbians from Section 28 and did not end it. Neither has the EU led the domestic fight against forced marriage and FGM (female genital mutilation). The UN leads on violence against women.

Harman claimed there is a “phoney perception” that women’s rights would remain regardless of whether the UK is in the EU, saying: “Why should we trust the likes of Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith or Nigel Farage with our rights as women?”

In fact, there’s no reason to believe that EU politicians would be more likely to protect women’s interests.

The current growth of overtly fascist parties in Europe poses a far greater threat to women’s rights than anything these British politicians could manage.

So too does mass male migration to the continent from countries where sexism and contempt for women is institutionalised and underpinned by ideology and religion. Predictably there has been an increase in sexual violence against females.

Harriet Harman

Harriet Harman

It stuns me that politicians suggest women should look to Europe for protection when so many EU countries are worse than our own at protecting women’s rights.

Only now, are French female politicians beginning to speak out about widespread sexual abuse by male colleagues. In Italy, the era of Berlusconi casts a long shadow.

German politicians have responded to a wave of sexual offences by migrant males by abandoning victims, suppressing information, disrupting criminal investigations and offering ‘sex education’ to males – education which focuses on “western” sexual manners (and encourages the use of pornography), rather than challenging sexism and defending all women’s right to freedom and safety.

The EU’s commitment to free movement of labour has brought huge profits for corporations by actively encouraging immigration of unskilled or semi-skilled workers, most of them non-unionised.

This has driven down the wages of low-paid female workers, increased insecure contracts and undermined the capacity of trade unionists to negotiate better conditions.

Women’s continuing responsibility for child and elder care, as well as their relative poverty, makes them primary users of public services, which are currently under siege.

Women are at the sharp end of deliberate policy decisions aimed at undermining public services and workers’ rights – without regard to the suffering it causes. Current political leaders are failing to defend them.

Women should vote Leave – then gather together to organise. It’s the only way our world will change.

Jean Calder is a campaigner and journalist. For more of her work, click here.

  1. Ian Healey Reply

    Please read this before accepting the one sided perspective of this article with its simplistic immigrant slurs.


    • Mike Reply

      Euro-philes always come up with a reason not to believe that we achieved something here in the UK before Maastricht.

  2. Warren Reply

    Or you could look at the lead person supporting the exit from the EU: Farage is perhaps one of the most anti-women, anti-workers rights politician we have in an elected position in the EU (he’s an MEP).

    If he is so in favour of leaving the EU and so much against workers and women having the protection from discrimination, then it sends a big message to us.

    What will happen if we vote leave is the anti-EU politicians will seize control of the Conservatives – the sort who are basically the same as Farage and UKIP, but chose not to leave the Tories. These people will hold the similar views to women and workers as Farage. How long do you think our equality laws will last under them?

    Better off staying in the EU, where women’s and workers rights are generally protected across the EU from individual countries own politicians from over turning them whenever they want.

    Please vote to remain in the EU.

  3. Warren Reply

    Also, while I think it unlikely the EU would over turn women’s and worker’s rights, if that did happen, it wouldn’t mean we have to follow them. The EU would never bring in laws which meant we had to discriminate against women, so if we as a country disagreed, we’d be able to keep our own, stronger laws for equal rights for women.

    So the only significant risk we have for women’s rights in this country is if we allow those politicians who are anti-women’s right to gain power an have one of their own become PM.

    We will always need to fight this and that fight right now means voting to remain in the EU to temporarily neutralise the likes of IDS, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and the others with similar views from being able to claim victory and try to take power on the back of a leave vote.

    • Chris Reply

      The EU might not bring in laws to discriminate against women but one of the big scare stories is that the legal system could change by virtue of pressure from immigrants. Whether this is feasible is yet another of the unknown factors about this entire mess.

      The Labour (Socialist) party has not been exactly woman friendly either including its present leader.

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