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Brexit’s Impact On Women’s Rights: What Will Change?

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If all goes to plan, Britain will say its final goodbye to Europe on Jan. 31.

It’s been quite a long journey. Fours years of negotiation, three failed withdrawal plans and two general elections. Is this the time for Brexit to actually happen?  The new president of the European Commission, Ursula von Der Leyen, has insisted that the time frame is unrealistic. Experts are also worried that hurried and frenetic negotiations will set up a scenario in which Britain either leaves with no deal in hand or ends up with a bare-bones deal, the shape of which no one quite knows.

Both options, however, are expected to drag down the whole economy and, according to some experts, may end up having a very negative impact on women.

The uncertainty of the situation makes it difficult to assess precisely what impact there will be on women. What type of Brexit will UK face? What kind of trade agreements will UK manage to reach with the EU? It’s all unknown.

However, what is beyond dispute is that trade agreements can have different effects on different groups of men and women based on economic status, caring responsibilities and power.

For example, the economic impact of no-deal Brexit will lead to a downward spiral for the UK economy. And it is in these situations, when money is tight, that women – particularly ethnic minority women – suffer the most. Why? Because women are overrepresented in specific sectors at risk of being impacted by an economic downturn.

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the UK Women’s Budget Group, and co-author of the research Exploring the Economic Impact of Brexit on Women (March 2018) said to the New York Times: “Women and men are differently situated in the economy. Women are particularly vulnerable to changes in trading arrangements, whether it’s greater liberalization or more restrictions on trade, because it’s harder for women to take advantage of new opportunities and they’re more vulnerable to a negative impact.”

At the moment, a majority of working women across the country are in a part-time or with a temporary contract, and when the economy faces transactions those jobs tend to be the first to go. Moreover, Dr Stephenson’s study found that in the event of the UK economy taking a hard hit, job losses in the clothing and textiles areas (the one on trade with the EU) would be inevitable. This is a sector highly represented by women.

Also at stake, women rights all around. The EU protects rights such as equal pay, maternity leave and safe workplace. Many of the laws enforced in the country come from the European Union and its legislation.

As part of the Union, Britain has been compelled to implement those directives into its domestic law. But the question now is: what happens to this set of laws once Britain leaves the EU?

Previously, Theresa May included in her withdrawal agreement(s) the proposal to maintain those protections for women even after Brexit. But now, Boris Johnson never actually expressed his opinion on the issue. It seems very unlikely that the UK would turn its back to gender equality but, once again, the future is uncertain. But this is not the time to gamble with women’s rights.

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