20 JULY 2016

Today we come together with women’s organisations and allies to launch our new Face Her Future campaign, which is about the future we want for the women and girls in our lives. This is a forward looking campaign that is neither leave nor remain. It is simply now and tomorrow.

The decision to leave the European Union was met with mixed emotions and arguably says as much about the disaffection many people feel with the political process, and how much they desire change as it does about the EU itself. The desire among leave voters for more control over their lives, more of a say on political issues has repeatedly come through. We can choose to respond negatively, to resist the decision or we can choose to positively engage with it and help to shape what comes. I always prefer the positive.

So, here at Fawcett we wanted to bring women’s organisations and allies together to create that positive next step. What future do we want for women and for gender equality in a post-Brexit world? And what role will women play in shaping that? There are some genuine anxieties about what might be weakened through the Brexit process, perhaps ‘under cover’ of Brexit, if not directly as a result of it and I set some of those out below. But the best way to defend the women’s rights we have is to inspire a positive vision about the society we want to be. For me it’s simple. I want Britain to be the best place to be a woman. So what does that mean? Eradicating the gender pay gap, making it history. Women and men sharing care. Ending violence against women and girls. More women into positions of power and 50:50 representation. Boys and girls free from gender norms and stereotypes. Utopian dream or achievable goals?

As a first step our campaign has set out a number of things we need to have in place. The first thing we need is a guarantee that there will be no weakening of women’s rights either directly or indirectly as a result of the Brexit process. We have to move forward not turn the clock back. The rights of part-time workers (75% of whom are women), pregnant women at work, the entitlement to equal pay for work of equal value are all red lines that must not be crossed. The risk lies in possible diluting of these rights (eg. exempting small or micro businesses, capping employment tribunal awards, treating part-time employees differently from full-time workers, removing the entitlement to 90% of earnings for first 6 weeks of maternity leave) rather than reversing them. There are particular groups who are most disadvantaged. Disabled women, those on low incomes, BAME women. The impact on them could be greater still.

We are calling for women to be involved in the Brexit negotiations, both at political and official level. It would be good to see the new Women and Equalities Minister, Justine Greening part of the negotiating team for example. At the moment apart from the PM herself we have David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

We also need to see a gender impact assessment of major spending decisions, something government should be doing anyway. We know that there is a risk of recession and we know that women could be hardest hit. We need to treat ending violence against women and girls as a strategic priority. The PM’s record as Home Secretary is encouraging here. And we must regard the increase in racist incidents, particularly the attacks that Muslim women are experiencing as an attack on who we are and who we want to be. Reassuring migrant workers already here that they will be allowed to stay is part of that healing process. Many are women working in sectors such as health and social care on which women disproportionately rely.

The prize is to make Britain the best place to be a woman. The first step is to all agree that this is about a forwards looking agenda. At Fawcett, we will work constructively with the Government to make it work for women.

Join the campaign at www.faceherfuture.co.uk.

Sam Smethers, CE of FawcettABOUT AUTHOR 

Sam Smethers is the Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society.