- 2020 National Women's Conference
- 24 October 2019
Women in Northern Ireland are greatly under-represented in public and political life. This was clearly evident in the lead up to the Brexit referendum and remains a worrying issue in the current Brexit negotiations. Under-representation in political negotiations and decision-making, alongside several other areas lacking in gender parity such as access to education, training, work, affordable childcare and more, highlight the profoundly negative impact Brexit is set to have on women in Northern Ireland. This is compounded with the political instability creating several barriers to women having their voices heard. Many areas of women�s human rights have yet to be achieved, and Brexit has added a new threat to existing, hard-fought rights women currently have. Northern Ireland faces unique constitutional complexities meaning Brexit presents a unique threat to this region. Many of the rights we enjoy today have come through membership of the EU over the past four decades; particularly in areas of economic activity and employment law. For women, there are great concerns that Brexit will erode many of these protections. Some of these protections include: – Equality between men and women – The right to equal pay for equal work – Protection against discrimination on the ground of pregnancy and maternity – Introducing measures to provide specific advantages to the under- represented gender- Prohibition of discriminations on the grounds of sex- Introduction of paid holidaysFurthermore, the EU recognises the need for wide-spread structural change to deal with systematic gender discrimination through their commitment to Gender Mainstreaming and the Gender Recast Directive 2006. Other areas of EU legislation, representation and funding that are relevant to the protection and enhancement of women�s rights and participation include the European Protection order, which is significant in recognising women�s rights as they cross the border; the Rural Development Programme, which NIRWN highlight as significant given historic government underinvestment in rural women; the European Social Fund, which is important to increasing women�s access to the workforce; the European Parliamentary Committee on Women�s Rights and Gender Equality, alongside various EU funding streams that support the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland. It is deeply concerning that limited guarantees have been made to protect, or enhance, the rights mentioned above post-Brexit and are dependent upon a deal being agreed on all sides that includes a �backstop�. However, the UK Government has already taken steps to remove the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which contains numerous specific rights relevant to women; future case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) will no longer be binding in UK courts post-Brexit; and the Human Rights Act 1998 remains under threat of repeal from the Tories.There have been worrying misinterpretations of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement by the current Prime Minister. With Northern Ireland still the crux of disagreements on how the UK should leave the UK, and ongoing political instability growing as a concern, it is essential to point out the importance of avoiding a divergence of rights on either side of the border. For example, areas of protections such as violence against women, or child maintenance payments, rely on EU wide measures to ensure the legal systems on the island of Ireland are co-ordinated to protect vulnerable people through the criminal justice and family law systems. This is essential to ensure that people cannot avoid the repercussions of violence against women, or refusing to pay child maintenance, by simply crossing the border. All aspects of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement need to be protected and implemented; including a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland where specific focus can be given to the rights of women.It is evident that women in Northern Ireland are in line to face the brunt of the impact of Brexit. The UK Women�s Budget Group maintains that women will be adversely impacted by the economic impacts of Brexit. This can only get worse for the women of Northern Ireland, who have greatly suffered from the past decade of austerity and are deeply concerned about the impact of welfare reform and future austerity on gender equality. The economic consequences of Brexit are set to have disproportionately negative impacts on rural women, disabled women, LGBTQ+ women, women of colour, women living on the border, migrant women and more as they lose many human rights protections and funding streams supporting their participation and empowerment. Women in Northern Ireland are already facing great barriers due to political instability, an arguably failed peace process, a collapsed Assembly, the lack of implementation of the UNSCR 1325, an outdated Northern Ireland Gender Strategy, unprecedented levels of poverty and having limited representation in Brexit negotiations. With all the hard fought women�s rights protections won at an EU level now at risk, and many human rights still failing to have been implemented at all, there are many reasons to be deeply concerned about the impact of Brexit on the women on Northern Ireland. We therefore call on the National Women�s Committee to:1)Continue to campaign for the protection of the particular circumstances that women in Northern Ireland are facing as a result of Brexit. This should include calling for greater recognition and participation of women within the Brexit process; and ensuring that women�s rights are protected and enhanced, rather than being eroded, by Brexit.