The Feminist Case for Staying in the European Union

Rachel May discusses why she is voting Remain in the EU Referendum and how this could help the feminist cause.

Faced with the upcoming referendum on European Union membership, in January, the Stronger In campaign launched ‘Women IN’, a campaign network of women from diverse backgrounds. Boasting an impressive roster of women from the finance industry, Stronger In have formed a network – including businesswomen, scientists, trade union officials, and health professionals – who largely believe in the strong economic case for staying in the European Union. But as Priti Patel’s recent rhetoric seeks to remind us, in misguided evocations of Suffragette history, there’s an ‘undecided woman voter’ monolith ready to be persuaded. Caroline Lucas has pointed out, the debate is being dominated by men. So, is there a feminist case for Britain to vote Remain on 23rd June?

The European Union enables a self-assessment, and obliges our governments to consider the protection of those most vulnerable in our society. It is thanks to progressive action in the European Union that the United Kingdom adopted equal pay into their law. The progress made in UK equality legislation has European Union values at its heart: EU law entrenches that all member states must commit to fight discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. These values protect those who need protecting. These are feminist values. If we leave the European Union, we will have an insufficient safeguard to protect our workers’, women’s, and human rights.

The European Union takes steps to end violence against women and girls internationally. The combined power of a union gives Britons a better scope to help combat violent misogyny across the world. The European Union uses combined resources to work with the United Nations, and has been vital to the peacetime enjoyed by people of all genders across Europe since its inception. Bound by UN obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, an official EU statement affirmed that ‘the EU and its Member States remain committed to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of all human rights for all’.

The European Union works on research into LGBTQIA lived experiences: a vital (and feminist) step towards mainstreaming the discourse and giving voice to those persecuted on the basis of gender and sexuality. This is not to say that the European Union are above criticism, and of course, more needs to be done. In April of last year, the Parliamentary Assembly of Europe offered a statement in which it stated that it ‘regrets that transgender people face widespread discrimination in Europe’. It is through facing up to injustice that we, and our collective governments, can begin to progress; research alone is not sufficient, but it is a start.

The European Union represents its member states in condemning specific incidents of gendered violence, amplifying the moral objection through union. Working towards a future without war and gendered violence is a common aim of both the United Kingdom and the European Union. Together we condemn brutality committed against women, trans and non-binary folk, in our own backyard and elsewhere.

Rachel May EU

I am voting Remain on 23d June because of the principles which hold together the European Union. That is not to say that the European Union has a flawless track record on women’s rights. I would like to see the Union address reproductive rights, yet the European Women’s Lobby seem to be busy enacting an unwanted  and ill-informed abolitionist stance on sex work. We need the European Women’s Lobby, and the EU, to take a clear stance on abortion to protect the rights of women across Europe, especially in this time of uncertainty around reproductive rights in member states. But the European Union continually seeks progress.

Britain needs the European Union to collaborate in the fight against injustices, both at home and abroad. As Vĕra Jourová states in 2015’s EU report on equality, ‘[g]ender equality is a moving target’: the rate of progress is slow, yet the European Union is, at heart, committed to bettering conditions for citizens across the world. In campaigning and voting to stay in the European Union, I am putting my trust in the Union to deliver protection for those who need it: in Britain, in Europe, and internationally.

Image by Rachel May

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