What has the EU done for feminism?

Maya Jones takes on Brexit, inequality and the right to complain

Predictably, the usual male faces that dominate the political news are also clouding the EU referendum. Whether it’s speculation over Cameron’s future as prime minister or attacks on Corbyn’s Eurosceptic history, the media implies that men are running this debate. Perhaps, as Caroline Lucas suggests, this is a ‘male dominated discussion’.

Except it is not. At university, I have watched inspiring women tutors and MPs stand up and argue their cases at EU debates whilst, at home, fellow feminists have taken to the Internet with their voices. The media may choose to uphold these men as the stars of this debate but exciting campaigns such as ‘Women In’ show that we are ever-present behind the scenes.

Brexit has the power to affect women most but if you’re not convinced then ask yourself: what has the EU ever done for feminism?

1) Abolished discriminatory laws

Being a member of the EU prohibits a country from holding any gender discriminatory laws: equal pay, paid maternity leave and protection from domestic violence should be available to any EU citizen. If you assume each of these to be a global right then look at San Francisco, which became the first US city to enforce fully paid parental leave in April.

In practice, women are still victims of this discrimination here in the UK but our membership means that individuals can bring a claim against the government if their rights under EU law are infringed. Europe may be far from equality but the way forward is undoubtedly together.

2) The right to complain
As feminists, we know the world thinks we just love to complain. It’s all we do, right? Joking aside, being a member of the EU means that any citizen has the right to complain through a judicial or administrative procedure if they have been sexually discriminated against at work. Moreover, we are given the right to legal aid.

3) Mandatory body to fight gender inequality

Lawfully, every member state of the EU must designate one body for ‘the promotion, analysis, monitoring and support of equal treatment of all persons without discrimination’. This means that each country must have someone whose job it is to fight gender inequality all day, every day.

4) European Convention on Human Rights

Human rights: a feminist issue. Whilst the European Convention of Human Rights is not actually a part of the EU, it is logical to suggest that a Brexit vote would pave the way for the many Conservatives who wish to abandon the ECHR. The alternative to the ECHR, which is that our more conservative parliament hastily creates a new bill of rights, would certainly lack the years of interpretation and cases that form the basis of this convention.

5) Cross-border recognition

Any victim of domestic violence is entitled to the same level of human rights regardless of their nationality or of the whereabouts of the crime (in the EU). Specifically, the cross-border recognition of restraining orders can be a huge safety net for domestic abuse victims, especially on the continent where crossing borders can be a regular or daily occurrence. This recognition sends a message across Europe that domestic violence will not be tolerated.

6) Improvement

Yes, really. The Brexit campaign may be flooding our newsfeeds with ‘facts’ that signify the economic failure of the EU but it is a different story for feminism. This year, the highest employment rate ever for women in the EU was recorded. Whilst 64% is still not an ideal figure, these findings show that the EU is committed to improving the everyday lives of women.

7) Commitment to ending FGM

Female genital mutilation is a complete violation of a woman’s body and often occurs without choice and in painful circumstances. There is an estimate that several thousand women in the EU have been affected by FGM and, together, the EU has proposed to end this practice.



Writing from my safety net of university privilege, some of these reasons may seem personally irrelevant. But for me, being in the EU is about more than just myself and more than just my country. I am committed to the Stronger In campaign because not only do I think it is best for the UK, but also because I think it is best for Europe and the rest of the world. Come Thursday, I will vote remain because a Brexit vote is a step back for gender equality and for women everywhere.

Illustration by Nina Klaff







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