by Jade Smith
Since the time of the suffragettes, women’s rights have been at the forefront of political campaigns and legislative changes. Equality is no longer desirable but a necessity within our society. However, when we leave the European Union, will the rights for women which are currently secured by certain EU directives still be ensured? Within the European Union itself equality is not necessarily a guarantee. Jean-Claude Juncker has preached about equality and harmonisation but actions speak louder than words. Indeed, only 9 of his 28 commissioners are female and within the European Council women were paid on average £12,792 less than men per year. Nevertheless, there are EU Directives that have institutionalised women’s rights, particularly in the work place, and currently the UK surpasses the targets set by these Directives. However, after we leave, theoretically the government could repeal the subsequent UK laws that have been born out of EU Directives, leaving little protection for women’s rights. Of course under only our second female Prime Minister, Theresa May, we hope this will not happen. But there is the possibility that legislation guaranteeing our rights to equal pay, maternity leave and many other rights women in the UK enjoy may be repealed.
In my opinion there are three crucial EU directives that need to be cemented in post-EU UK law. These relate to maternity rights, pay equality, equality in accessing social security and equality in access to other goods and services. The first is enshrined in the treaty of the functions of the European Union.
Our maternity rights exceed those set out in directive 92/85/EEC. The maternity rights of those who are registered as self employed are set out in 2010/41/EU. It gives them an allowance of 14 weeks and allows them to claim benefits from the state (where applicable in the member state). These directives are cemented in British law by the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999, which also gives the additional allowance of 39 weeks paid maternity leave with an optional extra of 13 weeks unpaid. The UK has gone above and beyond the EU on maternity rights but these needs to be kept after we leave, as the consequences of reducing or revoking maternity rights are practically unthinkable.
The directive 2006/54/EC ensures that all member states guarantee equal pay across genders and also prohibits direct and indirect discrimination in relation to pay, as well as discrimination in job application classification systems used to determine pay. It also forces member states to eradicate all discrimination from the laws of their state and ensure that men and women are treated equally with regard to access to different services, employment and training. It also prohibits harassment, sexual harassment, instructions to discriminate in the workplace and less favourable treatment of women because of pregnancy or maternity leave. It also states that women and men must be treated equally in occupational social security schemes. It applies directly to schemes protecting against the risk of sickness, invalidity, old age – including early retirement, industrial accidents, occupational diseases and unemployment and also covers survivors benefits and family allowance. It allows different conditions for different sexes.
The directive 2004/113/EC states that women and men must have fair access to goods and services available to the public in both the private and public sectors. It applies to all people and organisations that make goods or services for public use. It also ensures every EU country has at least one body responsible for promoting the equal treatment of women and men. In the UK this is the Women and Equalities department which is headed up my Justine Greening MP.
In conclusion, it is clear to see that the EU has issues with enforcing gender equality internally. Inside its member states however, it has influenced legislation which is necessary for us to move forwards towards equality. When the government finalises the UK’s exit from the European Union it must not forget that gender equality is a necessity in our society and must not forget the rights of minorities during the hustle and bustle to recreate legislation.
Disclaimer: All views expressed within guest blog posts are strictly the views of the author and do not represent the views of the European Youth Parliament UK, an apolitical organisation.
Jade Smith is studying politics at Leeds Beckett university, is a member of Leeds Central Conservatives, and is the Digital and Social Media Director of Women for Britain. She has a passion for governmental policy surrounding education and young people as well of that affecting the North of England.