As the fallout from the EU Referendum continues, Women’s Aid Northern Ireland wishes to express its concern about the impact of the Brexit on women.
In the first instance we are extremely concerned about the increased reporting of racism and discrimination against women following the last week’s referendum result. We consider such attacks to be a fundamental breach of human rights and equality legislation, and we believe that such acts of violence have no place in our society; we condemn all such discrimination in the strongest possible terms.
Of equal concern is the risk that women now face as we exit from the European Union. As part of the EU, the UK and Northern Ireland have been supported financially and via policy/legislation to address violence against women. We have benefited from laws to protect families and legislation designed to protect part-time workers (the majority of whom are women). We have also been supported by a range of specific policies and legislation designed to address domestic and sexual violence. The potential risk to these frameworks posed by Brexit is extremely worrying and our concern is that the good work done during our membership will be undermined.
Being part of the EU afforded women and children protection against violence, encouraging and underpinning change within member states and placing the abuse of women and girls firmly in the context of human rights and the fundamental principle of gender equality. In terms of specific measures, policy and law in the UK and Northern Ireland have been shaped by the European Protection Order, the European Victims’ Rights Directive, and the Lisbon Treaty. All of these directives and policy documents outline measures that protect and support victims of violence. The EU also funded European-wide networks, such as the European Women’s Lobby and Women against Violence Europe (WAVE), of which Women’s Aid Northern Ireland is a member.
Our concern now is to ensure we do not lose sight of these frameworks in the chaos and political instability following Brexit. Within the UK, the work undertaken as part of Europe has helped to progress our work to support women and children, and we hope that it will continue to do so as we move forward. Alongside policies, we are extremely concerned about the funding implications of Brexit given the potential loss of EU funding, particularly here in Northern Ireland, increasing the risk to services that are already under threat via the austerity agenda. As such we call upon the Assembly to recognise this and to work with us to protect women and children.
Whilst it remains to be seen how the UK’s exit from the EU will impact on support services in Northern Ireland, we are acutely aware of the threat that a reduction in funding and a repeal of European protections could pose for women and children. We are extremely concerned about how the results of the referendum will shape future policy on domestic violence and the advancement of women’s rights in Northern Ireland and the UK.
Whilst for now we are just at the beginning of understanding the implications of “Brexit” and what it means for women, we would condemn any move to undo the good work that has been done. We would therefore call upon the UK government and the Northern Ireland Assembly to continue and develop their commitment to addressing violence against women and to uphold women’s human rights and the gender equality framework. We would also ask that the work undertaken during our membership of Europe is allowed to continue to inform and support future legislation and policy.
We know that financial insecurity, recession, and austerity affect women first and most viciously and, at this turning point in the UK and Northern Ireland’s history, there is cause for concern. We must strengthen our resolve, working together with government, our partners, our supporters, and the women we work with and for to ensure that women’s voices are not lost in translation.