The decision for Britain to stay or leave the European Union, also known as Brexit, is a constant debate between the nation’s two major political parties. Working-class members of the Conservative Party praise Brexit due to its strict limitation of immigration–if Britain is no longer part of the EU, it will become much harder to travel to and from European nations. More progressive citizens criticize Brexit for its economic impact, reducing trade and Britain’s potential to export goods. However, no matter which side British politicians or citizens fall on in the nation-wide debate, they are ignoring one major implication: how Brexit will impact women.
Many of the protections afforded to women under EU law are simply non-existent in the UK. This includes treaties and directives intended to prevent sex trafficking, violence against women, and other forms of gendered abuse, as well as legal protections for employment and maternity rights. Britain has yet to provide alternatives for these essential EU regulations.
One example is the EU Trafficking Directive. Seventy percent of human trafficking victims are women, and after Brexit, British women will be especially vulnerable to traffickers. The Trafficking Directive requires thorough trafficking prevention measures for every nation in the European Union, and if Britain is the only nation without these same protections, it could become a hot-spot for modern-day sex slavery.
The development of borders between Britain and other European nations will also make it more difficult for victims of domestic violence and stalking to get away from their abusers. The EU is responsible for regulating restraining orders; this means that a restraining order issued in one EU nation applies to every country in the EU.
These are just a couple of ways in which women will suffer after Britain leaves the EU. There are many more legal disadvantages women will face post-Brexit. Poor women, disabled women, and women of color who benefit the most from EU law will become the most vulnerable after the withdrawal. As stated by one woman in parliament, “It is the most disadvantaged women who are most at risk from Brexit. But will they be the ones the UK negotiating team are thinking about? I doubt it.”