“Brexit” Threatens the Rights of Women and Minorities

By Alexandra DeMatos

Communications Intern – Summer 2016

People from around the world watched as the United Kingdom experienced its most momentous week in decades. After a nerve-wracking referendum vote, Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU) by a very slim margin – 51.9 percent by 48.1 percent. London residents voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. This vote meant much more to the people of Britain than a typical election because voting to leave the European Union is something that no country has ever done. To add more fuel to the fire, not only did Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron resign and international markets took a harsh blow, but also both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union, which many fear will lead to an even more historic event – the fall of Great Britain. These are the concerns that are currently dominating international media, leaving many other extremely important issues, such as the rights of women, minorities and refugees, swept under the rug.

The European Union began after World War II in order to increase security between its members states both economically and politically. The EU consists of 28 members with many more eager to join and it holds a great amount of influence over Europe. Many rights for women and minorities, which were brought to Britain through the EU, were not up for debate during the referendum period.

Feminist Caroline Criado-Perez compiled a list of rights given to women in England through the joining of the EU, “EU referendum: For any woman who values workplace equality, there’s only one way to vote,” including: equal pay for work of equal value, paid maternity leave, making it illegal to dismiss women due to pregnancy and ending the practice of “treating part-time workers as less valuable than full-time workers.” These were all rights that were NOT enforced in England until the intervention of the EU. The worry is now that by leaving the EU, there is no saying what will happen to these advancements and rights of women.

Here’s an example; in 1970 the United Kingdom passed the Equal Pay Act, which was supposed to be a leap towards ending wage discrimination. The issue however, was that it only guaranteed equal pay for women who were doing the exact same work as a man. The intervention of the European Commission in 1982 forced the United Kingdom to comply with Article 119 of The Treaty of Romeequal pay for work of equal value. Criado-Perez compared male street cleaners and women who clean offices as an example of equal pay for equal work. Now the fate of this important policy is unknown.

As for the rights of minorities and refugees, the EU, under the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), says that refugees are guaranteed protection: “Under CEAS, international protection is granted to those migrants who qualify as refugees due to a well-founded fear of persecution. Subsidiary protection status is granted to those who would face a real risk of suffering serious harm if returned to his/her country of origin.” According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, just about half of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees are women – 25.6 percent of whom are extremely young, ranging from infants to 17 years old and 24.2 percent are aged 18 to over 60. Since 1993 a majority of migrants to the United Kingdom have been women, most of which were attempting to escape terrible, often violent conditions from their home country, and considered the United Kingdom a safe space.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 2.13.38 PM
Tweet posted to @PostRefRacism.

Perhaps it may seem unlikely that there would be a backwards shift in the realm of women’s rights or the rights of minorities or refugees, but if the #Leave campaign, which was heavily fueled by a hatred and fear of immigrants and minorities, was able to win the vote then perhaps a backwards shift does not seem so unlikely after all. Since the referendum vote on Thursday, June 23 there has been more than 100 incidents of hate crimes or racial abuses. There has been an outpour on social media of instances of harassment, a great deal of which are being reported by Muslim women. One tweet, by @heavencrawley, reads:Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 1.58.14 PM

Women in Great Britain are unsure of what is to come in the years following the referendum vote. Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, wrote, “Britain is leaving the EU and I would like to know what that means for women. For the cost of my childcare, for the likelihood of closing the pay gap and for the chances of this country ever ratifying the pan-European Istanbul Convention to end violence against women and girls.”

Her thoughts sum up the worries and questions of many.

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Why do you want a #She4SG?

All of the past 8 United Nations Secretary Generals have been men. It’s time for a Madam Secretary. In a short 30 second video tell us why you want a woman Secretary General?

Send your video to comm@cwgl.rutgers.edu to be posted to the You Tube Channel and shared on social media.

 

Addressing the Gender Pay Gap & Inequalities

By Rachael Wyant

 

There’s been a lot of attention to the gender-pay gap recently in mainstream media. From Jennifer Lawrence and Robin Wright demanding more transparency and equality in high paying entertainment roles, to the U.S. Women’s Soccer team filing a lawsuit, citing the discrepancy between their contributions to the success of the organization relative to the men’s team including gap in compensation and bonuses.

These stories are found across all sectors today; female CEOs, who make up a mere fraction of leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies, make significantly less than their male counterparts, and are penalized to a greater degree with fluctuations in stock prices and revenues for their companies. We see this with women in academia: women are less likely to receive tenure-track positions, and are paid less than men of the same academic standings.

This says a lot about how far we’ve come societally. The Equal Pay Act was signed into law on June, 10 1963, yet women across the board perform work of greater or equal value to men and are still compensated poorly. What norms does this reflect about the intelligence, voice, efforts, time, and bodies of women in our culture? And if it’s so pervasive—and well documented– in the top 1% of female earners, what’s the situation of everyone else?

The “gender-pay gap”—as well as discrimination and unequal access to social protection—goes beyond discrepancies between men and women. If we are to truly address inequality and poverty, we must look to gaps among women themselves.

Female CEOS make an average annual salary of $18.8 million. The top paid female soccer players are raking in between $450,000, plus some bonuses. Women in large corporations have access to human resources and legal representation when faced with harassment and discrimination. They often receive benefits for themselves and their families with health insurance, paid leisure time and employer contributions to pensions.

A wider view of the labor market tells a much different tale. 26.8% of women work in low-wage jobs in New York; for example, women dominate service and care industries, with average annual wages of $ 26,200 (2014) and $20,490, respectively. The median income for women in the state is $43,800–and they’re making less than 88% of what men make. And within these low-wage sectors, there’s incredible racial disparity: African American child care workers make almost twice what Latina childcare workers earn ($21,400 compared to $11, 200).

And wages are only the tip of the iceberg when we talk about the situation of women at work-harassment, discrimination, lack of long-term job security and unregulated working conditions threatening the livelihoods and security of thousands of women. These issues have been gaining more mainstream attention, many based in New York, such as the Fight for $15 and Fast Food Forward, strong worker organizing through the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Urban Justice Center, and outreach and education initiatives like the Nanny Van.

This is reflected in the recent Women’s Equality Agenda passed by Governor Andrew Cuomo for New York State, which address some of these critical issues: including violence against women in the work force, pregnancy protection, paid family leave, bringing an end to familial status and employment discrimination, and strengthening human trafficking laws.

The recently approved state budget for 2016 has also attempted to include some of these pressing priorities. Estimated at $150 billion, Cuomo had wins with high-profile policy measures such as New York City’s $15 incremental minimum wage increase and 12 weeks of paid time off.

As austerity cuts to social protection programs, job training, health insurance and housing subsidies disproportionally impact women, the budget also looks to residents’ abilities to earn an adequate standard of living. It contains income tax cuts beginning in 2018 for those making below $300,000, and takes measures to increase budgets for local school districts. $20 billion will be going toward homelessness and the affordable housing crisis.

If we’re serious about closing the gender-wage gap, and coming together to address severe levels of inequality in this country, we’ve got to do better than just budget allocations.

As the presidential elections approach, it is essential that we begin to change the conversation around women’s work and our economy: paid family leave, violence in the workplace, and flexible scheduling for care giving aren’t just “women’s issues. They are issues that deeply impact our society as a whole and prevent cities and neighborhoods from flourishing. Recognition of the problems is only the first step: the real work begins when we assess and improve the impacts of these services on the everyday lives of people.