Women in the UK risk losing hard-won equality and human rights protections, including employment rights and funding for women’s services, when the UK leaves the EU, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHCR).
In its largest review of women’s rights in the UK, the EHRC warns that although the government has promised protections in the Equality Act will continue to apply once the UK leaves the bloc, “this political commitment is not included” in the European Union (withdrawal) bill.
According to the report, Brexit could mean future equality and human rights protections under the EU are not binding in UK law and that existing ones may be removed. “Employment rights and funding for women’s services are areas of particular concern,” it states.
It recommends that the government should make sure “there is no regression in the respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights” and that the loss of EU funding “does not undermine the UK’s equality and human rights infrastructure, including the already scarce funding available to specialist services, such as those that support women survivors of violence and domestic abuse”.
In the review, Pressing for progress: women’s rights and gender equality in 2018, published on Monday, the commission says women are still being failed in many areas of life and more action is needed to better protect women and girls from violence.
“[I]t is estimated that only 15% of survivors of sexual violence report their experience to the police, and social movements such as #MeToo continue to shine a spotlight on areas where women are being failed,” said Rebecca Hilsenrath, the EHRC’s chief executive. “The priority must now be ensuring that women and girls of all ages can enjoy their basic right to feel safe in their everyday lives.”
The report exposes “the sometimes serious and extreme consequences of women’s inequality”, but states that a dearth of quality data makes tackling discrimination more difficult.
It draws attention to inequality in politics, the legal sphere, the workplace, leadership of public and private organisations, as well as highlighting the violence women face at home and in the public sphere.
The report highlights that women are under-represented in democratic structures. While women now make up a record 32% of MPs in the House of Commons, the UK is still ranked only 39th globally. Just 4% of MPs are ethnic minority women.
“Poor public perceptions of politics and the intimidation of parliamentarians are major barriers to participation,” states the report.
Women made up 45.5% of all public appointments and reappointments in 2016-17, up from 39.3% in 2013. But only 28% of chairs of public bodies were women, while only 27.7% of board members in FTSE 100 companies were women.
The report draws attention to violence against woman and girls. In the year ending December 2017, 145,397 sexual offences were recorded by police in England and Wales, an increase of 25% compared with the previous year.
Only around 15% of survivors of sexual violence go to the police. But statistics show that an estimated 1.9 million adults in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse during the year ending March 2017, of which 1.2 million were women and 0.7 million were men, according to the report. Police receive an average of 100 calls about domestic abuse every hour, it stated.
Changes to legal aid have also had a significant impact on women, according to the report. EHRC analysis suggested “the reduced scope of legal aid in private family law, housing and debt matters may have had a disproportionately adverse impact on women”.
Sex discrimination and equal pay claims, in which women count for four-fifths of claimants, fell by 76% and 57% respectively by 2017, according to the report. The number of pregnancy and maternity discrimination claims fell by 42%.
The report highlighted the particular vulnerability of immigrant women: “Serious concerns about the detention of pregnant women and survivors of sexual abuse, rape and other forms of violence remain largely unaddressed.”
Tax and welfare changes have adversely affected women, ethnic minorities, disabled people and children, added the report. A separate EHRC review found that “on average, across the whole income distribution, women lose just under £400 per year from the reforms, whereas men lose only around £30.”