Gendering Brexit






Gendering Brexit

By Renate Haas

In general, the gender dimensions of Brexit have received hardly any attention. There are, however, such voices and initiatives, and three will be highlighted here.

1/ #FaceHerFuture is a campaign launched by the Fawcett Society, together with over twenty women’s, girls’, and equality organisations, in order to defend the rights of their constituencies and to influence developments accordingly. An important part are the nine briefings so far, which have brought out salient gender implications for the various House of Commons and House of Lords committee stages. Together with the Women’s Budget Group, the central briefing, Exploring the Economic Impact of Brexit on Women, was published in March 2018.[1] Its authors – Helen Mott, Mary-Ann Stephenson, and Jerome De Henau – all combine broad activism experience with academic merits. The 18-p. report first establishes the general context: it surveys the diverse modalities of the Brexit variants as well as different prognoses concerning the consequences for UK GDP and, on the other hand, draws attention to the current Cinderella status of gender mainstreaming. From this basis it extrapolates what Brexit will in all likelihood mean for UK women as workers, as consumers, and as users of public services. The authors see strong evidence that the overall impact on GDP will be negative and that a no-deal “Hard Brexit” would be the most damaging. Women will be hit hard, as Brexit will lead to lost jobs, cuts to services, and a squeeze on family budgets. The weakest – women facing multiple disadvantages – will be hit hardest.

Without legalese, the analysis covers a wide variety of fields in a compact way, so that it is impossible to summarise the specific findings here – the executive abstract already comprises a full page. Understandably, there is no extra focus on academia. Although the coalition of organisations sees itself as non-partisan and Brexit-neutral, European cooperation and EU policies play a prominent role, a positive role, which may prove a timely reminder to Continental women and other marginalised groups of how vital teaming up is and how much they owe to the EU. The briefing makes clear for the UK that “[m]uch of the legislation protecting equality and workplace rights that women benefit from originated in, or was strengthened through, the EU”, and points out the importance of the European Court of Justice (pp. 2; 9). Since “inside the EU the UK government has had a history of blocking”, experts fear that this does not bode well for future legislation at national level; and the more so, because the UK lacks comparably influential institutions to those working in the EU to further gender equality, and because the grassroots gender movements have been weakened by austerity (p. 10). EU social funds support large numbers of British voluntary organisations, and it is to be feared that this will not be replaced adequately. A topical example is the wide range of research and service delivery aimed at tackling violence against women and girls, which has received money from the DAPHNE fund, the Rights, Equality, and Citizenship (REC) Fund, and the European Social Fund (ESF). British researchers can even be proud of large shares. For instance, of 140 projects supported by the ₤364m REC programme since 2014, over one third have had a UK lead or partner.[2] On its homepage, #FaceHerFuture already gives a few examples of successful lobbying.

2/ Also in March 2018, the following analysis was published by Gender five plus as the basis for discussion at a meeting that brought together over eighty participants from UK women’s organisations, TUs, and academia: Gendering Brexit: The Role and Concerns of Feminists and Women’s Rights Organisations.[3]

G5+ claims to be the first independent European feminist think tank. It was founded by a group of experts who have spent decades working for women’s rights at European level – another timely reminder. Most of us know hardly any of the champions or anonymous troops to whom we owe the hard-won gains. The central members of G5+ are Eva Eberhardt, Barbara Helfferich, Agnes Hubert, Marie Jouffe, Maria Stratigaki, and Joanna Tachmintzis. As honorary members G5+ boasts most distinguished professors of politics or law: Teresa Freixes (who took part in the elaboration of the Amsterdam Treaty, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the European Constitution, and the Lisbon Treaty), Jane Jenson, Ruth Rubio Marín, Joyce Marie Mushaben, and Mieke Verloo. Of the two junior researchers, Alice Chilcott (who has close connections to English Studies) wrote the report. Last year’s meeting, in addition, included presentations by Gloria Mills from Unison, Mary Honeyball, MEP, Jill Rubery from Manchester University, and Roberta Guerrina from the University of Surrey.

In part, 23-p. Gendering Brexit has a wider scope than Exploring, as it reviews broader literature (e.g. concerning the ideologies of referendum campaigners and voters). In part, it is narrower, as it concentrates on the consequences for women’s rights organisations. These latter analyses are based on original interviews with representatives of organisations, politicians, and feminist academics. Again the fruits of European cooperation and EU policies are emphasised.

It does, indeed, carry weight if a seasoned politician like Honeyball characterises Parliament’s attitude towards women’s rights as hostility, and if there is great consensus about “the lack of understanding or the unwillingness by the main media to inform the general public about the benefits that women and citizens in general derived from EU membership”.[4]

In both reports, women outside the UK are only considered in passing, for instance, in connection with the regulations affecting the more than 3 million EU citizens currently living in Britain. (The number of British citizens residing in other EU states is around 1.2 million. Exploring, pp. 10-11.) But the need to maintain close links is repeatedly underlined, also because “the damage threatened by Brexit to the strong and productive relationship with British equality actors (institutional, academia and civil society) would be a loss to the EU wider European women’s sector” (Gendering, p.1).

3/ This spring, the following wide-ranging academic volume appeared: Moira Dustin, Uno Ferreira, Susan Millns (eds.), Gender and Queer Perspectives on Brexit (Palgrave).


[2] #FaceHerFuture Briefing Paper: Questions that Remain for Women, December 2018,, p. 3.


[4] Gender and Brexit: Summary of Proceedings,