In My View by Caroline Criado Perez: Women must be heard in Brexit debate

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
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I JOINED more than 60 women in signing an open letter to Theresa May asking her to call a People’s Vote. We believe a People’s Vote is the only way out of the Brexit mess that she has led all of us into – but we believe it’s particularly important for women.

First, because Brexit is set to disproportionately impact on women. Women, especially those from poorer households, tend to be the ones who manage family finances and history shows us that when there’s less to go round, women try to shield their families by going without themselves.

And women in Yorkshire have already suffered from a vast swathe of cuts to public services, from the closure of women’s refuges, to the privatisation of support roles (which are dominated by women) at Rotherham Hospital. A crisis in child services and adult social care has left women across Yorkshire having to plug in the gaps in what little spare time they have.

And there are already more to come: Rotherham’s children’s ward is under threat of closure, as is Pontefract’s maternity centre. In Rotherham, a sexual health clinic for under-25s is set to be axed despite high demand for the service from young sexual assault survivors.

It is clear that the women of Yorkshire can take no more cuts – and yet that is exactly what they will have to do with the Government’s plan. Brexit is already costing public finances £500m a week, thousands of jobs have already been lost, investment is down by 13 per cent and new projects have been shelved.

And it’s only going to get worse. Brexit means that the average woman’s pay will be 65p an hour lower that it would have been otherwise – that’s about £1,250 a year for those who work full-time. As for women’s hard-won working rights, leading Brexiteers, including Cabinet Ministers, are all on record calling for these rights to be scrapped as soon as we exit the EU.

The “Brexit dividend” of £350m a week for the NHS we were promised in the run-up to the 2016 referendum has failed to materialise. Instead, we are talking about stockpiling medicine, while an exodus of EU nurses and doctors has already created a severe staffing crisis. More than 1,000 EU nurses and midwives have already left the health services and analysis by the People’s Vote campaign suggests that we will lose another 4,500 by 2022.

Clearly, then, Brexit matters for women. But women haven’t seemed to be very important when it comes to the Brexit negotiations. This Government sent only one woman to Brussels as part of the UK’s senior negotiating team. The Department for Exiting the EU is 62 per cent male. In Commons debates on the EU Withdrawal Bill, nearly 90 per cent of speaking time was taken up by men, even though 32 per cent of MPs are women. Women for a People’s Vote research found that male MPs spoke for a total of 12.5 hours in all debates, compared to just 2.4 hours for women.

Given our exclusion from the negotiations, it is perhaps not surprising that the deal on the table is far from what women voted for. Women voted for a better future for themselves and their children.

This Blokes’ Brexit gives us the opposite. It has nothing to say about our rights, our jobs or the services we rely on. But it’s not over yet. There is still time to put a stop to this. Today I’ll be running two free campaigning workshops for women who want to join the fight for a People’s Vote: at The Glass Houghton Centre, Castleford, WF10 4PF, between noon and 2pm, and at Unity Centre, Saint Leonard’s Road, Rotherham, S65 1PD, from 5.30-7.30pm.

I’ll run through where we currently stand on Brexit and how it is already affecting women; what’s at stake and what we can do.

I’ll also talk about what I’ve learnt from the successful campaigns I’ve run (getting a woman on English banknotes; getting the first statue of a woman – and by a woman – in Parliament Square; forcing Twitter to change its abuse reporting procedures).

We will cover things like how to get the Press on board, how to get MPs on-side, and how to mobilise different groups – with a particular focus on the issues that affect Rotherham.

In this centenary year, 100 years since women first won the right to vote in this country, women deserve a say in the most important political issue of our lifetimes. Join me in making sure we get one!

Caroline Criado Perez is a writer and award-winning feminist campaigner.