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Table of contents :
Introduction: Feminist Resistance in a Brexit Environment
Section I: From the Political to the Personal and Back Again: Reclaiming Belonging
Chapter 1: How Brexit is Changing Women’s Lives
Women as ‘Other’
The Rise of Populism
The Structure and Contents of the Book
Section 1: From the Political to the Personal and Back Again: Reclaiming Belonging
Section 2: Feminising Democracy in Westminster and Devolved Nations
Chapter 2: Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy: From the Personal to the Political
2a. Extracts from the Journal of a Struggling Activist – Sue Cohen
PRE THE REFERENDUM February – June 2016
June–December 2016 EXISTENTIAL CRISIS TAKES HOLD
WHERE TO NOW?
FORGING REFLECTIVE SPACES
MOBILISING ACTIVISM 2018
Opening Up Conversations. No Deal Brexit? – Panic Sets In. Nobody wanted to talk about it. Now everybody/Nobody wants to talk about it
“It was Brexit but it was immigration.”
March April 2019 Turmoil is Normalised
2b. Resistance in a Landscape of Othering – Margaret Page
Pivotal Moment 1
A dream of edges: An inquiry begins
Pivotal Moment 2
Holding Out for Remain: Two Demonstrations and Two Vases26 March 2019I emerge from the London underground at Green Park to join
Pivotal Moment 3
Deadlock in Westminster: A Lonely Dinner in Brussels
Pivotal Moment 4
MPs Defy Party Leadership: Hope for Democracy?
Pivotal Moment 5
Brexit Casualties: Death of a Peace Agreement?
Pivotal Moment 6
EU and Local Elections: A Reckoning for Westminster
Pivotal Moment 7
Spaces for Feminist Voices – are these Disappearing Too?
Pivotal Moment 8
A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu: Shared Spaces and Food for Activism
Pivotal Moment 9
Hope Sustained in Times of Chaos
Pivotal Moment 10
Parliament Prorogued and a Trip to the Recycling Centre
Pivotal Moment 11
The Rise of the ‘Girly Swots’: Democracy Saved in Westminster?
Pivotal Moment 12
Another Momentous Day: Elusive Hopes
Pivotal Moment 13
Cat and Mouse in Parliament
Pivotal Moment 14
Defeat: A General Election: Back to the Drawing Board
Chapter 3: From the Political to the Personal in an Age of Uncertainty: Assault on Self, Identity, Family, Community and Nationhood
‘A Stranger in My Own Country’: Becoming ‘the Other’
Brexit Increased the Hostile Enviroment and Hate Crimes
Creating Radical Grassroot Bridges of Resistance Across Communities and Countries
Conclusion: From the Political to the Personal
Chapter 4: Post-Brexit Haiku: Countering Prejudice with Sticks-in the-Spokes and Danish Pastries
Section II: Feminising Democracy in Westminster and Devolved Nations
Chapter 5: Inspiring Change: Women Organising Across the Devolved Nations
Lynn Carvill: Women’s Budget Group Northern Ireland
Emma Ritch: Engender Scotland
Natasha Davies and Dr Hade Turkmen: Chwarae Teg, Wales
Women’s Rights and Protections
Uncertainty about Future Funding
Growing Constitutional Questions
Responding to these Challenges
Chapter 6: Feminist Mobilising Against Brexit in Westminster
Method, Theoretical Framework and Aims
Women, Feminisms and Brexit
1. Why resist Brexit?
2. Experiences of Resistance
3. Affective Realities and Alternative Futures
4. What has Brexit Revealed about British Feminism
Chapter 7: Risky Futures: Women in the British Labour Market
The Rise of Women’s Employment: Gender Pay Gaps, and Horizontal and Vertical Segregation
Policy to Address Gender Inequality in the Labour Market
Brexit as a Risk Intensifier
Chapter 8: Towards Feminist Democracy: Populist Forces and Feminist Activism
Feminising Democracy and the Interaction of Democracy, Politics and Law
The Rise of Populism; How Populist Leaders are Highjacking Women’s Equality and Feminist Challenge
Populism and the Roll Back of Women’s Rights
Doing Feminist Democracy Now: Feminist Leadership
Channels of Transnational Influence Post-Brexit
Chapter 9: Everything has Changed and Nothing has Changed: Glimpses of Utopian and Dystopian Futures
Subverting Populism – Heterogeneous Women’s Movements
Spaces of Power
Redefining the Economy: Towards Well-being and Care
Glimpses of the World We are Striving to Create: Utopian and Dystopian Futures
Feminist Activists on Brexit
Endorsements Too many of our voices as women, and indeed women of colour, were not heard in the EU referendum campaign and its aftermath. Thank goodness then for this book as it goes some way to redress this. Whilst on occasion painful to read for those of us on the losing side, it also offered warmth, optimism and inspiration. A real roller coaster of emotions revisiting the highs and lows of the period through the collection of writers who generously shared their stories, often intimately and uniquely. I came away with optimism in the power of women, the importance of standing together, united by our commonalities and taking comfort in our diversity. Crucial reading not just for those of us still left reeling and bruised by Brexit, or those interested in a feminist perspective of a significant historical event, but also more widely: if we keep sidelining the impact of political decisions on women, we can hardly be surprised when the political solutions of those in power fail to deliver for so many of us. Leandra Box, Race Equality Foundation A highly needed and very original contribution to our understanding of intersectional feminist, women’s and migrant struggles against Brexit in the UK. Feminist Activists on Brexit: From the Political to the Personal scrutinizes how nationalist, radical conservative and right-wing populist forces have been othering women in private, family and community life, activism, labour market, and public sphere at large. It effectively contests those destructive forces and develops transformative visions of feminist political agenda, community organizing, and democracy. The book stands out because it integrates exceptionally well knowledge from researchers, activists, community organizers, and writers that rely on diverse approaches, from interviews, autobiographies to feminist theoretical analysis and poetry, written in a style made accessible to academics and wider public. I recommend this book to everyone, who wants to understand Brexit and its complexities. Dr Kateřina Vráblíková, University of Bath Feminist Activists on Brexit: From the Political to the Personal is unique in bringing together the experiences and reflections of feminist activists and academics to bear on the single most monumental constitutional change in contemporary British politics – Britain’s departure from the European Union, or Brexit. With careful precision, the book interrogates the impact of Brexit on women’s lives, and on feminist collective action. With passion, it explores the daily gendered, racialised and intersectional ‘othering’ of Brexit even as the negotiations in high political forums deploy a gender-neutral discourse. Through the lens of Brexit, and latterly Covid-19, this compelling book redefines for our times the 1970s feminist insight ‘the personal is political’. Feminist Activists is a call to action, a roadmap for emancipatory politics. The book is an invitation to feminists and progressive networks to re-engage with democratic institutions, challenge misogynistic and
racist political cultures, and shape a genuinely inclusive, participatory democracy. Feminist Activists is quite simply an essential read for anyone who cares about democratic politics in Britain today. Professor Yvonne Galligan, Technological University Dublin Essential reading for scholars and activists – for everyone who cares about our leaving of Europe, this is a book about the agony and jeopardy of Brexit. Resounding throughout this vivid and impressive collection of stories from across the four nations of the UK, it also forms an important record both of the significant, rich and diverse experiences of women’s solidarity and of achievements over decades of the European project of equality and anti-discrimination. Grassroots activists, academics, trade unionists and community leaders write with immediacy, urgency and gravitas as they describe – in one case in haiku – what women had and what will be lost to Brexit. These remarkable women continue to actively defend the rights of women, migrants and refugees throughout Europe, for example through the Single Parent Action Network, a social movement of ‘rooted cosmopolitanism’, linking the domestic with the international, the political and the personal, the Women’s Budget Group and a raft of feminist and diversity networks and organisations. The women are at once and severally, British, and yet no longer ‘really’ so, as sisters with origins as far as Somalia and as near as the Netherlands discovered in the new post-referendum hostile environment of racism and othering. Examples of the often toxic masculinity of Westminster politics, Brexit’s threat to the Northern Ireland Peace Treaty, contradictions between the sometimes gender sidelining of Scottish nationalism and its promise for female emancipation, together with a rising backlash against equality and feminism in Wales give us important detailed insights into how it was in the EU and how it is today for women in all four corners of the United Kingdom. Their book is an important record of remembrance of the successes of the European era and women’s part in these, but also of the rage, sorrow and despair as a populist, nationalistic patriarchal Brexit erodes women’s rights, tries to silence voices and dismantle women’s solidarity and community. And yet it is too a call to re-group, mobilise and fight on; even more so as ‘the storm unleashed by Covid 19’ is valorising women’s roles as carers, health workers, in community and home informs the setting of new agendas to ‘build back better’. Dr Sue Ledwith, The Global Labour University
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Feminist Activists on Brexit: From the Political to the Personal
SUE COHEN University of Bristol, UK
MARGARET PAGE University of the West of England, UK
United Kingdom – North America – Japan – India – Malaysia – China
Emerald Publishing Limited Howard House, Wagon Lane, Bingley BD16 1WA, UK First edition 2021 Chapter 2: “Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy: From the Personal to the Political” copyright © 2021 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited under an exclusive licence. Chapter 3 “From the Political to the Personal in an Age of Uncertainty: Assault on Self, Identity, Family, Community and Nationhood” Copyright © 2021 Susanna Giullari, Moestak Hussein, Negat Hussein, Tove Samzelius and Sue Cohen. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited under an exclusive licence. Chapter 8 “Towards Feminist Democracy: Populist Forces and Feminist Activism” copyright © 2021 Diane Bunyan, Jackie Longworth, Su Maddock and Margaret Page. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited under an exclusive licence.Remaining chapters copyright © 2021 Emerald Publishing Limited. Reprints and permissions service Contact: [email protected] No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without either the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying issued in the UK by The Copyright Licensing Agency and in the USA by The Copyright Clearance Center. Any opinions expressed in the chapters are those of the authors. Whilst Emerald makes every effort to ensure the quality and accuracy of its content, Emerald makes no representation implied or otherwise, as to the chapters’ suitability and application and disclaims any warranties, express or implied, to their use. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN: 978-1-80043-421-9 (Print) ISBN: 978-1-80043-420-2 (Online) ISBN: 978-1-80043-422-6 (Epub)
This book is dedicated to the feminist activists and colleagues who participated with us in EU funded partnerships and projects to promote women’s intersectional equality. These experiences of working together, across differences of context and political stance, have inspired and made this book possible. In particular we thank The Flashmob in Bristol who encouraged us to write this book, and the friends and family members who supported us in this endeavour.
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Introduction Feminist Resistance in a Brexit Environment Sue Cohen and Margaret Page
Section I From the Political to the Personal and Back Again: Reclaiming Belonging Chapter 1 How Brexit is Changing Women’s Lives Sue Cohen and Margaret Page
Chapter 2 Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy: From the Personal to the Political Sue Cohen and Margaret Page
2a. Extracts from the Journal of a Struggling Activist – Sue Cohen 2b. Resistance in a Landscape of Othering – Margaret Page
Chapter 3 From the Political to the Personal in an Age of Uncertainty: Assault on Self, Identity, Family, Community and Nationhood Susanna Giullari, Moestak Hussein, Negat Hussein, Tove Samzelius and Sue Cohen 61 Chapter 4 Post-Brexit Haiku: Countering Prejudice with Sticks-in-the-Spokes and Danish Pastries Jane Speedy
Section II Feminising Democracy in Westminster and Devolved Nations Chapter 5 Inspiring Change: Women Organising Across the Devolved Nations Natasha Davies, Hade Turkmen Lyn Carvill, Emma Ritch and Sue Cohen
Chapter 6 Feminist Mobilising Against Brexit in Westminster Jenna Norman
Chapter 7 Risky Futures: Women in the British Labour Market Susan Milner
Chapter 8 Towards Feminist Democracy: Populist Forces and Feminist Activism Diane Bunyan, Jackie Longworth, Su Maddock and Margaret Page
Chapter 9 Everything has Changed and Nothing has Changed: Glimpses of Utopian and Dystopian Futures Sue Cohen and Margaret Page
Preface Janet Newman, Emeritus Professor, Open University [email protected]
Writing and reading about Brexit tends to be a depressing experience. For those coming from a history of social activism and/or critical scholarship, the focus is almost exclusively on recounting what is lost. Brexit inculcates a climate of despair and pessimism. For those who have struggled for change, mounted protests, won some battles and transformed the very language of public life, we are now faced with a climate in which our actions are limited to defending small remnants of a more expansive politics. A range of voices have documented the dismantling of institutional and legal safeguards, the reversal of hard-won political achievements, the exacerbation of social divisions and the likely economic costs, especially for those in marginal or low paid work. This book challenges the absence of women’s voices in the Brexit debate, exploring the likely impact of Brexit not only on the laws and institutions that had enshrined some measure of equality but also on contemporary language and culture. In this way, the volume offers a critical vocabulary for understanding – and working against the grain of – the contemporary political culture of the UK and beyond. It shows how the sharing of activist experiences can itself be an act of resistance, forging solidarities across diverse political voices. This matters in a climate where feminist politics has been residualised and characterised as ‘yesterday’s agenda’. On the contrary, there is an urgent need to draw on feminist thinking to explore the many different ways in which Brexit affects women’s lives. Brexit marks an unfolding set of legislative changes that are eroding the rights of women, migrants and other groups, and undoing the institutions that inscribed the equality gains of the last half century. It is dismantling the regulatory frameworks that protect citizens from exploitation and other harms whether as workers, consumers or carers. Its impact on the economy is likely to be severe; the profound economic shock that follows will have harsh consequences for marginal and fractional workers, opening up opportunities for greater exploitation at the point at which safeguards are being dismantled. It is impoverishing whole neighbourhoods and regions as businesses close or decide to relocate. And the public sector and wider public domain are already being starved of resources as government pursues its project of shrinking the state and dismantling institutions. Brexit has also heralded a profoundly gendered and racialised reconfiguration of the cultural landscape. At the same time that (some) women were brought to
xii Preface voice by the #Me Too movement, climate change activism and other international struggles, so women were being silenced by the political culture that enabled, and is exacerbated by, Brexit. This double silencing is significant. High profile women (demonised as ‘Remoaners’) were assaulted, maligned, abused and, in the case of Jo Cox, murdered, by those working for Leave campaigns. This was a highly public form of silencing, engendering anger but sometimes leading to defensiveness and retreat as political commitments were weighed against personal risk. But Brexit also enables the silencing of women through the proliferation of domestic violence and homophobic and racist assaults in homes and on the street. These processes of silencing are not universal: the success of the Leave campaigns depended on the support of many women. But Brexit seems to have closed many of the spaces used by those seeking to work for progressive, transformational change. And it has delegitimised political discourses inspired by feminism. To understand the ways in which these different dimensions of change are dynamically intertwined – and compound each other – it is helpful to re-engage with the feminist slogan that ‘the personal is political’. This phrase of the 1970s brought issues previously assumed to be a matter of private life – care, relationships, domestic violence – into the public domain, making them the focus of policymaking and political discourse. Over time, the phrase has also been used to engage with issues of identity and belonging. While sometimes tending towards processes of individualization, the understanding of the personal as political has brought matters of feeling and attachment into the political lexicon. As this volume shows, Brexit has profound implications for questions of culture, identity and belonging. It erodes already fragile solidarities across differences of nationality, class, and generation. It undermines the notion that England, Scotland and Northern Ireland form a United Kingdom. It stokes a politics of ‘othering’, demonizing not only migrants and ‘foreigners’ but also judges, economists, intellectuals and experts, not to mention the BBC. And it stokes new divisions, within workplaces, neighbourhoods and families. Such divisions are painful and deeply personal. It follows that struggles over culture and language matter as much, perhaps, as the struggles to defend the rights hard fought for by generations of women. But struggles over culture and language and struggles to defend – or even enlarge – equality and rights are inextricably linked and are brought together to good effect in this volume. The work of the women described here resonates with my own earlier research on feminist inspired activism in the UK in the second half of the 20th century1. I coined the term ‘spaces of power’ to denote the contradictory experiences of women who tangled with governmental logics (policy discourses, legislative enactments, institutional reform programmes) and who drew on government/local government /EU funding in order to pursue transformational political change. The changes sought by women activists (community-based action, democratic innovation, more participative leadership, the coproduction
Newman, Janet (2012) Working the Spaces of Power; activism, neoliberalism and gendered labour. London, Bloomsbury.
Preface xiii of social policies, gender mainstreaming) may have been appropriated as governments sought to enable neoliberal rationalities to permeate the social landscape. These spaces of power were by no means benign, but nor were they necessarily the site of incorporation. The women activists’ accounts that are captured in this volume show how they used the governmental spaces constituted by the policies and institutions of the EU, and explore their experiences – and losses – associated with the changes wrought by Brexit. The austerity policies of the 21st century, and the antifeminist climate associated with the rise of populist politics across Europe and beyond, has closed many of the spaces of power women had found productive of change. The rupturing of transnational networks, coupled by the withdrawal of EU funding, is having damaging consequences. They were generative of new forms of solidarity and prefigured new political movements – on climate change, environmental protection, open borders – many of which became enshrined in European laws and institutions. Of course, the EU is not a benign entity or a comfortable space; rather it is a site of contradictory political projects and contested imaginaries. It is an agent for the expansion and enforcement of neoliberal agendas yet is also a space in which equality and human rights agendas have flourished. It has imposed austerity measures on some member states, but has also offered resources, institutions, connections and political spaces that offer the possibility of pursuing progressive agendas. Questions now surround the survival of such spaces as Brexit and its aftermath threaten the coherence and resilience of this ‘social’ Europe. Within the UK, the decade of austerity saw the closure of many feminist-inspired projects that had benefited from EU funding and support. And Brexit is a profoundly anti-feminist phenomenon, driven by the rise of populist political forces that seek to erode democratic participation and to foster the demonisation of women activists and politicians, as well as judges, courts, experts and the state itself. It fosters a political culture characterised by hardened divisions and the legitimation of misogynistic and racist abuse. For me, the re-assertion of activist voices represented in this volume offers a measure of hope in a dire political landscape. Currently the Brexit agenda has been displaced from the headlines by the Coronavirus pandemic. Paradoxically this has opened up new platforms on which gender politics are being played out. The pandemic has expanded and made more visible women’s work in communities, forging neighbourhood networks of support, working in food banks, delivering essential supplies to those who cannot get out, and offering on-line or telephone support to overcome the social isolation of vulnerable households. We are translating the gendered norms of care and responsibility to this new world, dusting off sewing machines to produce PPE, face masks and other necessities to overcome the deficiencies of government in meeting needs. We form a large part of the flood of volunteers supplementing the work of professionals in the context of governmental failures. And our work is attempting to ameliorate some of the harms produced by the eruption of the virus – notably, but not only, domestic abuse – in a social world already eviscerated by the ravages of austerity and the cultural divisions of Brexit.
xiv Preface We are once again the brokers and intermediaries of a changing social landscape. It is women who are, in the main, managing the constraints and restrictions of lockdown. It is largely the labour of women that has generated more expansive vocabularies of care that transcend – and connect – domestic, neighbourhood and institutional settings. And we are witnessing a new visibility of highly gendered occupations – nursing, care work, teaching, shop work and personal service industries. Public support for women working in such low paid, and now highly dangerous, occupations has been highly visible, not least in weekly clapping ceremonies. It is possible that such support will offer a measure of protection in government decisions about who is to bear the cost of the recession to come. However, I remain sceptical about the possible outcomes of this future in the absence of a politics explicitly informed by feminism – a politics that might redress the silencings produced by Brexit and the wider climate of populist politics.
Introduction: Feminist Resistance in a Brexit Environment Sue Cohen and Margaret Page
In September 2017, we sat in a café on Gloucester Road in Bristol with a small group of women discussing feminist resistance in a Brexit environment. We all in our different ways had a history of feminist activism, working to promote women’s equality in a variety of roles at local, national and transnational levels in public and voluntary sector organisations, trade unions, and local government. During the 1990s, membership of the EU and Council of Europe enabled us to form partnerships across borders and differences to develop equality practices to promote equality and eliminate discrimination. Membership of the EU enabled representatives of women’s organisations to participate directly in the policy process with national representatives of other member states, and provided mechanisms to call the UK government to account where equality protocols were not adequately implemented. This had been a lifeline when national governments were hostile or indifferent to equality agendas. A great deal of this activity was funded through EU programmes, during and after the Delors period 1985–2000. Here we found spaces to share and develop equality practice across nations and difference and to develop intersectional partnerships to combat poverty, racism, gender violence and discrimination (Cohen, 2000; Conley & Page, 2015). We associated feminist internationalism with liberation at a very personal level, having experienced through collaborative practices, a glimpse of the world we were trying to create, and we were changed by the process, seeing glimmers of possibilities writ large (Page, 1997). Through the relationships forged with others, and the processes of learning that took place, we experienced together a different way of being. The experience of learning from others who were working towards similar goals informed by different contexts and cultures within EU funded programmes, lent legitimacy when taking the necessary risks to work across the grain of established equal opportunities practice, inspiring the political commitment necessary to make change happen (Page, 2009). We understood and critiqued EU social initiatives designed ultimately to sustain social cohesion within the capitalist market economy of the economic union, embodied in the ethos of EU political institutions, the Council of Ministers in particular. At the same time, we experienced ways in which the Delors era with its proliferation of social cohesion programmes and consultative committees provided some space for social movements to network, share visions and develop Feminist Activists on Brexit: From the Political to the Personal, 1–4 Copyright © 2021 by Emerald Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved doi:10.1108/978-1-80043-420-220210002
2 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page partnerships that furthered equality measures and anti-discriminatory initiatives. Although the leadership in some social movements mirrored power differentials in civil society, many of us ‘felt engaged in a political process which was living, dynamic, in process’ (Cohen, 2000, p. 36). The Brexit campaign threatened to extinguish all memory and record of that dynamism. From when the referendum campaign was launched in February 2016, those of us sitting together in the café had struggled to find networks, spaces and settings to forge any kind of meaningful feminist fight-back against leaving the EU. We co-authors (Sue and Margaret) had just come back from Athens where we had delivered a paper on those struggles to the ESA bi-annual conference (Un) Making Europe: Capitalism, Solidarities, Subjectivities – and wanted to share the experience (ESA, 2017) with our feminist friends. ‘Critical Europeanism’ had been the overriding ethos of the conference. At the conference presentations drew our attention to movements against ‘gender ideology’ that were gaining momentum within post-socialist states (see e.g. Hodžić & Štulhofer, 2017; Rawłuszko, 2019), characterising EU derived gender mainstreaming policies and equal rights as counter cultural, imposed by what they regarded as external hostile institutions such as the UN and the EU. We began in Athens to understand Brexit in this wider context in which populist neo-liberal and religious right-wing patriarchal forces were on the rise throughout Europe (EU Parliament, 2018; Zaviršek & Rajgelj, 2018). Back in Bristol, our ‘café society’ discussions opened up reflections on transformative practices and concepts introduced at the conference, amongst them ‘rooted cosmopolitanism’ (Tarrow & della Porta, 2005). More pragmatically, there was potential for a book proposal, an invitation from the Emerald editor at the conference in Athens who had happened upon our paper there. Our activist friends encouraged us to follow it up. However, driven by a sense of urgency we parked the book idea and began to focus much of our spare time on planning a symposium that would bring together grassroots activists, academics, trade unionists and community leaders from the four nations of the UK. Our purpose was to consider the impact of Brexit on women’s equality, across intersections of race, class, citizenship and nation, to widen the Brexit debate from the predominant non-gendered discourse on the single market and freedom of movement. The symposium took place in May 2018, supported by the Universities of Bristol, UWE and Bath. Participants shared practitioner, activist, interdisciplinary research and personal perspectives on gender, race equality and constitutional law, employment rights, intersectional gendered economics, austerity, violence against women, migration, EU nationhood, civic engagement, women’s activism. We considered how we might protect and extend rights and resources for promoting women’s equality in the four nations and how protective regulations, anti-discrimination and anti-racist organising could be furthered to challenge racism, hate crime and gender violence (Cohen & Page, 2018). The symposium had been organised at short notice and with little financial support. Participants were driven by a shared sense of purpose and this lent a buzz and a sense of shared commitment to discussion. We had no institutional channels or resource for developing joint work but came up with the concept of Women’s Inclusive Democracy in Europe Network (WIDEN) that was to become
Introduction 3 both the trigger and grounding for this book, with many of the participants at the symposium contributing to the chapters. We envisioned a book that would reflect contributors’ journeys, both personal and political, a snapshot of diverse feminist responses to Brexit. Less than a year after the symposium we had our book proposal accepted, in the midst of one of the most politically turbulent eras since the second world war, the best and worst of times to be producing a book on Brexit. During the highs and the lows of our ensuing conversations in cafes and at kitchen tables, we agreed that the book writing process helped us to keep our heads above water: it became ‘a small act of resistance’ in braving the storm. Since the book was written, we have plunged into a crisis that we could never have anticipated: The storm unleashed by Covid-19. Once again, the role of the state and of government in protecting those living in the UK from poverty, racism, gender violence and discrimination, are under scrutiny. The capacity of leaders, the balancing of health, wellbeing and the economy, the role of women in all their diversity as carers and health workers, and as partners in the home, are now subject to debate. We return to these parallel themes in our conclusions.
References Cohen, S. (2000). Social solidarity in the Delors period: Barriers to participation. In C. Hoskyns & M. Newman (Eds.), Democratizing the European Union: Issues for the twenty first century (pp. 12–38). Manchester: Manchester University Press. Cohen, S., & Page, M. (2018). Furthering women’s democracy in a Brexit environment, Policy Bristol. BristolPolicy Hub, June 22. Retrieved from http://policybristol.blogs. bristol.ac.uk/2018/06/22/furthering-womens-democracy-in-a-brexit-environment/. Accessed on June 12, 2020. Conley, H., & Page, M. (2015). Gender mainstreaming in public services: Chasing the dream. London: Routledge. ESA 13th Conference. (2017, August 29–September 1). (Un)Making Europe: Capitalism, solidarities, subjectivities. Retrieved from http://esa13thconference.eu/Athens.; Accessed on June 12, 2020. European Parliament. (2018, June). Backlash in gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights. Women’s Rights & Gender Equality Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs, Directorate General for Internal Policies of the Union PE 604.955. Retrieved from https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/ STUD/2018/604955/IPOL_STU(2018)604955_EN.pdf. Accessed on June 27, 2020. European Sociological Association (ESA). (2017). Abstract book. Paris: ESA. Retrieved from https://www.europeansociology.org/publications/esa-conference-abstractbooks. Accessed on June 12, 2020. Hodžić, A., & Štulhofer, A. (2017). Embryo, teddy bear-centaur and the constitution: Mobilizations against “gender ideology” and sexual permissiveness in Croatia. In R. Kuhar & D. Paternotte (Eds.), Anti-gender campaigns in Europe: Mobilizing against equality (pp. 59–77). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. Page, M. (1997). Women in Beijing one year on; Networks, alliances, coalitions. EOC funded research published by Community Development Foundation, UK, March 1997.
4 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page Page, M. L. (2009). Silences and disappearing acts: The politics of gendering organizational practice. In J. Wolfram Cox, T. Le Trent-Jones, M. Voronov, & D. Weir (Eds.), Critical management studies at work: Negotiating tensions between theory and practice (pp. 245–259). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Rawłuszko, M. (2019). And if the opponents of gender ideology are right? Gender politics, Europeanization, and the democratic deficit. Politics & Gender, 1–23. doi:10.1017/ S1743923X19000576 Tarrow, S., & della Porta, D. (2005). Conclusion: “Globalisation”, complex internationalism and transnational contention. In D. della Porta & S. Tarrow (Eds.), New transnational activism (pp. 227–246). Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield. Zaviršek, D., & Rajgelj, B. (2018). Anti-refugee sentiment without refugees: Human rights violations and social work in post-socialist countries of Southeastern Europe in their social contexts. Journal of Human Rights and Social Work, 4(1), 5–16. http:// link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s41134-018-0083-2
From the Political to the Personal and Back Again: Reclaiming Belonging
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How Brexit is Changing Women’s Lives Sue Cohen and Margaret Page Women as ‘Other’ Much of the debate in the UK pre and post the EU referendum has been on the single market and freedom of movement. Women’s voices have barely been heard, with women’s equality all but cleansed from Brexit political and media discourses. Analysis by Loughborough University’s Centre for Research in Communication and Culture found that leading up to the referendum, men accounted for 82.5% of all print and broadcast commentators and presenters (Centre for Research in Communication and Culture, 2016). Prior to the referendum feminist campaign, organisations were focussed on the impact of the government’s increasingly stringent austerity measures. Research by the Women’s Budget Group anticipated that over a 10-year period (2010–2020) women in female-headed households would experience a 20% drop in income as a result of cuts to public services, benefits and employment (De Henau & Reed, 2016). Brexit was not seen as central, unless you were for example, a non-UK EU national, at the sharp end of the hostile environment, or a feminist in Northern Ireland where the Peace Agreement was at stake. From where we are now, and through the many conversations with contributors to this edited collection, we have come to understand that the manner in which the Brexit debate was conducted not only marginalised women’s equality but also called into question the meaning of democracy, nationhood, citizenship and participatory processes. During the debate, two successive governments showed themselves willing to stop at nothing to ‘get Brexit done’, including placing the Union with Scotland and the Peace Treaty with Northern Ireland not only at risk, but potentially expendable. Both nations were Pro-Remain. We, and the contributors to this book, argue that women’s voices on equality and discrimination must be made both explicit and integral to all negotiations on the future relationship of the UK to the EU. We note that as we write, women’s voices outside of political parties are leading this challenge. Whilst women did
Feminist Activists on Brexit: From the Political to the Personal, 7–19 Copyright © 2021 by Emerald Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved doi:10.1108/978-1-80043-420-220210004
8 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page become more present as the Brexit debate unfolded, they were not with a few exceptions concerned with women’s equality and diversity. This book seeks to address that gap. In essence, Brexit needs to be gender-proofed, with a lens on the intersections between discrimination and oppression experienced by women in diverse communities and of diverse identities.
The Rise of Populism Immediately after the referendum, hate crimes in the UK rose (NPCC, in Bassel & Akwugo, 2018, p. 118) in a climate of increasing ideologically driven political aggression stoked up by nationalist, populist, misogynist and racist rhetoric with minimal commentary and intervention from leading political figures. Pro-Brexit political parties have spread deliberate misinformation, harnessing social media to blur the difference between ideologically driven reporting and evidence-based sense making (Dorling & Tomlinson, 2019). This phenomenon is not confined to the UK and Brexit but is part of a pattern that has emerged amongst populist leaders in Europe, the United States and beyond. In France, Marine le Pen in her widely reported 2017 election appealed to feminist values such as freedom from sexual violence, to bolster anti-migrant rhetoric.1 In the UK, Stella Creasy was targeted by US-based anti-abortion campaigners in the 2019 election campaign (Boycott, 2020; Townsend, 2019). Nationalist, conservative, right-wing populist forces are not new but have gained traction in the economic, social and political insecurities endemic since the global financial crash of 2007–2008. Within post-socialist and EU member states, campaigns against ‘gender ideology’ have sought to position gender equality and gender mainstreaming as counter cultural and anti-family, and to undermine national and international measures to protect women’s rights (European Parliament, 2018; Kuhar & Paternotte, 2017; Nikoghosyan, 2015). Zaviršek and Rajgelj (2018) analyse how the growth of insecurities in post-socialist states has been exploited within populist political discourse: the ideals of democracy, human rights, and equality have been countered in the last two decades, by an increasingly vocal conservative public, notably through a political discourse in which sexism, anti-semitism, racism, and hatred of refugees are coalesced into an ideology … . The politics of hatred flourishes, having gained legitimacy also in the spheres of parliamentary and state politics. (p. 8)
Chrisafis. (2017). We feel very close to her’: can ‘fake feminist’ Marine Le Pen win the female vote? The Guardian Newspaper, March 18. Retrieved from https://www. theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/18/front-national-anger-marine-le-pen-femalesupporters. Accessed on June 15, 2020.
How Brexit is Changing Women’s Lives 9 It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that progressive movements have been erased, as Zaviršek and Rajgelj and others have argued. Many women’s2 movements in Western democracies3 and in post-socialist states4 reach beyond national boundaries. The rise in sexual violence, and attacks on women’s reproductive rights, have been a major but not exclusive focus of women’s protests,1 with demands encompassing equal pay and equal rights,5 Black Lives Matter, rights for migrants, LGBT equality and sex based rights for women. In the chapters that follow contributing authors illustrate how the Brexit debate has amplified populist forces within the UK; how these forces have been directed against migrants and women’s equality and how many of the gains that feminists made when we were members of the EU will be lost. We consider how these attacks on intersectional feminism must and can be contested.
See, for example, reports from International Women’s Day protests where sexual violence has been a focus: Thousands of Mexican Women protest violence murders femicide government inaction. The Guardian, March 9. Retrieved from https:// www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/09/thousands-mexican-women-protestviolence-murders-femicide-government-inaction. Accessed on June 15, 2020.Massive marches in Spain display strength of feminist movement. El Pais, March 9 2020. Retrieved from https://english.elpais.com/society/2020-03-09/womens-daymarches-in-spain-attract-mass-numbers-despite-coronavirus-fears.html. Accessed on June 15, 2020. 3 See, for example, Torrisi (2019). Reports of feminists from across Europe confrontation of the far right in Italy. OpenDemocracy. Retrieved from https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/women-cross-borders-confront-far-right-italy/. Accessed on June 15, 2020. 4 There are many reports of attacks on feminism by populist political leaders in former Communist states who have more recently joined the EU, and reports on suggest that feminist protest is at the heart of countering populism. The following are a few examples: Zsubori (2018). Gender studies banned at university – the Hungarian government’s latest attack on equality. The Conversation. October 8. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/gender-studies-banned-at-university-the-hungariangovernments-latest-attack-on-equality-103150. Accessed on June 15, 2020. Barry, O. (2019) These women are challenging Hungary’s men in suits politics. The World, February 13. Retrieved from https://www.pri.org/stories/2019-02-13/thesewomen-are-challenging-hungary-s-men-suits-politics. Accessed on June 15, 2020. Human Rights Watch. (2019, February 6). Poland Women’s Rights activists targeted. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/02/06/poland-womensrights-activists-targeted. Accessed on June 15, 2020. Muszei and Piotrowski. (2019). Small-town feminist activism in Poland. OpenDemocracy, January 5. Retrieved from https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/small-townfeminist-activism-in-poland/. Accessed on June 15, 2020. 5 See for example: Reuters. (2020, June 15). Women stage mass scream in over domestic violence and gender pay gap. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/ world/2020/jun/15/women-stage-mass-scream-in-switzerland-over-domestic-violenceand-gender-pay-gap?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other. Accessed on June 15, 2020.
10 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page
The Contributors Contributing authors explore how feminists are seeking to open a window to a wider more participative transformational vision of democracy, which puts women’s concerns at the centre and is not limited by the constraints of e xisting governmental processes. They explore challenges and opportunities from an intersectional range of feminist standpoints. Their methods are diverse and multi-layered – reflecting the multi-layered nature of ‘other’, diverse femi nist perspectives uncovering different ways of knowing the world, laying bare the complex and hidden ways in which Brexit is operating in multiple settings, suggesting ‘multiple struggles and sites of resistance’ (Bryson, 1992, p. 253). Contributors are researchers, activists, community organisers, writers and practitioners from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Their writings reflect the perspectives and experiences of women in different communities including BAME women, EU Nationals and activists in devolved government settings, many of whom presented at the symposium we organised in Bristol in 2018 (Cohen & Page, 2018). The chapters reflect the expertise and interdisciplinary nature of contributors’ intellectual and creative pursuits. They are eclectic in style, sole and co-authored, written in the voices of researchers, and of activists who reflect on the impact of Brexit on their day-on-day experience, on their internal subjective and intersubjective worlds, on identity, women’s rights and participation in democracy, and on women’s place in the public domain.
The Structure and Contents of the Book Chapters are organised in two sections. The starting point for authors in Section 1 is their embodied experience and activism in fast-moving times; auto-ethnographic diarised reflections, a poem and group conversations shift rapidly from the internal and the domestic to the political and back again. Authors in Section 2 focus on the external – interviews with key activists, and analyses of the key socio/ political/economic and legal trends affecting women in the UK’s four nations. Together they build up a collage of portraits, depictions of how they make sense and engage with the ever-changing environment created by Brexit. As readers, some of you may choose to begin with Section 1, how diverse women experienced Brexit in their lived day-to-day experiences in different ways – as subjective beings, as family members, as active citizens and communities of interest. Others may prefer to begin with Section 2, feminist analyses of how Brexit has reshaped the external political environment and how activists are responding in the different nations of the UK. We invite you the readers to make your choice.
Section 1: From the Political to the Personal and Back Again: Reclaiming Belonging In Chapters 2–4, authors focus on shifts in sense of self and identity as a consequence of the changing UK political environment. They address the personal and
How Brexit is Changing Women’s Lives 11 the political impact of Brexit, through writings that trace links between embodied experiences of family life, community life and the external political environment. Some consider how place-based communities have suffered under austerity and how the political forces driving Brexit worked to divide white and BAME working class communities from one another. All describe the ‘othering’ that they experience, who that might include and exclude. Chapter 2 – ‘Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy – From the Personal to the Political’ is divided into two parts, between them covering the period from when the referendum was announced in 2016 to when the EU Withdrawal Bill was passed in Parliament in December 2019. Each takes the form of a soleauthored reflective journal. Taken together they are intended to offer the reader a sense of what it was like for each of the authors to live through the three years immediately prior to, and following the referendum, up to the moment when the EU Withdrawal Bill was finally passed by a majority UK government. Each part is written from the perspective of the individual author, and reflects the subjectivity she brings to her activism and understanding of events. Their methodological approach is informed by related and distinct traditions of action inquiry and auto-ethnography. In Part 1, ‘Extracts from the Journal of a Struggling Activist’, Sue Cohen’s approach takes the form of a series of personal commentaries on political meetings, provocations, diary entries and conversations in her daily life, reflecting on pivotal moments of engaging with Brexit as the turbulent process unfolds. Resonating with Braidotti’s ‘I desire therefore I exist’ (Braidotti, 1991, pp. 16–45), Sue reflects on her journey from existential crisis to ‘struggling activism’, from the political void and back considering the knowledge acquired by feminists from body, space and presence (Cohen, 1998), from the physical, intellectual and emotional, when manoeuvring in political arenas. In the process, Sue turns to poetry, art and music, generating different narratives and questions, as well as conflicting thoughts and emotions, unsettling and consoling. Over time, she experiences how the ideological politics of Brexit reinforced by racism and austerity combine disturbingly to set disenfranchised communities against one another. In Part 2, ‘Resistance in a Landscape of Othering’, Margaret takes inspiration from Marshall (1999) and Richardson (1997) for whom writing inquiry can be a resource for seeing things differently, for reimagining the world in conversation with others, and so for making new knowledge (Page, Grisoni, & Turner, 2013; Page & Speedy, 2012; Page et al., 2021). In conversation with activist friends, she takes part in demonstrations, participates in debates in feminist meetings, follows the twists and turns of voting in Westminster, and seeks opportunities to influence the outcomes of debates as governments seek agreement on a withdrawal deal within the timeline agreed with Brussels. She shares moments of hope and frustration, travelling through time as memories surface of where collaborative equalities practice was developed with women across borders and locally. The importance of feminist spaces for nourishing activism, the collective power of women to reimagine democracy, and the importance of transnational collaboration, emerge as key themes as she contemplates the loss of EU citizenship.
12 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page In chapter 3, From the Political to the Personal in an Age of Uncertainty: Assault on Self, Identity, Family, Community, and Nationhood’, co-authors Susanna Giullari, Moestak Hussein, Negat Hussein, Tove Samzelius and Sue Cohen, ` agree that their experience of Brexit, has been more from the political to the personal, than from the personal to the political. With a heritage of migration, they already had embodied knowledge of the complex and hidden consequences of being ‘alien’. Collectively the writers embody the multi-layered nature of ‘other’ – as women, EU nationals, and BAME migrants from outside of the EU who now have EU nationality. They explore how their lives in the private domain have been further disrupted and re-drawn by the Brexit political process, their families unsettled and divided by shifts in nationhood and citizenship. The authors in conversation speak of the fragility of belonging, feeling forced to choose a single identity, and trapped in an enforced national identity that denies them freedom of movement. Contrary to much of the political discourse that has considered freedom of movement to have negative consequences, for those contributing to this chapter freedom of movement has proved positive, furthering agency, choice and control over their lives. Now with Brexit their own and their families’ nationalities become ever more complex, as they wrestle with the transition from European legislation to newly framed UK immigration laws. The hostile environment has always been there but has mutated. Misinformation has served to further hostilities heightening racism and nationalism in a divided society, in which so many white British working class families also suffered under austerity. How do they navigate divisions on the margins? ‘We are internationalists at heart with strong connections with one another, but the dominance of nationalistic politics invades our personal space.’ Many of those on the margins have little time for coming together outside work and caring responsibilities. Nevertheless, the authors highlight ways in which women within migrant communities maintain strong networks of solidarity. As the conversation progresses, they focus on liberation: communities of interest where those considered ‘other’ can find a safe space, have their voices heard, meet people who listen to them, exchange ideas, develop collectively and as individuals; and they focus on their families. Many white feminists have historically seen the family as a site of oppression, whilst for black families, the family can be a site of resistance (Collins, 1991, p. 133). They discuss the Mutual Aid strategies originating from the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, as well as radical feminist international perspectives, referencing parallel struggles in different areas of the world, including the Women’s Strike movement6 building radical grassroots bridges of resistance across communities and countries. In concluding, they discuss the challenges and opportunities for activists working to bring people together across difference, referencing their combined histories in the Single Parent Action Network.7
The Women’s Strike. Retrieved from https://womenstrike.org.uk/about/. Accessed on June 15, 2020. 7 Single Parent Action Network UK Retrieved from www.singleparents.org.uk. Accessed on June 15, 2020.
How Brexit is Changing Women’s Lives 13 In Chapter 4 – Jane Speedy’s ‘Post-Brexit Haiku: Countering Prejudice with Sticks-in-the-Spokes and Danish Pastries’ sits within a poetic approach to ‘everyday sociology’, simulating and representing the short, sound-bite focussed, social media-driven, contemporaneous world of snatched, fragmented interactions that constitute our current discourse as interconnected haiku (Bridges et al., 2013; Speedy, 2015). This genre seems most apposite in evoking the noisy, syncopated hurly–burly of the Gloucester Road on a weekday in Bristol, a thriving local inner city high street full of independent shops and enterprises situated in the middle of Bristol West: the most remain-voting area of a determinedly remainvoting city, surrounded by the leave-voting rural areas of Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. Jane has written that, The ‘post-Brexit’ atmosphere of veiled hostility in the poem was not dependent on a vote for ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’, but upon the divisive mood of ‘othering’ that pervaded the entire country immediately following the referendum. Jane’s poem illustrates the power of poetry and irony as a strategy for resistance.
Section 2: Feminising Democracy in Westminster and Devolved Nations ‘Othering’ has taken different forms in different geographical settings. Of those voting in the Referendum, 49% of women voted to leave compared to 55% of men8 representing just 37% of the 46.5 million aged 18 and over who were registered to vote in 2016. Disappointingly, 12.95 million electors did not vote. Overall, 51.9% of those who voted in the Referendum opted to leave the European Union. In Wales, the figure was higher, with 52.5% voting Leave. In contrast 62% voted Remain in Scotland, 55.8% in Northern Ireland (Uberoi, 2016). In Chapter 5 – ‘Inspiring Change: Women Organising Across the Devolved Nations’, – Lyn Carvill, (Women’s Budget Group Northern Ireland); Emma Ritch (Engender Scotland); Natasha Davies and Hade Turkmen (Chwarae Teg Wales), contributors working for women’s equality organisations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with an introduction by Sue Cohen, analyse commonalities and differences in each of the devolved nations. Their analyses demonstrate that women across the nations will lose out directly and indirectly under Brexit in spite of the differences in the overall voting patterns. Directly, because of funding losses and the loss of EU equality and employment protections; indirectly, because of the loss of influencing and networking opportunities afforded by the EU that had helped to shape legislative change in the devolved nations. Although legislative advances have taken different forms, the Gender Equality Review in Wales, the Gender Matters Roadmap 8
EU Referendum. Indy100. Retrieved from https://www.indy100.com/topics/eureferendum. Accessed on June 15, 2020.
14 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page in Scotland and the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland, all have been informed in different ways by the European Union. The authors also describe the influencing that takes place between the three nations. For example, Natasha Davies suggests that Wales is becoming ‘Indy curious’, especially with ‘ever- greater divergence between the priorities and approaches of the UK and Welsh governments’. Contributors agree that maintaining links transnationally and with sister organisations is more important than ever in creating cross border alliances and shared learning strategies especially with those on the Celtic fringe. However, existing funding support is unlikely to be replaced. Four nations feminist work is already substantially under resourced. Given their different political histories and their different legislative responsibilities there were also very different trajectories. As outlined by Lynn Carvill, Women in Northern Ireland face specific and complex challenges. ‘Brexit has led to ancient wounds, somewhat healed by the peace process, being picked apart and bringing pain once again to Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland.’ At this time the nation was without Stormont, The Northern Ireland Assembly, so that much of the Brexit debate happened at Westminster without representative political leadership. Scotland had the highest number of voters for Remain including the highest number of women. Emma Ritch suggests that both devolution and the Women for Independence movement were ‘asymmetrical’ in animating women’s political participation, helping to bring about a resurgence in feminism in the process. In contrast the majority of the Welsh nation voted to leave, higher than in England. Yet conversely, as Natasha Davies outlines, women in Wales will experience ‘the impact of Brexit more acutely’ as the nation benefits substantially as a net gainer from EU funding. It is clear that in spite of the different voting patterns, women’s feminist activism has had and will continue to have a significant impact in each of the three nations that could in the future bring about new powers and institutions. ‘The lesson from Scotland is that constitutional shifts can create space for our shared calls for equal access to safety and security, resources and power for women and girls.’ Would this be the same for England? Do the women in the smaller nations have greater influence in devolved government settings, energising activism? For the reality is, as the authors record, feminists in the devolved nations have had little influence over Westminster in the Brexit debate. In Chapter 6 – ‘Feminists mobilising against Brexit in Westminster’ – Jenna Norman demonstrates how women campaigning at a Westminster level in England have also struggled to have their voices heard. The women profiled in her research wrestle with these challenges. Brexit, argues Jenna Norman, has unravelled the UK, exposing the white masculine norms of mainstream politics with ‘archaic interpretations of performative masculinity’. The fragility of feminist progress in Westminster was exemplified by the reticence of women’s charities to speak out against Brexit for fear of being seen as divisive or politically motivated, thereby risking loss of funding. The increase in misogynistic and racist abuse experienced by women who did speak out against Brexit was facilitated by a digital age that posits new challenges for women opposing discrimination in public settings.
How Brexit is Changing Women’s Lives 15 Jenna profiles five women who played leading roles in mobilising against Brexit in England in the three years between the summer of 2016 and the summer of 2019. These women were seeking ways to collectively create spaces and channels for women in all their diversity, to articulate their concerns within proEuropean movements. Alongside them, Gina Miller, an independent business woman, played a vital role in presenting a successful legal challenge to defend democratic process in parliament. Their motivations were many and varied: the loss of women’s rights and economic opportunities; the flourishing of ‘toxic’ masculinity, racism and right-wing populism; the ‘robbing’ of European identities; economic precariousness; and above all, concern for their grandchildren’s futures. As women and especially as women of colour in their varying professions and roles as mothers, carers and Europeans; they knew that Brexit was not just about Britain’s departure from the European block. It was symptom as opposed to cause of a wider political shift that would adversely affect those marginalised by gender, race, ethnicity and other structures of power. Common to all is a determination to ensure that women’s and ethnic diversity are intrinsic to political democracy, connecting the local to the national to the global. Jenna concludes with a word of caution against feminist ‘linear progress narratives’. She argues that the past three years have arguably revealed a darker truth about the silencing effect of an increasingly neo-liberal environment where the organisations which advocate for and support over 50% of the population to achieve equal standing in society are seen as a ‘costly luxury’ as opposed to valued advocates for equality, justice and human rights. Jenna ends with a call to action: ‘We have to find ways to reclaim our political agency, to stay angry and turn that anger into action’. There will certainly be widespread struggles ahead. In Chapter 7 – ‘Risky Futures: Women in the British Labour Market’ – Susan Milner reflects on the uncertain future as women face increasing polarisation and structural disadvantage in a Brexit labour market. Many women have already been immobilised by the ‘sticky floor’ as opposed to the glass ceiling, given the steep rise in low paid employment, part-time work and zero hour contracts, with women of colour and disabled women the hardest hit (Hall et al., 2017). Women’s activism may have strengthened women’s rights in the workplace, but under austerity the workplace environment has become ever more challenging, particularly as employment rights are limited to those with a secure labour market attachment. Many women end up on zero hour contracts, and/or part-time employment unable to afford high childcare costs, the highest in the EU. Changes in pension entitlement also means women will have to work longer in the labour market.9 9
See the campaign fought by the WASPI women to contest this. Retrieved from https:// www.waspi.co.uk/2020/02/22/2020-waspi-campaign-update/
16 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page Susan’s coining of Brexit as a ‘risk intensifier’ in these worsening conditions is particularly apposite. Research undertaken by the Women’s Budget Group and the Fawcett Society (WBG, 2018) suggests Brexit will have three major economic consequences: a disproportionate effect on sectors which employ high numbers of women; a further reduction in public services; and an increase in food prices. Like others, Susan sees conditions eroding further when withdrawal leads to isolation from progressive influences within the EU, increasing the risk of aggressive deregulation. ‘Existing protections contained in the proposed withdrawal agreement are weak and contingent on political leadership’. Given that Brexit as a political project is led by ‘over confident men trading bluster for knowledge and honesty … whose ideological preference is for further dismantling of employment rights and the public sector’ (Walker, 2018), there will be battles ahead. Ways forward that Susan identifies are intrinsic to feminist economics: free universal childcare; mandatory gender pay gap audits; protection of part time working; more secure employment contracts; flexible working for all jobs; investment in in-work training; women’s paid employment to take account of unpaid labour – the reproductive economy. Feminist activists surely have their work cut out. But there are paths to be forged. In Chapter 8 – ‘Towards Feminist Democracy: Populist Forces and Feminist Activism’, Diane Bunyan, Jackie Longworth, Su Maddock and Margaret Page, members of Fair Play South West (FPSW10), identify four arenas where opportunities for the furthering of feminist democracy might be progressed. The first considers the relationship between the UK’s political executive and the law. Alliances, they argue, between independent actors calling government to account through the courts, and MPs insisting on their right to scrutinise and debate government proposals, are indicative of the struggles ahead. Feminist activism in the context of populism is the second identified arena. If populism is to be countered, they suggest, new devolved constitutional measures and conventions are required that bring democratic decision-making to the local level including government assemblies in the English regions, citizens assemblies, and participatory budgeting. Women’s participative leadership in such settings is the third way forward. Women’s transformative leadership can play a critical role in post-Brexit UK, carving out socio-economic models that value participative democracy, social infrastructure and sustainable economies. Carving out new channels of transnational influence post-Brexit is the fourth arena of activism that they identify. The authors consider whether as feminists we over relied on EU resources, equality policy and enforcement mechanisms through the European Court of Justice, to compensate for shortcomings and outright opposition to equality law and regulation by our own government. Scotland and Wales and to some extent Northern Ireland are breaking free in this respect but without devolution mechanisms, England has faltered.
Fair Play South West is a regional equality campaigning group. Retrieved from https://www.fairplaysouthwest.org.uk/
How Brexit is Changing Women’s Lives 17 They conclude that we need structural mechanisms that re-establish the principle of a specific voice for women in democratic processes so there is an official channel that individual campaigns feed into through devolution or constitutional reform. Yet none of this can be achieved without a buoyant women’s movement. Feminist activism, leadership, organisation and willingness to disrupt and to challenge the status quo has been and will always be key to advancing and promoting women’s full and equal participation in democracy and the wellbeing of society. In Chapter 9 – ‘Everything Has Changed and Nothing Has Changed; Glimpses of Utopian and Dystopian Futures’ – Sue Cohen and Margaret Page identify emergent themes and potential directions of travel. They argue that the climate created by Brexit demonstrates the need to return to feminist transformational agendas that critically address women’s participation in democratic processes, from intersectional and international perspectives. As co-authors, they had set out to demonstrate how Brexit is changing women’s lives, and how women are contributing as active participants in movements to rethink the meaning of democracy, the economy, and the ‘good society’. The writings in total present a snapshot of how a diverse group of activists experienced the changes resulting from the decision to exit the EU, and how they organised to protect their rights and care for each other as Brexit reshaped their political environment. These writings are intended to contribute to feminist history as it is being made, illustrating shifts and changes in women’s individual subjectivities and community experiences in an ever-changing and increasingly turbulent political landscape, in a context of uncertain futures.
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How Brexit is Changing Women’s Lives 19 Richardson, L. (1997). Fields of play: Constructing an academic life. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Academic Press. Speedy, J. (2015). Staring at the park: A poetic auto-ethnographic inquiry. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. Speedy, J., & Wyatt, J. (2021). Artful collaborative inquiry: Making and writing creative qualitative research. London: Routledge. Torrisi, C. (2019). Women cross borders to confront the far right in Italy. Retrieved from https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/women-cross-borders-confront-far-rightitaly/. Accessed on June 15, 2020. Townsend, M. (2019). Police investigate ‘extremist’ targeting of Stella Creasy by antiabortion group. The Observer Newspaper, October 6. Retrieved from https://www. theguardian.com/politics/2019/oct/06/stella-creasy-anti-abortion-group-policeinvestigate-extremist-targeting. Accessed on June 22, 2020. Uberoi. E. (2016). Analysis of the EU Referendum results 2016. Published Wednesday, June 29. Retrieved from https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/ cbp-7639/ Walker, S. (2018). Overconfident men brought us Brexit. It’s not too late for women to fix it. The Guardian, July 26. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/ jul/26/brexit-womens-equality-party-eu. Accessed on April 7 2020. Women’s Budget Group. (2018). Exploring the economic impact of Brexit on women. London: WBG/Fawcett Society. Zaviršek, D., & Rajgelj, B. (2018). Anti-refugee sentiment without refugees: Human rights violations and social work in post-socialist countries of Southeastern Europe in their social contexts. Journal of Human Rights and Social Work, 4(1), 5–16. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s41134-018-0083-2 Zobnina, A. (2019). The Istanbul Conventions has not been properly implemented. France 24. Retrieved from https://www.france24.com/en/video/20191123-anna-zobninaon-france-24-the-istanbul-convention-has-not-been-properly-implemented. Accessed on June 15, 2020.
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Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy: From the Personal to the Political Sue Cohen and Margaret Page Introduction This chapter is written in two parts. Between them they cover the three year period from when the EU referendum was announced in 2016, to the moment when the Withdrawal Bill was passed in Parliament in December 2019. They do not attempt to follow in detail the processes of negotiation, nor key political events that led to Brexit; these timelines have been mapped elsewhere.1 Rather they demonstrate how these events redrew the political landscapes of our feminist activism in our daily lives. Each part takes the form of a reflective journal, providing two very different personal records of how each of us engaged with events leading up to the eventual decision to withdraw from the EU. Between them they offer a lived historical record of how feminist activists, located in a specific temporal, social and localised political context, endeavoured personally and politically to make sense of events in order to try to change them. In Part 1, Extracts from the Journal of a Struggling Activist, Sue reflects on her journey from existential crisis to ‘struggling activism’, from the political void
For a full and detailed record of negotiations in the UK Parliament and with the EU in Brussels, see: House of Commons library, Commons Research Briefing (2020). Brexit timeline: events leading to the UK’s exit from the European Union. Retrieved from https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-7960/. Accessed on May 24,2020; and Centre for European Reform. Brexit-timeline. Retrieved from https://www.cer.eu/brexit-timeline. Accessed on May 22, 2020.
Feminist Activists on Brexit: From the Political to the Personal, 21–59 Copyright © 2021 by Sue Cohen and Margaret Page. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited under an exclusive licence. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved doi:10.1108/978-1-80043-420-220210005
22 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page and back considering the knowledge acquired from the physical, intellectual and emotional when manoeuvring in political arenas (Cohen, 1998). Over time, she sees how Brexit in day-to-day life exerts control over mind, body, space and presence, whilst manipulating embedded power imbalances within and between class, race, citizenship status and gender. In Part 2, Resistance in a Landscape of Othering, Margaret responds to news reports, attends demonstrations, and reflects on opportunities for feminist activism. In conversation with friends, she shares moments of hope and frustration, travelling through time as memories surface where collaborative equalities practice was developed with women across borders and locally. The importance of feminist spaces for nourishing activism across borders and differences, the collective power of women to shape and to reimagine our future, emerge as key themes as she contemplates the loss of our EU citizenship.
2a. Extracts from the Journal of a Struggling Activist – Sue Cohen Written over a three-year period as a series of diary entries, personal commentaries on meetings, conversations, reflections and provocations, pre and post the referendum, I record and reflect on pivotal moments when engaging with Brexit in my daily life as the turbulent political process unfolds. In Those Years … the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged into our personal weather They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove along the shore, through the rags of fog where we stood, saying I … Adrienne Rich (Rich, 2013)
PRE THE REFERENDUM February – June 2016 When did I first start to feel women as ‘other’? Probably from when the referendum was first announced. It’s well documented now that women’s voices were barely heard in the run-up to the vote (MacLeavy, 2018). Discourses focussed on economics, the market, migration, with little or no synthesis with the ‘private’ – embodied experience, family, care, social infrastructures, experience of violence, racism and discrimination. And with David Cameron announcing the date of the referendum in February 2016, there were barely five months to inform and campaign. As late as 20 March 2016, Helen Lewis wrote in the Guardian: ‘Women’s voices are not being heard enough in either the Leave or Remain camps. But with more women than men currently undecided, aren’t they likely to tip the balance on 23 June?’ (p. 1)
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 23 Where were the feminist activists who could have helped tip that balance? Sleep-walking? Too complacent? Too hesitant? Too preoccupied with more pressing concerns? When I’d tried as a member of the management committee to put the referendum on the Women’s Budget Group’s (WBG) work programme agenda in early 2016, the hard-pressed part-time Director responded anxiously that they were already struggling with the present workload. Austerity and the Spending Review were taking their toll: 86% of tax and benefit cuts 2010–2016 had come from women (WBG, p.7). It was only in March 2016 that a call went out as to whether anyone from the WBG had done anything on the impact of Brexit on women. And a debate part organised by WBG at the LSE ‘EU and Gender Equality Better Off In or Out?’ didn’t take place till 15 June 2016, two weeks before the referendum. In so many different settings, there was the sense that Leave wasn’t really going to happen, so why discuss? In February 2016, WBG together with Bristol Women’s Commission were still unravelling how we might influence the strategic development of the EU’s £68 million Social Investment Fund (SIF) that came into the West of England. We believed we had traction, given those on the receiving end of SIF, had first to produce an equalities and diversity plan. The fact that this EU funding might cease to exist in the future, together with any commitment to equalities and diversity planning, was not part of our mind-set. And when did I first start to feel myself as ‘other’ in this Brexit environment? Prior to the referendum, I felt out on a limb, restless, with a deep sense of foreboding, a re-awakening of that slumbering existential dread, buried so deep, no one else would recognise it, except maybe those with a Jewish heritage like me. I understood from my history studies how the state helped to disconnect the mass of German people from the Holocaust, reinforced by racist lies, scaremongering and propaganda. Just as Jews and minorities became ‘other’ in Nazi Germany, now migrants, refugees and asylum seekers were the cause of all our ills, popularised by jingoism, broadsheet headlines, political diatribes and online ‘false news’. And just as divide and rule propaganda diverted attention from the causes of the Depression in 1930s Germany, so it now served to distract from the causes of austerity in the UK. When in the lead up to the referendum socialists started to split between Leave and Remain, weakening a united front, this resonated with the Nazis’ rise to power when anti-Semitism united both left and right (and still has the potential to go full circle). However, I had come to understand over the years, that my interminable pattern of fearing the worst might interfere with my perceptions of reality. No one else around me seemed to be making the 1930s connection, so I thought that once again this was my own stuff. The only way forward, I decided, was to be proactive in the here and now. Informed and driven by my internationalism and my experience of working in grassroots social movements in UK and EU settings, I would join with others to raise awareness of how women were going to lose out if we left. On reflection, by the time the date of the referendum was announced, it was already way too late. ----------------------------------------
24 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page 9 April 2016 I’ve been out and about for the Remain campaign in the last few weeks. Am compelled to go down to the Centre as virtually everyone I’ve canvassed from diverse ethnic and class backgrounds in the Ashley Ward I live in, are voting Remain. The shoppers are indifferent, mildly interested at best. They are here to shop. However, one pleasant young woman stops to chat. A tall young man hovers awkwardly behind her. They live in Hartcliffe, one of the poorest estates in the city. She is curious about voting Remain. I cite the range of EU funding that comes into Bristol for areas like hers – youth projects, training, childcare. She turns to the young man. ‘They haven’t helped my brother. He can’t cope on his own. He has learning problems. There’s nothing for him in Hartcliffe’. I have no convincing response. I feel at a loss, a sense of failure. Where does EU funding go in Hartcliffe? I need to find out; get better at making the case. 14 May 2016 There is a public meeting organised by Bristol Momentum ‘Is there a Progressive Case for Remaining in Europe?’ I’m determined to get there, as I need to hone my arguments. At last an informed speaker, Clare Moody MEP making the case for internationalism, challenging the bravado of ‘taking back control’. You can’t have national solutions to international problems. It’s clearly working at an EU level given we’ve had the longest period of peace in written history. If we give up our EU sovereignty, we’ll never be as influential. The UK presently has a place at the table with France and Germany. We can make the case for reform. Many of those voting to Leave want to end migration, but they confuse freedom of movement with the refugee crisis – the largest exodus of people since the Second World War. Clare unravels how progressive internationalism is working at EU level: There are alliances happening with progressive parties across the EU: to make global companies pay taxes wherever they are based; standing up against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which in the UK will happen more readily if we leave, with the rich laughing all the way to the bank. They are forging progressive legislation on the environment and employment; protecting the Human Rights Act, which in the UK serves to protect our constitutional rights, given we are without a constitution. The case for Remain is to enhance our lives. There are a range of speakers and lots of discussion from the floor, ending with the large meeting voting overwhelmingly for Remain. It feels good to have had an in-depth debate. Which is timely given I’ve agreed to represent the WBG this month on what women stand to lose from Brexit at a fringe meeting of the Fabian Society.
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 25 19 May 2016 I’m in Scotland for a symposium – Budgeting for Gender Equality – alongside key feminist activists and academics from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England. At dinner, I sit next to two venerable feminist professors from the WBG. I mention that I’m speaking on the Fabian Society panel. They adopt well-rehearsed inscrutable expressions but I am not taken in. ‘For Remain or Leave?’ I give a zestful little speech for Remain, helped on by the wine. Relieved, they start a fervent discussion. 20 May 2016 Today there are lots of compelling presentations on the political and socioeconomic conditions that impede or further gender budgeting. The referendum is not discussed, let alone what might happen if we leave the EU. Rather, we discuss the scope of European Directives influencing gender equality in procurement processes. None of us seem to consider that that those said Directives could soon no longer apply. 21 May 2016 I’m at the Fabian Society’s Summer Conference at the TUC Congress Centre, hundreds of people milling about. I’m to speak at the lunchtime fringe meeting. ‘What do women stand to lose or gain from Brexit?’ Others on the panel include women from ‘Britain Stronger In Europe’, ‘Women for Britain’ and ‘Britain Thinks’. We’ve been given a small upstairs room with 5 minutes each to make our case. We are unquestionably on the fringe. Some might say ‘other’. Reasons for Staying in the EU – My Speech – extracts: The origins of EU funding and legislation are too often hidden from public view – we need to do a detailed inventory of women’s rights in the work place, maternity rights, anti-discrimination legislation, childcare funding, apprenticeships, positive discrimination for the unemployed. The European Social Fund is more likely to support women’s reproductive rights than our present neo-liberal government where the market is all. Billions have come in from EU structural and investment funds, to 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships across England for example, with strictures if discrimination, poverty and gender equality in decision-making are not addressed. The political will to support these measures is largely down to progressive internationalism – embodied by political representatives, committees and social solidarity movements that campaign for transformative change – the European Women’s Lobby, the European TUC, the Women’s Committee in the European Parliament and the European Anti-Poverty Network, for example. I was involved when setting up Single Parent Action Network under the Third European Poverty Programme, at a time when single parents under Thatcherism experienced some of the worst discrimination and poverty in Europe. The only place to seek political support for single parents at the time was the EU (Cohen, 2000).
26 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page Why so? Although the multifarious nature of EU politics means the market dominates, (as it inevitably does being the Single European market), pressure from more progressive political parties across the EU helps to modify dominant neo-liberal trajectories (Cohen, 2000). I have no illusions about the hegemonic controls imposed by the European Commission. The case to remain has to be the case to reform – we owe it to our international friends. We become little England and Wales if we leave. Isolated, Scotland will separate. TTIP will be rolled out without check in the UK. The social infrastructure will be further dismantled. Women have already experienced the brunt of the cuts. Things can only get worse. When I finish I’m uneasy – I feel I could have done more, but what? The audience is reasonably receptive except for one, who argues vehemently in favour of Leave. Her overriding reason – the EU’s support for TTIP, enforcing trade agreements against UK interests. I suspect she is a Lexiteer (a left-wing Brexiteer). Her face looks familiar from TV but I can’t place her. I feel I haven’t had enough time to make TTIP complexities sufficiently clear. At the end of the session, I run after her to further the discussion. I stop in my tracks as she is getting in the lift. I realise she is not a Lexiteer after all, but Suzanne Evans, the leading light from UKIP. I back right off. Nothing to be gained from being stuck in a lift with Suzanne Evans. In the break, I share anxieties with a woman active in ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’. We agree that women’s concerns are not on their radar. She’s lobbied the men leading the campaign but they tell her not to worry, they’ll get round to it. We have a month to go. On the way home the taxi driver asks me where I have been. He is very supportive. All his family are voting Remain. I feel reassured, uplifted. I think we might win. France 13–22 June 2016 On holiday with my partner’s extended family. All bar one support Remain. The single Leave supporter owns the French holiday home we’re staying in. There is much debate. My brother-in-law thinks branding gives Leavers the edge. ‘Brexit’ is catchy, dynamic, ‘Remain’ dull, sedentary. A light bulb flashes on. He’s right. No one talks about Leave anymore, it’s all about Brexit. My anxiety ratchets up. I only agreed to come to France if I could get back on the 22nd to get people out on voting day. On 16 June Jo Cox is murdered. Thomas Mair, a right-wing extremist shouting ‘Britain First’ shot her with a sawn-off rifle then stabbed her outside a library where she died. I’m beyond grief. Many are saying that her death will bring people together, ensure the success of the Remain campaign. What on earth am I doing here? I need to be back in England. 23 June 2016 Out to bring the vote in till the polling stations close. Many cheerful supporters come to the door. Bristol West’s pro-Remain MP Thangam Debbonaire is
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 27 rousing on the doorstep. But many in my neighbourhood are EU nationals wishing us good luck, not allowed to vote, even though some have lived here for most of their lives. They could have voted if Cameron had so decided. What a flawed democracy we live in.
June–December 2016 EXISTENTIAL CRISIS TAKES HOLD 24 June 2016 My son and girlfriend are back from Glastonbury querying why my partner and I need to watch TV so late into the night. We wake up in the early hours to the appalling outcome. We’re ashen-faced when they come down for breakfast. They are in disbelief. They live in London. All their friends and workmates voted Remain, one a close friend of Jo Cox. They were at her elegy in Trafalgar Square attended by thousands. The result is inconceivable. Later in the day I receive an email from Jeremy Corbyn. ‘The British people have made their decision. We must respect that result and Article 50 has to be invoked now so that we negotiate an exit from European Union’. I’m finding it hard to process. I re-read it a number of times: am incredulous, stupefied. Which British people? I supported Jeremy Corbyn for leader. I feel deserted, deceived. Cameron, a deserter in a very different way, hands in his notice. 27 June 2016 Thangam Debbonaire resigns her shadow cabinet role. She doesn’t think that Corbyn put his heart and soul into the Referendum campaign nor that he is the best person to lead Brexit negotiations. Many local activists are calling her a traitor. I think Jeremy Corbyn betrayed us in this instance. 30 June 2016 More cowards and deserters. Boris Johnson pulls out of the leadership race. His bus campaign promising £350 million a week to the NHS helped swing Brexit. -----------------------I spend the summer of 2016 in despair. My ontology has changed. Susie Orbach described the shock, fear, misplacement, loss of safety felt by those who came for therapy the day after the referendum. Notions of what the UK has stood for in people’s consciousness are being shredded. The vote experienced as an assault on senses of self, of identity and community that people didn’t know they carried inside of them and relied upon until the vote shattered it. (Orbach, 2016) I write the quote at the back of my diary – therapy in the months to come. When friends ask how things are I tell them I’m in existential crisis. Some look at me benignly – they don’t believe me. Do I believe me? Others are supporters of the Corbyn project, which means ambiguity on Brexit. We get into brief, volatile debates or avoid the subject altogether.
28 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page 23 November 2016 What exactly triggered my explosive reaction? I organise a meal at my house for friends to welcome A. who is over here from the States. In high spirits at the dinner table, she asks about Brexit. I launch in, but one of my closest friends of over 40 years dismisses me – treachery has undermined Jeremy Corbyn. I find myself jumping to my feet, shouting, ‘Do you know anything about me?’ – what else I can’t remember. I rush up stairs in tears – I’m rarely in tears nowadays. When I recover I find my friend has fled, leaving the embarrassed guests, sitting around the table making small talk. No one tried to stop her so I have to run all the way after her (down hill luckily). In making up I suggest we have a Marxist Feminist reading group on Brexit. (We never do.)
WHERE TO NOW? For all the talk of democratising the Labour party, those who question the Brexit strategy in large meetings are being called out. Where can progressive feminists find spaces to interrogate the dominant narrative, free from surveillance from our political minders? Some of us form small cells to discuss and debate. We deliberate in larger meetings with Clare Moody who’s on the EU’s Gender Equality Committee. Clare foreshadows the challenges ahead. We will have no say over the rules if we leave. Taking back control will be held behind closed doors. Now is the start of a long campaign in which we have to build the evidence base around social justice, gender mainstreaming, equal opportunities legislation. ‘My identity has been stolen’, says one. In December 2016, women from across the South West come together at an event ‘Leaving the EU: Fighting for Women’s Rights’. There is unanimous agreement that we lack a coordinated feminist voice. Simple answers are being given to complex questions, feeding the rise of populism and the right. In this hateful environment, we must strengthen relations with other EU countries rather than weaken them. The notion of a ‘Women’s EU Rights’ (WEUR) campaign is put forward. (An unfortunate acronym as we don’t sustain it beyond 2017. Some of us do, however, morph into the Flash Mob.) The meeting considers the rise in open misogyny, overt racism and hate crime and how to challenge it. So many stories are emerging from people close to me. Muslim friends of mine taunted in the street by white men in vans – ‘You have to go back now’. My Polish friend wanting to celebrate her birthday in town but not going because one of her friends had been punched in the face there for speaking Polish; her friend’s 10-year old son attacked in ASDA for wearing a Polish football shirt. 16 January 2017 Hate crime raises its ugly head in my family. J., my granddaughter’s fiancée, has planned a surprise birthday celebration for her – a weekend-break in Barcelona with a champagne breakfast. J is the kindest, wittiest young man. They are at Heathrow Airport ready to fly but J who is black, accidently brushes by a
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 29 white man who’s with a group of drunken friends. The men scream violent abuse smashing bottles ready to attack him. Has Brexit let these men loose? How do they think they can get away with it? My granddaughter is terrified. She’s mixed race but never seen violent racism on this level. Onlookers start to cry. The police are called and passengers vow to act as witnesses. Airline staff promise that whatever happens J and A will be on the plane. But on arrival the police stop them all from boarding. (Not to be thwarted, J and A hare off to Stanstead where they get a last minute flight.) Racism has always been part of J’s life, way before Brexit. The police stop him regularly when he’s going to work on night shifts. Rather than get angry, he’s started to wind the car window up and down, up and down to wind them up. I worry about this: He would be shot in the States. 20 January 2017 I’m a representative on the Economic Task Force of Bristol Women’s Commission (see link). Today I’m at an Industrial Strategy session led by the Mayor. The government is offering no specific assistance to the core cities for Brexit. How will the structural funds be replaced? No one seems to know. No one in the government’s Brexit team seems to have expertise in employment and skills programmes, all of which will come to an end in three years time. The Mayor has had no response to a letter sent to David Davis on such issues. The government is failing to take the concerns of the city seriously – there is no proper dialogue. The Customs Union is a high-risk strategy, a disorderly Brexit even more so. ‘We would all like to live in a different universe but we have to act in the present one’, says the Mayor. ------------------------------------At the end of March 2017, Article 50 is formally invoked. Where to now? Hiatus sets in with little informed discussion taking place on the ground. How is Brexit affecting those without a voice? 23 May 2017 I’m leading a workshop to discuss what’s happening in marginalised communities, part of a much broader event on the impact of Brexit on the city organised by the University of Bristol (#BristolBrexit, 2017). Jim Hodgeson from the working class outer estates of Hartcliffe and Withywood speaks powerfully about those ‘left behind’ long before the referendum. Fragmentation increased under austerity. Hartcliffe, a housing estate of 11,000 mostly white people has no bank or launderette. Social spaces have closed down one by one: there are few interactions on the Broadway now, it used to be a hive of women’s activity; a pub became a block of flats, another a Tesco; the Filwood Park green space has been appropriated for 100+ houses.
30 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page Hostile media coverage and debate have been allowed to take hold, discourses previously deemed ‘politically incorrect’. Open racism is no longer culturally taboo in the area. Many believe the referendum result justifies abusive behaviour towards people who don’t look or sound like them. We hear from working class communities in multi-ethnic innercity areas of Barton Hill and Easton. Streets are no longer social settings. People cohabit by remaining in their own ‘safe’ groups, taking turns to use community spaces rather than co-occupy the park or the launderette. With community centres closing down, including the SPAN Study Centre for local single parents that we dreamed up 20 years ago (Cohen & McDermont), where are people from different backgrounds to meet and learn from each other? Where we can fact-check information? Find common cause? In an era when people are either behind their mobile phones or behind closed doors, and when Bristol’s housing market is reinforcing social segregation whether by class, generation or ethnic group, we need to forge inclusive shared spaces for the ‘us’ and the ‘other’.
FORGING REFLECTIVE SPACES Shared spaces are still being forged, even in these times. For the last few years I’ve been part of the Productive Margins Programme undertaking co-produced research with disenfranchised communities on the regulations that control their lives. Alongside multidisciplinary academics and a range of different artists, diverse communities have come together from outer estates, inner cities and the Welsh Valleys, reflecting on the world in order to transform it (Freire, 2001), disrupting class and racialised hegemony, challenging the regulations that control and impoverish people’s lives. They challenged food deserts and lack of transport on outer estates; cheap takeaways that take over the high streets in inner cities; life chances thwarted by regulatory job centres; the withdrawal of funding for community spaces (McDermont, Cole, Newman, & Piccini, 2020). Interestingly EU regulations never surfaced in these settings (Cohen, 2020). Throughout 2017, we WEUR activists are also working to forge reflective spaces. We pop up at meetings, send each other useful articles over the internet, write blogs, and papers, find avenues for influencing. We meet in our houses, at kitchen tables, in cafes. Sometimes we look like ladies who lunch. Little do they know we are planning small acts of resistance. 20 June 2017 We present a WEUR paper on feminist democracy at the ‘Gender Equality in Post-Brexit Britain’ symposium organised by the Equality Party and the
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 31 University of Bristol, alongside a number of informed speakers on law, health, politics. We question why a grassroots movement has not yet got off the ground and where progressive infrastructures might help drive mobilisation. Participation is layered. We need to build on the activism that exists on many different fronts: In Trade Unions – the majority of union members are women; Equality Act legislation via the women’s movement; equality agendas of Northern Ireland; the EU’s Women’s Rights Committee; European Parliament enforcement mechanisms; Socialists for Europe; social media. We need to link mobilisation with the suffragette movement. Mobilisation when it takes place can erupt. It’s always been down to us. We get a good reception, but in the afternoon on the small discussion table I’m on led by a professor of politics, embodied experience takes over: Women of a certain age seem more driven to mobilise on support for the menopause. 31 August–2 September ESA Athens 2017 Margaret and I extend the WEUR paper on Brexit, successfully submitting it to the European Sociological Association’s conference in Athens, inspired by its overall theme ‘(Un) Making Europe: Capitalism, Solidarities, Subjectivities’ (ESA, 2017). We’re desperate to make contact with our EU sisters. Attended by 3,500 researchers from European member states it’s impossible to capture the buzz, the exhilaration of being with so many academics and activists on the future of Europe. ‘Critical Europeanism’ is a perspective running throughout, though interestingly, very little on Brexit. The editor running the Emerald stall gets wind of our paper, suggesting, to our surprise, that we consider putting in a book proposal. Some of the sessions are shocking. Neither of us had anticipated, the level to which right-wing resurgence movements had taken over. In Slovenia, for example, feminist and LGBT movements are under threat. An anti-gender movement has emerged, attacking women’s rights that up until recently had been thought unquestionable. Some social movements have been silenced altogether, fearful of becoming the target of anti-gender crusades. Gender theory is now conspiracy theory. Could the same happen in the UK? Do referendums open up right-wing resurgence movements? The event closes with Yanis Varoufakis and Donatella della Porta in conversation on stage in a vast concert hall. Donatella provides the most inspiration. We need a rooted cosmopolitanism (Tarrow & della Porta, 2005): Critical Europeanism that rejects neo-liberal Europe, and fights for a feminist, ecological, open Europe respecting minorities’ rights and the self-determination of peoples, for peace, social justice, sustainable life, food sovereignty, and solidarity. We need participative and deliberative democracy, as opposed to liberal democracy. We need agency – action influencing structure and structure influencing action. We need interdisciplinary studies that intervene between macro causes and micro effects, imagining alternative futures.
32 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page Concluding, Donatella spurs us on with Gramsci’s ‘Pessimism of the intellect. Optimism of the will’ (Antonini, 2019). On a more personal note, whilst in Athens I’ve been having those intermittent pains in my right breast again. They came last year, then went, and have now come back again. I kind of promise myself to have it finally checked out when I get back. 17 November 2017 Though the doctor hasn’t found a lump, to be on the safe side she’s referred me to the Breast Care Centre. When I walk into the consulting room the consultant looks up from reading my notes and without examining me declares: ‘You’re lactating. It happens with women in the jungle – it’s a survival instinct’. Nonplussed, I submit myself to an examination on the bed. He runs a scanning instrument over my breasts. We watch on screen. ‘There’, he says triumphantly. ‘Milk! It can happen when you’re stressed. Have you been stressed?’ I think about this studiously. The only thing I can think of is Brexit. ‘Ah’, he cries. ‘Brexit. It’s terrible. The NHS is in crisis. We’re already losing staff. What can we do?’ I say that the only way I manage is by being proactive. He says, ‘I’ve written to my MP – what else can I do?’ His cries continue to ring out as I leave the consulting room.
MOBILISING ACTIVISM 2018 The hiatus on Brexit continues, reinforced in March 2018 when a 21-month transition period is agreed with the EU. How do we mobilise in this environment? We go on marches but what else? Towards the end of 2017 WEUR members metamorphosise into the ‘flash mob’, committed to popping up where Brexit discussions might be suppressed. We set up a WhatsApp group. But how to achieve a critical mass? There are 5 of us. We need to get to a wider audience. January–June 2018 Margaret and I decide to spend the first six months of 2018 planning for a UK symposium on Brexit, bringing together grassroots activists, community leaders, academics, and trade unionists from across the UK, supported by the universities of Bristol and Bath. 24 May 2018 ‘Furthering Women’s Democracy in a Brexit Environment’ lays the ground for the content of this book. Participants speak passionately about Brexit’s impact on migrants, violence against women; on maternity and employment rights; on women as workers, users of public services, and consumers (Cohen & Page, 2018). Strikingly, many agree the best hope for England is to learn from women’s activism in devolved settings. Professor Yvonne Galligan outlines implications for Northern Ireland, a nation that has hardly figured in political discourses up to this moment in time. It feels ground-breaking for feminists in Britain to hear the Good Friday agreement could be Brexit’s sticking point. (Some of us contact Yvonne after the symposium to ask if she’s prepared to lead on a letter to the Times outlining Brexit’s implications for Northern Ireland
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 33 and the rest of the UK. Yvonne declines graciously; she’s very busy on the implications for women in Northern Ireland. No doubt for Yvonne, it was not the ground-breaking moment that it had been for us). Yvonne lived and breathed Good Friday, whilst we lived in an England-centric Brexit bubble, one that was soon to burst when Northern Ireland took centre stage in the negotiations. October 2018 In a public meeting, I ask Thangam Debbonaire MP (now back as a Labour Whip), if the Shadow Front bench leaders have a strategy for dealing with hate crime against migrants. Not really, says Thangam apologetically. Brexit is taking up all their time. But aren’t Brexit and hate crime connected? I know Thangam knows that. But why is the Labour Party not taking to the streets on this, for god’s sake? 16 November 2018 How are Brexit and the hostile environment affecting women’s lives? What steps can women take to secure their own and their families’ futures? Margaret and I organise a focussed innercity event alongside Negat Hussein from Refugee Women of Bristol. Some women attending are long settled, some recent migrants. Law and gender experts provide greater clarity on legal steps to secure citizenship and settled status. But the fine detail and the bureaucracy of it all derail us. Even one of the presenters, Professor Marianne Hester, an expert on gender violence who’s lived in the UK since she was 12, ends up describing the battles around her own uncertain status. Collective learning feels two steps forward one-step back. Disturbingly, many may have left the event more uncertain than when they came. 5 December 2018 I’m on the Mayor’s Brexit response group for the Bristol Women’s Commission (Bristol Women’s Commission) alongside public sector, business and voluntary sector leaders. Sometimes the foot is on the pedal sometimes it is off the pedal. Today it’s on the pedal, planning for a No Deal Brexit. The NHS reports on preparations for supplies and staff shortages. The Chamber of Commerce says Airbus could lose billions. The port at Avonmouth might need backup. The police are preparing for public disorder. Forces are organising around the country in case of riots. At the end of the meeting S and myself are in shock. ‘It’s a war cabinet’. 10 and 11 January 2019 At a symposium on austerity, organised by the University of Bristol with many contributors. I’m presenting on single parents, pushed out to work on universal credit when their children are 3, trapped within a pernicious intersection of welfare, housing and employment policies, so regulated they have little time left to care for children (Cohen & Samzelius, 2020). Professor Ron Johnson an expert on voting demographics opens the event. There has been a long-term strategy to roll back the state, starting under Thatcher, then continued under Blair. New Labour assumed that the working class would carry on voting for them, as there was nowhere else for them to go. All parties were focussing on the middle classes. So many working class voters stopped voting – a
34 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page decline of 15% under Blair, creating a new class cleavage. UKIP remobilized in white working class areas, arguing that immigration was stealing the welfare state and that the EU was to blame. (Ron’s contribution resonates with me throughout 2019, no more so than after the election result that ends the decade.)
Opening Up Conversations. No Deal Brexit? – Panic Sets In. Nobody Wanted to Talk About it. Now Everybody/Nobody Wants to Talk About it Progressive parties could have spent the last two years community organising in disenfranchised working class areas. Instead UKIP have claimed the space. Brexit has closed down reasoned debate in the media. BBC News seems only interested in random sound bites. Producers of Question Time construct spectacles in different parts of the country, for a polarised audience to end up shouting at one another. Feminism isn’t getting a look-in even in academia. Under calls for large research proposals on Brexit, the Economic and Social Research Council turn down a bid that would open up co-produced research with diverse working class women, feminist academics and grassroots organisations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Another large feminist-led bid under the same call is also rejected. I tell someone I’m involved in editing a book. ‘On what?’ ‘Feminist democracy in a Brexit environment’. ‘What feminist democracy?’ she snaps. ‘It doesn’t exist’. January–February March 2019 In the first quarter of 2019, Parliament votes against ratifying the EU agreement three times. Tension ratchets up many more notches. A No Deal Brexit may now be a reality. How do we talk about it? Where do we talk about it? I find myself opening up conversations with people wherever I go. My daughter has bought me a ‘European’ necklace in shiny, glinting EU colours from Tatty Devine in Brick Lane. I wear it permanently. Strangers smile at me. (Though once two white middle-aged men in Somerset scowled at me.) Young people on public transport and serving in shops open up conversations with me. ‘Is that political’, says one. We get into a political conversation. (A portent of what is to come, later in the year the necklace tragically breaks in half.) 8 February 2019 Professor Victoria Bateman, an art installation in her own right, stages a naked protest against Brexit – on the radio! She managed to open up the conversation (BBC, 2019). Art, music, poetry open up different kinds of conversations. I’m a singer-song writer with Indigo Club. Most of my stream of consciousness now is concerned with ‘Deliverance’ (Indigo Club, Spotify). Brexit intrudes. ‘It’s a noble enterprise’,
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 35 claims a Brexiteer on TV. It goes into Arcadia, one of the most depressing songs I’ve written or sung. (I was a blues singer in a previous life). Verse 1: Look for the white cliffs as you head for Arcadia Gleaming sea walls surround the sacred site Drones of peace keeping us safe Little boats listing in the moonlight Oh what a noble enterprise Take back control, reach for the skies Don’t ever think of it as a failure We have Arcadia and at least we tried. We can’t get out And they can’t get in We’re looking out for number one Children dream of what they might have been Now their others have all gone … (Indigo Club) My artist friend Biddy Peppin is an anti-Brexit activist. It’s taken over her art. A couple of years ago we bought ‘On Edge’, a large oil painting of crushed cardboard and plastic that she’d stamped on after hearing the Referendum result. I placed it over the table where my friend and I fell out over Brexit. Since then, her paintings, mostly of graphic objects have become ever more haunting: ‘Gas Masks’, ‘Axes’, ‘Road Kill’, ‘Debris’, ‘Flight’. One of the largest is ‘Shroud’ completed, ‘when I thought that everything had got as bad as it possibly could’ (Peppin, 2020). We brought ‘Accident’ recently – a shattered tea -pot flying through the air. A couple of my friends (from the ill-fated dinner party) hate it. I find it strangely comforting. Like so many, I’m permanently obsessed with Brexit news – checking my phone for latest developments, watching interminable news reports and parliamentary debates on TV. Others however are fed up with it. I open up a conversation with Dibbs at our caravan site in Somerset, but it doesn’t last long. Dibbs: ‘The politicians are supposed to manage it all! Who are we – we’re only commoners. And as to a second referendum? What was the point of voting?’ Me: ‘The trouble is we didn’t know, none of us what was going to happen’. Dibbs: ‘We still don’t know’. Visiting Manchester, my hometown, I talk to my sister who voted Remain. She’s used to casual racism in the suburbs where she lives but now it’s got worse. She pities those with racism in their hearts. ‘Our family is so lucky not to carry that poison in our hearts’. I ask what people are saying about Brexit.
36 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page ‘Nobody talks about Brexit. Not unless they’re involved in politics. It feels like it’s out of our hands. It doesn’t feel democratic’. I open up a conversation with my middle brother who lives in a tower block in old Trafford Manchester, hard-hit by austerity. (Shortly before one of the tenants, ex-army, whose benefits had been stopped, about to be evicted, threw himself off the nineth floor.) I ask P how he voted. Only now do I realise that I come from a split family. Umm – I made a mess of that. I voted to leave. Why? Well Mum said when we were young to vote against the Common Market. And a lot of people who voted Leave were in the war years. Now it’s all a mess. People don’t know what the hell is happening. I just did it on a whim. I just didn’t think it was going to happen and when it did happen I thought if they are going to do another vote I’d vote to stay in. Why? Because I believe it’s good for kids leaving school and going to college, along with those who want to learn a language. And because everything was cool when we were in – councils getting money to do projects from the EU. What are people in your area saying? I don’t talk to people about politics. I keep myself to myself. I realise that this is the first time P has talked to me about politics since I left home for University all those years ago. I’ve talked to my youngest brother about politics forever. Debating the referendum I told him he was Lexiteer. What’s a Lexiteer? Someone on the Left who thinks the EU is a capitalist club and we should get out. Yes, I’m one of those.
“It was Brexit but it was immigration.” J comes to the house with her young daughter. She becomes highly distressed in the hallway. She is obsessed with the news. What’s going to happen, she cries repeatedly? Her daughter looks on anxiously. J is from Lithuania, (from an area close to where my Jewish grandfather fled the pogroms alone to the USA when he was fourteen). Brexit brings back scary memories for her. My Mum and I were walking down the street. We saw a lot of people shouting, “Ivan Namo.” I said to my Mum, ‘Why are they calling my Dad home?’ They didn’t want Russians in
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 37 Lithuania anymore. She explained but I didn’t understand. I was six. It was scary. It reminded me of now. Europeans are not welcome here anymore. If there is No Deal there will be civil war. People will start hating each other. I feel it in the gym. I start to think, ‘Who will be my friend?’ I won’t feel free to do what I do in this country. I won’t be recognised as a UK citizen. My accent. It’s scary. I think we need to all get together and pray for the outcome. Miracles can happen. We know there is so much ego in that Parliament. These MPs are concerned with themselves. Leaving without a deal will be a disaster. I hear through the grapevine A is leaving her job in the afterschool. I’m scared she’s going back to Poland with the family. A is a mainstay of the little community group we all run together at Junction 3. Her husband M, who has worked in a local factory for many years, takes care of the gardening shed for us. As I turn the corner, I see an estate agent’s sign. Their flat has been sold. I’m gutted. A: In the beginning I thought it was not possible they would vote to leave. Then after I was shocked. I cried for a couple of days. I didn’t feel welcome any more. We’ve been here 14 years. We thought we would live here forever. Then the referendum opened our eyes … it planted the idea and then it grew and grew … thousands and thousands of Polish are leaving…. In the lead up to the referendum, newspapers were allowed to be rude to immigrants. After the referendum there has been an outbreak of hostility. M: It was Brexit but it was immigration. 8 March 2019 It’s International Women’s Day. I’m at the ‘Women’s Strike’ protest down in the Centre. I get talking to a Spanish woman. ‘Brexit is a disaster’, she cries – ‘but it’s uncovered what this country has always been like. Racism. So conservative. In Spain there would be a revolution’. I go to my local Italian Deli as I have for over 30 years. L as jovial as ever asks me how I’m doing. ‘Fine, except for Brexit’. He becomes very upset. I’ve never seen him like this. ‘My wife was born here. Doesn’t mean anything. It’s the world turned upside down’. More and more people reference 1930s Germany. E came to England when he was 11, his parents part of the Windrush generation. He was the first person to unravel the diaspora to me and told me given my Jewish heritage that I was part of it. We were working together for Bristol One Parent Project in the African Caribbean area of St. Paul’s in the mid-1980s at the time of Operation Delivery when hundreds of police raided the area (Operation Delivery). ‘Same situation is happening now on a national scale’, he says.
38 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page These are terrible times. This country is going to drift back to Nazi Germany. We have to be really mindful, because if we aren’t – with this hostile environment we’re going into reversal – people who will wreak hostility – and the government is pulling the strings. Like in Germany politicians seemed nice and kind, then there was Kristalnacht on the Jewish people. E and I are looking down from a balcony on a big crowd dancing to a joyous black women led choir. ‘Everybody’s so happy down there. They don’t realise what’s happening. But the women – they know’, says E. We have a family day out in Minehead – there’s a Madhatter’s themed Tea Party in the park. It’s a beautiful day with lots of families having fun. But I feel strangely resentful. Are these the white working class people who voted Brexit? Is this how the future is to be – retrogressively English? I’m unaccustomed to feeling like this, brought up holidaying in seaside towns: Blackpool with my Nan; Southport and Rhyl with teenage girlfriends from our street in Manchester – English, Irish, Pakistani, Polish, Russian, Scottish, Welsh our combined heritage. We had fun. Now I feel out of place in this English seaside town. Forever trapped in a menacing Madhatter’s Tea Party? Later I am more contrite – how am I to know their family heritage?
March April 2019 Turmoil is Normalised Margaret and I said we would write about pivotal moments for this chapter. There are too many pivotal moments – I’m fed up with them. Everyone’s redlines are shifting. I’m not sure mine are. Everything has changed and yet nothing has changed. Since the referendum, the mantras have barely altered – ‘Leave Means Leave’, ‘The Will of the People’, ‘Take Back Control’. Except Northern Ireland brings a very different dimension to that debate. This whole month has been one of feverish speculation (Brexit Diaries, 2019). Turmoil has become normalised. The atmosphere is febrile. People are going down with anxiety. Hah! I went down with it three years ago. Get over it. Three years ago ‘the great dark birds of history’ screamed and plunged into my personal weather. I didn’t know where they were heading. I still don’t know. What I do know now is that this is me standing on the shore. This is the country I inhabit and now it’s inhabiting me.
References Antonini, F. (2019). Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will: Gramsci’s political thought in the last miscellaneous notebooks. Rethinking Marxism, 31(1), 42–57. doi :10.1080/08935696.2019.1577616. hal-02116010 Bristol Women’s Commission. Retrieved from https://www.bristol.gov.uk/mayor/womenscommission. Accessed on May 27, 2020.
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 39 Brexit: Cambridge Professor Invites Jacob Rees-Mogg to a Naked Debate. (2019, February). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-politics-47171829/brexitcambridge-professor-invites-jacob-rees-mogg-to-naked-debate. Accessed on May 28, 2020. #BristolBrexit – A city responds to Brexit! University of Bristol, May 23, 2017. Retrieved from http://www.bristol.ac.uk/policybristol/events/2017/bristolbrexit. html. Accessed on May 27, 2020. Brexit Diaries. (2019, March 12). Retrieved from https://britainthinks.com/news/brexitdiaries-march-update. Accessed on May 27, 2020. Cohen, S. (1998). Body, space and presence. Women’s social exclusion in the politics of the EU. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 5(3–4), 367–380. Cohen, S. (2000). Social solidarity in the Delors period: Barriers to participation. In C. Hoskyns & M. Newman (Eds.), Democratizing the European Union: Issues for the twenty first century (pp. 12–38). Manchester: Manchester University Press. Cohen, S. (2020, May 1). Co-production as a transformative practice. Retrieved from http://www.transformingsociety.co.uk/2020/05/01/co-production-as-a-transformative-practice/. Accessed on May 27, 2020 Cohen, S., & McDermont, M. (2016). When things fall apart. In D. O’Brien & P. Matthews (Eds.), After urban regeneration. Communities, policy and place (pp. 45–58).. Bristol: Policy Press. Cohen, S., & Page, M. (2018). Furthering women’s democracy in a Brexit environment. Policy Bristol. Retrieved from http://policybristol.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/2018/06/22/ furthering-womens-democracy-in-a-brexit-environment/. Accessed on May 27, 2020. Cohen, S., & Samzelius, T. (2020). Through the lens of single parenthood: A comparative snapshot of the impact of neoliberal welfare, housing and employment policies on single mothers in the UK and Sweden. Feminismo/s, 35, 1–27. Monographic dossier: A critical practice of thinking otherwise: Bacchi, Gender and Public Policy Analysis, coord. Angela O’Hagan. doi: 10.14198/ fem.2020.35.XX https://doi.org/10.14198/ fem.2020.35.XX ESA 13th Conference. (2017, 29 August–1 September). European Sociological Association (ESA). (2017). (Un)Making Europe: Capitalism, solidarities, subjectivities. Retrieved from https://www.europeansociology.org/publications/esa-conference-abstract-books.. Accessed on April 7, 2020. Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the oppressed . (M. T. Bregman,Trans.). New York, NY: Herder 2001. Indigo Club. Arcadia. CD. Reaching for deliverance. Spotify. Retrieved from https://open. spotify.com/album/5ThfY1ZqOAFsUbrlWAX2Vy Lewis, L. (2016). Brexit is a feminist issue. Guardian, March 20. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/mar/20/women-europe-referendumdebate-brexit. Accessed on May 27, 2020. Macleavy, J. (2018). Women, equality and the UK’s EU referendum: Locating the gender politics of Brexit in relation to the neoliberalising state. Space and Polity, 22(2), 205–233. McDermont, M., Cole, T., Newman, J., & Piccini, A. (Eds.). (2020). Imagining regulation differently. Bristol: University of Bristol: Policy Press. Operation Delivery. You tube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=Up6_28KG1sw. Accessed on June 5, 2020. Orbach, S. (2016). In therapy everyone wants to talk about Brexit. Guardian, July 1. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/global/2016/jul/01/susie-orbach-intherapy-everyone-wants-to-talk-about-brexit. Accessed on May 26, 2020. Peppin, B. (2020). Visual arts on emerging voices. Retrieved from www.emergingvoices. co.uk. Accessed on April 7, 2020.
40 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page Rich, A. (2013). In those years. In Later poems: Selected and new, 1971–2012 (p. 248). New York, NY: W.W. Norton. Tarrow, S., & della Porta, D. (2005). Conclusion: “Globalisation”, complex internationalism and transnational contention. In D. della Porta & S. Tarrow (Eds.), New transnational activism (pp. 227–246). Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield. Women’s Budget Group. (2016, April). The impact on women of the 2016 Budget: Women paying for the Chancellor’s tax cuts. Referencing House of Commons Library Analysis for Kate Green MP. Retrieved from http://wbg.org.uk/wpcontent/ uploads/2016/11/WBG_2016Budget_FINAL_Apr16-1.pdf. Accessed on May 26, 2020.
2b. Resistance in a Landscape of Othering – Margaret Page As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world. (Woolf, 1938, p. 197). Brexit is still hard to grasp, even three years after the referendum result. I listen to the news with pro-Remain and feminist activist friends, but it is taking time for the possibility of no longer being part of the EU to take on any semblance of reality. During these three years we have held onto the hope of Remain, and campaigned for a second referendum, the ‘People’s Vote’. At the time of writing, a series of deadlines for arriving at an agreed deal with the EU were missed and renegotiated; Withdrawal Bills were debated, revised, and debated again in Parliament. Party lines were broken and challenged as MPs made attempts to form cross-party alliances in favour of Remain, and to hold government to account.2 We who voted ‘Remain’ were gripped by a sense of heightened drama as we followed news of events in Westminster, and lobbied with feminist organisations to salvage what we could of EU equality legislation and resources within Withdrawal agreements that were being negotiated (see Chapter 8). The pivotal moments that follow illustrate what it was like for some feminist activists to live through this drama, sharing a roller coaster of hope and frustration, as we contemplated loss of our EU citizenship. In conversation, we reflect on how women are defending democratic practice now, remember lived experiences of developing collaborative equalities practice across borders and locally, and consider these might inform our activism now. The importance of protecting feminist spaces, locally and transnationally, under threat in a climate of populism, and the collective power of women to reimagine our future and the importance of transnational collaboration, emerge as key themes.
The struggle within Parliament to hold the Executive to account are described in more detail in Chapter 9. See also the detailed records of negotiations, referenced in Endnote 1.
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 41 Pivotal Moment 1 A dream of edges: An inquiry begins 20 March 2019 I am at the end of a dream, waking, but eyelids tight shut. Is this the dream or am I awake? I force my eyelids open. Squinting I see a grey landscape - like a dawn – not dark and gloomy, more like the beginning of the world before it has form. Crouching down I reach and feel the ground in front of me. To my surprise I feel water – an edge. I am at the edge of land. I could have so easily stepped off the land – could not see where water begins and land ends. I can ‘see’ the edge in my mind’s eye – it is like a drawing, as if it has been drawn on a painting I am looking at. It is shallow, almost like an infinity pool – water laps to the edge of the land on which I am crouching. I am not afraid, perhaps a little – I can’t see where to go next or see anything at all that distinguishes land from water – only feel it with my fingertips. The dream stays with me. It seems to contain my disorientation and waking anxiety. It’s 20 March 2019. News announcements tell us repeatedly that there are just nine days to 29 March, the deadline for reaching a deal with the EU.3 Then, a news flash. Following defeat of her second Withdrawal Bill in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Theresa May has written to Brussels asking for a short extension to negotiate a deal acceptable to Parliament. She has twice renegotiated her deal to accommodate right-wing pro-Brexit members of her government. This will be her third attempt. Is she finished as the papers say? Are we bound to crash out with no deal? No one knows. Will we get a second referendum on a new deal if one materialises and should we support this? No one knows the answer. And no one claims to know. Not even the politicians. Meeting with Sue in our local café, I express a sense of panic, how to approach this chapter? We share stories of how and why the EU is important and what being ‘Europeans’ means to us. I tell Sue that I spent my childhood living in other countries, and have never felt myself to be wholly ‘British’. As a family, we cross borders, national and cultural. I have found a way to bring this into my working life, bringing together feminists from different countries and organisations to promote women’s equality and women’s leadership. Being a European feminist is deep in my sense of who
See Endnote 1 above for a detailed record of these negotiations.
42 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page I am. Brexit seems to call this way of working and my fundamental values as a feminist into question. We identify the experience of being ‘othered’ as a shared theme. We share a sense of panic, and of disbelief, at the prospect of being cut off from our European identity, colleagues and friends. We are part of the 48.11% who voted Remain in the Referendum. Yet despite this close result, our votes seem to count for little in the decision, made by the government and supported by the leader of the Labour Party, to trigger Article 50 immediately and to begin negotiations to leave the EU. We agreed to record our personal thoughts and feelings as the Brexit process unfolded as a series of ‘pivotal moments’ and to share reflections and themes. I took over from Sue who had already been doing this for 3 years.
Pivotal Moment 2 Holding Out for Remain: Two Demonstrations and Two Vases 26 March 2019 I emerge from the London underground at Green Park to join the People’s Vote demonstration, and feel a surge of excitement when I glimpse a sea of golden stars on blue. EU flags! There are long lines of people of all ages gathering, holding banners with witty handwritten slogans. A huge float drifts past to music, effigies of senior politicians. To be part of something at last, asserting our sense of being Europeans! I attend a rally by ‘Women for a People’s Vote’, spelling out Brexit’s negative impact on women’s rights and livelihoods, and move on to an LGBT rally detailing how EU membership has enabled gay marriage. I leave as a ‘kiss-in’ is proposed by the gay men leading the rally, smiling, and move on to find my friends, colleagues in the days of EU funded partnerships to promote women’s equality. As we walk and talk, a text arrives: We are a million marching today! The Revoke petition has reached 6m signatures! Donald Tusk has sent a greeting to all who signed – we are all Europeans – do not give up hope. This news passes down the demo and we feel uplifted by a shared sense of hope and solidarity. Alongside others I shout ‘Revoke’ instead of ‘People’s Vote’. We snap photos of handmade placards: they are witty and poignant, critical of political leaders. They make the case for remaining in the EU from a variety of perspectives, communities and professional groups, including musicians, artists, writers, teachers and doctors. Several say: ‘this is what a political leader looks like’, and feature the recently elected female Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern, wearing a hijab, meeting members of the Muslim community after 50 people were murdered by a suspected white supremacist at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, NZ. The marchers are predominantly white,
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 43 perhaps u nsurprisingly given the EU’s poor record of defending race equality and migrants’ rights. There are old and young, people in wheelchairs and children in pushchairs, with placards declaring a variety of campaigning pro-European and pro free movement slogans and affiliations. There is an absence of official trade union or political party banners, evidence of the grass roots and non-politically aligned participation in the Remain movement. It is up to us, an independently organised body of Remainers, on this march, and we are rising to the challenge. The speeches at the rally make the case for a second referendum, and for Remain. Sandy Toksvig, speaking as founder of the Women’s Equality Party, eloquently outlines women’s stake in the EU and points out the absence of women’s voices in Brexit negotiations and public debates. Senior Conservative and Labour Party MPs break party lines, speaking out to support a second referendum via a People’s Vote. Hearing MPs from both parties break ranks and declare their support for Remain is exhilarating, and inspires a sense of hope in our sheer numbers. Much later that evening we listen to news coverage of the People’s Vote march. The pro Brexit ‘Leave Means Leave’ march is given full coverage on BBC television, as it arrives at Parliament Square, led by Nigel Farage, leader and founder of the Brexit Party. A female protester on the Brexit March was reported to declare: ‘If Brexit is not delivered then we do not live in democracy anymore, and that is huge!’ How can it be democratic that almost half of those who voted in the Referendum,4 48.11 % in favour of Remain, can be ignored and excluded from discussion of the withdrawal agreement? News reports are making much of Grayson Perry’s two painted vases, ‘Remain’ and ‘Brexit’.4 Each one depicts people engaged in topical and controversial scenes expressing the concerns of voters. They are remarkable, it is claimed, for their similarity. Images depicted are on the theme of ‘Britishness’ and were gathered from crowd-sourced photographs and ideas, on social media, in 2017. They seem to open up a territory of common ground which had been lost in polarised Brexit debates.
Pivotal Moment 3 Deadlock in Westminster: A Lonely Dinner in Brussels ITS NEARLY 11 PM on March 29, 2019, THE HOUR WHEN WE SHOULD HAVE BEEN LEAVING THE EU. 29 March is the agreed deadline for reaching agreement with Brussels on a Withdrawal Agreement. I am watching BBC Newsnight, with my friend and neighbour M. We are on the edge of our seats waiting to hear whether Prime Minister Theresa May has succeeded in getting a majority vote for this the third and latest version of 4
Grayson Perry’s two vases, ‘Brexit’ and ‘Remain’, were acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2019. https://www.artlyst.com/news/grayson-perry-brexit-vasesgo-display-va/. Accessed on June 4, 2019.
44 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page her Withdrawal Bill through Parliament. There is much at stake, and no certain outcomes. As Labour Party Remainers, it seems right that our MPs should vote against the Bill. But there are risks. Failing to arrive at a deal acceptable to Westminster within the deadline set by the EU risks crashing out with no deal at all. No deal would please the Brexiteers whose support the Prime Minister is seeking. But it would also please the handful of ‘Lexiteers’, Labour Party MPs in favour of Brexit. If, on the other hand, the Prime Minister can be made to apply to Brussels for more time, we would be obliged to fight the EU elections, and this would surely allow us more opportunity to make the feminist case for Remain.5 We have heard news reports of government preparations for no deal; references to potential shortages of food and medicines and public unrest seem to put us onto a war footing. Similar preparations are being made in our city where my co-author attends a regular meeting to prepare for a no deal Brexit emergency. Watching these events unfold, we feminist campaigners feel a sense of the surreal. We are faced with losing the gains of being part of the EU’s equality policy and regulatory systems which have brought so many benefits to women. The evidence is there of the damage that will be done to livelihoods, to communities and to vital services through loss of funding and access to the EU justice system. Yet it seems that no one is listening, and no one cares. In a telephone chat my friend J refers to the visual image that appeared in the press and that seems to capture some of our worst fears of being excluded, voiceless, from the decision-makers’ table: That image of our Prime Minister Theresa May sitting in Brussels on her own eating dinner while the men made decisions in another room, consulting with herself while others made decisions.6
Pivotal Moment 4 MPs Defy Party Leadership: Hope for Democracy? 29 March–11 April 2019 I feel a glimmer of hope; a cross party group of MPs have defied their Party leaderships and are attempting to take charge of the agenda in Parliament. Their aim is to enable open debate on a number of proposals which would form the basis of a deal to negotiate with Brussels. Proposals include Remain and close alignment with EU regulations. The outcome will depend on how Labour Party MPs vote, and how many Conservative MPs dare to vote against their party line. Our Labour Party constituency is strongly pro-Remain, and we feel confident our MP will represent our 5
See Chapter 8 for more detail. Boffey, D. (2019). Excluded, isolated, humiliated: a history of May’s visits to Brussels. The Guardian, June 30. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/ jun/30/excluded-isolated-humiliated-history-theresa-may-visits-brussels. Accessed on May 20, 2020. 6
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 45 interests and views. Along with many others, I am following closely with a sense of suspended hope that the cross party alliance will hold and that one of their proposals may gain a majority. But none of their proposals do. The emotional impact of this failure is powerful. It sends a signal; our elected representatives are in thrall to Party leadership and discipline, despite their best attempts to represent our interests. A senior member of the Conservative Party Nick Boles, one of the three who led the process, resigns from the Party. He had worked for months towards a compromise but did not get support from his party.7 I too feel a deep sense of betrayal. The Labour Party leadership, despite the majority of their members supporting Remain, still refuses to take a clear position against Brexit. My Labour Party constituency has one of the biggest Remain votes in the country. My MP is a Party Whip, yet still unable to speak out on our behalf. The sense of being silenced as citizens, as Party members, as women and as feminists is captured in email discussions within my small group of local feminist activists8: Sad, I know, but I have just listened (off and on) to the 3 hour debate on the 1st April in Westminster Hall on the three petitions on Brexit, including the 6 million ‘Revoke’ one. It is actually worth it; some very good speeches largely by women. In fact, the Tory Minister looking rather lonely! Watch the debate!9 Of course, it doesn’t make much difference to what actually happens, and has been overtaken by events, maybe? Jackie L, Chair of FPSW. Later, a cross party group of MPs win a vote in favour of their proposal to request a long extension for EU negotiations. EU leaders at a special summit approve a ‘flexible’ extension of the UK’s membership, until 31 October. The UK can leave the EU earlier if it passes the ‘divorce deal’. All our hopes now are pinned on a second referendum, a People’s Vote which would offer options to vote for Revoke or Remain. But is the risk of losing a second referendum worth taking? And should we win by a small margin, would we be any better off ?
“I have given everything to an attempt to find a compromise that can take this country out of the European Union while maintaining our economic strength and political cohesion. I accept that I have failed. I have failed chiefly because my party refuses to compromise. I regret, therefore, that I can no longer sit for this party.” Retrieved from https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Boles#cite_note-20. Accessed on December 20, 2020. 8 UK Parliament (2019). Leaving the EU e-petition debate – 1 April 2019. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1uMe5FmqH8&feature=youtu.be. Accessed on May 22, 2020. 9 See Chapter 8 for details of our discussions and campaigning activities at this time.
46 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page Pivotal Moment 5 Brexit Casualties: Death of a Peace Agreement? 18 April 2019 Shocking news from Northern Ireland – the murder of Lyra McKee, lesbian activist and journalist – shot as she was observing the IRA dissident breakaway group throwing bombs at police.10 She was dead on arrival in hospital. There are moving tributes to her work as a journalist and contribution to building peaceful relations in local communities.11 Politicians of all persuasions are united in condemning the violence and expressing concerns about returning to the conflicts that the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement had sought to end, and that Lyra had spent a lifetime exposing (McKee, 2020). But Lyra is not the first to die as a casualty of Brexit. During the referendum campaign Jo Cox, a well-known popular pro-Remain female Labour Party MP, was murdered outside her constituency office in England, November 2016.12 Unlike Jo Cox, Lyra was not murdered for her views on Brexit, or even purposely murdered at all. But both were casualties of the conflictual climate that Brexit has created. Will Lyra’s murder strengthen the case for a deal that prioritises protection of the peace agreement? Or will this be a case of crocodile tears, another female casualty soon forgotten?
Pivotal Moment 6 EU and Local Elections: A Reckoning for Westminster May 2019 UK local elections and EU elections follow in quick succession. We feminist campaigners resolve to do our best to ensure that the European Elections will provide a platform for attempting to profile the case for Remain. There is little time to prepare, and we are obstructed by the Labour Party leadership’s refusal to take a clear position on a second referendum. 10
O’Hagen, S. (2020). One year on, Lyra McKee’s legacy: She would be there for you. 100%. The Guardian, March 15. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/ news/2020/mar/15/lyra-mckee-death-anniversary-sara-canning-nichola-derry-book. Accessed on June 9, 2020. 11 Canning, S. (2019). Lyra McKee remembered. The Guardian, December 15. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/dec/15/lyra-mckee-remembered-by-saracanning. Accessed on May 24, 2020. 12 BBC news: Labour MP Jo Cox ‘murdered for political cause’. BBC News, November 14. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37978582. Accessed on May 25, 2020. BBC news: Jo Cox Murder. Reports on September 26, 27, 29, 2019; October 15, 31, 2019; November 15, 18, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/ cn1r4rw9qz4t/jo-cox-murder. Accessed on May 25, 2020.
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 47 In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland the Labour Party makes significant losses. In Wales, Labour campaigns on a Remain platform for the EU elections and wins seats. In Scotland, all seats go to the pro-Remain SNP. In both countries, women play prominent pro-Remain political leadership roles. 104 Labour Party MPs defy Party leadership and publicly declare their support for a People’s Vote, a second referendum on any deal struck. The commentary on the election results is all about the general public giving up on Westminster, punishing good local councillors for Westminster’s failure to deliver on Brexit or ‘sort it out’. I note that I am experiencing the political disengagement reported in the Press. Where are the spaces where we feminists might find a proactive voice, a means of participating as active citizens and not only observing the Westminster drama that has come to dominate our lives?
Pivotal Moment 7 Spaces for Feminist Voices – are these Disappearing Too? 2 June 2019 This evening, I am going with feminist friends to a public meeting called ‘The Power of Feminist Writing’. The meeting is organised by students at Bristol University, Women TalkBack, with support from Woman’s Place UK.13 The meeting is going to be chaired by the convenor of Women TalkBack, who has been aggressively trolled and harassed by transgender rights campaigners. We were nervous, anticipating aggressive picketing, but determined to support an initiative to gather as feminists, in a space in which we would not be ‘othered’. We are relieved to find additional security at the entrance. The audience of 100, young and older, all wondered, how has it come to this? That we need security to be allowed to hold a meeting to discuss the erosion of sex based equal rights already established in law, and the right of association as women? Three panel speakers, published writers of blogs, fiction and a well-known journalist, spoke about the importance of feminist writing in enabling them to find their voice and to develop as writers. Each spoke of immense pressure from their publishers and editors to adapt their language and to ‘speak in sex neutral
Woman’s Place UK. A Women’s Right to Write. Retrieved from https://womansplaceuk.org/2019/06/02/womens-right-to-write. Accessed on May 22, 2020.
48 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page terms’, to accommodate gender self-identity. They spoke of pressure to constantly self-monitor, and about uncertainty as to what is acceptable when writing for publication and under scrutiny. Each speaker shared a reading that had inspired her, which re-emphasised the importance of access to published writings in feminist voices, and for spaces where these can be heard and shared, without any subsequent trolling and harassment of participants. The ideology that sex and gender identity are interchangeable terms, promoted by transgender rights campaigners, has been incorporated into policy documents across the public sector, including the NHS, education providers, the police, funders of the charitable sector and policy-makers.14 Attempts by employees and users of these organisations to raise concerns about the impact on women’s rights of replacing biological sex with self-defined gender identity have been silenced and branded transphobic and even as hate crimes (Moore, 2020). Several of us experienced similar aggression in our Labour Party meetings when we proposed discussion of these issues, and have even been prevented from standing for office. In attempting to discuss these issues with different groups of feminist friends, I often feel as if I am moving between different planets. On one such planet our preoccupation is Brexit, its impact on the economy, and on women’s equal participation in democratic decision-making and leadership. On the other planet we are preoccupied with an ideologically driven campaign to redefine ‘woman’ on the basis of self-identity, the erosion of sex based equal rights, and of lesbian identity as we know it. Both are concerned with the loss of the rights we have fought for as women – single sex spaces, equal pay and employment rights, freedom from violence, equal access to decision-making. Yet each seems oblivious of the other. I find this disconnect painful. It is as if the two worlds do not meet, and as I travel between them, I leave behind a piece of my political self. The issues seem separate, but for me they are connected. In both, misogynist abuse is thrown about and feminist women are a target. In neither does evidence-based discussion have purchase or even seem relevant.
Joyce, H. (2018). The new patriarchy: How trans radicalism hurts women, children and trans people themselves. Quillette, December 4. Retrieved from https://quillette. com/2018/12/04/the-new-patriarchy-how-trans-radicalism-hurts-women-childrenand-trans-people-themselves/
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 49 Being part of this gathering reminded me of how feminist history, writings and culture nourish our activism. We are skilled at making evidence based cases for equality. But evidence base is not enough to inspire change. How can we protect feminist spaces in this climate of populism?
Pivotal Moment 8 A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu : Shared Spaces and Food for Activism July 2019 My bags are packed for Italy. Going to Italy and speaking Italian always makes me ridiculously happy! It brings back memories of my first sense of freedom, as a young woman studying in Florence, and later, my first experience of travelling to Italy briefcase in hand, to meet other feminists and to work together. This feeling of happiness brings my past into the present. The younger me, full of optimism, lives on in this remembered past, and brings it into the present. I spend my week alongside Maria T, and her friends. We visit a shop run by a very elderly woman. She tells us she is closing down. ‘People just want to buy online now’, she says, ‘but what they miss out on is touch!’ I agree, and with my fingers feel the fine fabric of the baby clothes I will take home for my friend M. Another woman enters the shop. Then, suddenly, they ask, ‘What is this Brexit?’ I try to explain but they look at me blankly. We move on to have coffee with a group of Maria T’s friends and begin another animated conversation about Brexit. No one I spoke to could imagine being outside the EU, or why we might want to leave. In the late 1990s, Maria T and I helped to develop new equality practice, with women in British local government, women’s organisations in the Netherlands, and Italian Trade Unionists (Page, 2001). Then just as now, visits to each other’s countries and organisations, sitting together to exchange and share day-to-day experiences of our lives as feminists, enabled us to find common cause and nourished our initiatives to organise in our local contexts. Through the connections we made, emotional, practical and intellectual, we touched and were touched by each other’s’ experiences. This is what we will lose when we leave the EU. On my last day, we sit with others, feminists and socialists, to eat a meal and drink wine. Our host tells us that he believes that preparing and enjoying food together is the way to sustain our capacity to be together, in a climate of populism. Space for conversations to keep and to make connections. We did not do enough, says MT, to pass on to the next generation the need to keep up our struggle for women’s equality. We did not realise how fragile are our achievements. We left open a space for populism to take hold.
50 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page Pivotal Moment 9 Hope Sustained in Times of Chaos August 2019 My friend D texts ‘welcome back’, and we meet in a new Spanish café in a shaded churchyard. I share photos and my stories of conversation with Italian feminist friends: populist government in Italy, anti-migrant policies, and the grass roots demonstrations in support of migrants and against the government’s policy. D and I speak of the rise of populist leaders throughout Europe, the ‘hostile environment’ created in 2012 when Theresa May was Home Secretary in UK and the Windrush scandal that is breaking now with reports of its deportation of UK Commonwealth nationals here in Britain.15 Then, we wonder, are we the holders of forgotten faded memories of how to embed women’s equality into democratic government? Of how to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment on policy decisions and to pay due regard to the impact of policy decisions on women and protected groups?16 But equality impact assessments, required by the Equality Act,17 are based on evidence-based decision-making, as well as political commitment. Both appear to have been eroded here in UK. It seems that political discussion has descended into a form of ideological warfare that bears little relation to democratic decision-making. I want to disengage from following the latest twists and turns of this Brexit saga. Yet I continue to follow events in Westminster, buoyed up by hope each day that we may somehow avoid the catastrophe of Brexit. I am watching the televised version of The Handmaid’s Tale – series 3, and am gripped by the possibility of escape from Gilead.18 Is it possible we may escape too from this dystopian fiction of Brexit that is fast becoming our reality?
Gentleman, A. (2019). The Windrush Betrayal: In Exposing the hostile environment. London: Faber. 16 These times are described in detail in Conley and Page, 2015. 17 Equality and Human Rights Commission, Your Rights Under the Equality Act 2010. Retrieved from https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/ your-rights-under-equality-act-2010. Accessed on June 10, 2020. 18 Gilead is a fictional patriarchal society that is the setting for The Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood, 1984) and its sequel, The Testament (Atwood, 2019). Both were televised on BBC.
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 51 I skype with my friend N who has moved to the USA. Write about this she says, the chaos and confusion – it’s part of the picture isn’t it? This is the book that’s needed – you are doing the right thing – a record of what it is like living through these times!
Pivotal Moment 10 Parliament Prorogued and a Trip to the Recycling Centre 28 August 2019 Boris Johnson, appointed Prime Minister on 24 July, prorogues parliament for five weeks to prevent debate and scrutiny of his Withdrawal Bill. There is outrage amongst MPs, and several legal challenges to stop the UK leaving the EU without a deal, one led by Scottish MP Joanna Cherry, and one by Gina Miller, independent businesswoman, who led a previous successful challenge to Theresa May’s attempt to bypass parliamentary scrutiny of her EU Withdrawal Bill.19 But then, on 29 August, Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, resigns for ‘personal reasons’, to be with her wife and baby son. We suspect that she simply cannot stomach working with him. She is a strong out-lesbian feminist, and pro Remainer, how could she be associated with a misogynist Party Leader and pro Brexit Cabinet? Her withdrawal expresses my own desire to dissociate from maledominated parliamentary politics. But the legal challenges arouse my fighting spirit. I am numb about the proroguing. Then suddenly furious. As if compelled, I begin to clear out my files, years of EU funded work to promote gender mainstreaming with feminist partners in independent women’s organisations, local government, trade unions and public services. I feel driven by a rage that is beyond reason. All these years we have invested in democratic processes, all those decades of equal opportunities and gender mainstreaming, all meaningless if they can be so easily discarded. I get to the recycling centre and begin. I work quickly, driven and compelled by a physical energy I did not know that I had. I loaded all the box files and folders into the car. Those days are gone, so time to move on, engage with these different times.
Boycott, O. (2019). Gina Miller to challenge Boris Johnson plan in High Court on Thursday. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/sep/05/gina-millerto-challenge-boris-johnson-plan-in-high-court-on-thursday. Accessed on May 22, 2020.
52 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page I visualise clean swept shelves. To start afresh. To howl, to scream, to shout. To stop being so good. To tell it as it is. But I do want to celebrate and share memories of moments when we felt we had collectively effected change, and how it felt to live these changes at the time. These moments may be ephemeral, but nevertheless offer glimpses of what it is like to live our values, a sense of possibility and of the power of collective imagination and of our collective knowledge to make change happen. One of these memories is of being amongst the forty thousand women who took part in the NGO Forum and UN 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, 1995. I was part of the forming of alliances between campaigning groups across differences of culture and political context, reimagining the world and our place within it, and how we can make it a better place, and lobbying of governmental delegations who were drafting the Global Platform for Action20 (Dawson, 1996). It was this complex, conflicted process that first introduced ‘gender mainstreaming’, an initiative intended to place women’s equality at the heart of decision-making in government, and that was taken up by the EU as a strategic planning tool (Walby, 2011). There was a buzz, an energy and a breadth of vision that we generated together that I will never forget (Page, 1997). A breadth of vision that is not and cannot be apparent in any strategic planning document – but is embedded in the embodied collective memories of those who were present. It is this buzz, this glimpse of possibility, that can ignite the spark of change! Keeping faith with our capacity for collective imagination, when so much of what we worked for is being destroyed, seems vital. We cannot rely on replicating the past in a present that is so changed. The future must be reinvented.
Pivotal Moment 11 The Rise of the ‘Girly Swots’: Democracy Saved in Westminster? September 2019 In Parliament, MPs are rebelling. 21 Conservative Party MPs vote against the government; the Prime Minister responds ruthlessly, expelling them all the Party. They include senior members of Cabinet, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995. It lays out 12 critical areas for concern, broken down into strategic objectives and action. It was signed by the EU and the UK government in 1996, and implementation is reviewed every five years. For information see https://beijing20.unwomen.org/en/about. Accessed on June 5, 2020.
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 53 On 3 September, a cross party group of MPs pass legislation that requires the Prime Minister to seek another extension from Brussels, preventing the UK from leaving the EU without an exit deal. The Prime Minister declares that he prefers to ‘die in a ditch’ rather than ask Brussels for more time to negotiate a deal acceptable to Parliament. He calls for an election, loses the vote, and writes to Brussels to request an extension. My appetite for battle is restored. The fight for a better deal and even for Remain is not over yet. On 24 September, Gina Miller’s legal challenge succeeds.21! The Supreme Court, led by Baroness Hale, has ruled unanimously that proroguing Parliament was illegal, and never happened! The newspapers and social media are agog with the news, and T shirts are already on sale of the spider brooch worn by Baroness Hale as she made the announcement.22 There is talk of ‘the rise of “girly swots” ’, a disparaging term coined by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to insult David Cameron, and adopted by feminists to refer to women successfully challenging and defending democracy (Mangan, 2019). Women are in the front line of this fight for democracy, harnessing the law in direct challenge to political leaders’ attempts to undermine democratic participation and sense of their own entitlement. But women are also primary targets of attack, physical and virtual. And it is often as if women who speak out have not spoken, their words ignored. There was a letter published last week in The Guardian newspaper from a cross party group of MPs drawing attention to the impact of Brexit on women’s rights,23 but there has been no response from political leaders. Stella Creasy, Labour Party MP, moves an amendment that is passed and that legalises abortion and gay marriage in Northern Ireland. She is pregnant, and 21
Judgement  UKSC 41. R (on the application of Miller) Appellant) v. The Prime Minister (Respondent). Retrieved from https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/ docs/uksc-2019-0192-judgment.pdf. Accessed on May 22, 2020. Widely reported for example: Siddique, H. (2019). Gina Millar, the woman who took on the UK government and won-twice. The Guardian, September 24. Retrieved from https://www. theguardian.com/politics/2019/sep/24/gina-miller-the-woman-who-took-on-the-ukgovernment-and-won-twice. Accessed on May 22, 2020. 22 Cochran, L., & Belam, M. (2019). The Guardian, September 24. Say it with a brooch. How a fashion item became a political statement. Retrieved from https://www. theguardian.com/fashion/2019/sep/24/say-it-with-a-brooch-how-a-fashion-itembecame-a-political-statement. Accessed on May 22, 2020. 23 Women’s rights at risk after Brexit. Letter to The Guardian, June 28, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jun/28/womens-rights-at-risk-afterbrexit. Accessed on May 20, 2020. The Brexit threat to women’s rights and well-being. Letter to The Guardian, September 24. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/ politics/2019/sep/24/the-brexit-threat-to-womens-rights-and-wellbeing?CMP=Share_ iOSApp_Other. Accessed on May 22, 2020.
54 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page anti-abortionists retaliate by pasting images of unborn foetuses on her constituency office in Walthamstow, London. She tells a meeting of her constituents that the actions of the anti-abortion protestors were ‘not just an attack on her, but “collective harassment” against the women of Walthamstow’.24 I log onto Facebook and read descriptions of violence, harassment and abuse by ‘trans’ lobbyists of Labour Party women and male supporters attending an unofficial fringe meeting organised by Woman’s Place UK alongside the Labour Party national conference in Brighton.25 A YouTube clip showed a young man speaking at the Labour Party conference suggesting that such meetings should be banned in future, to loud applause. Only one MP speaks out against this, in support of the need for free speech on these issues. A stream of abuse directed at him follows on twitter and social media. I think about the migrants and racist abuse they have suffered as a result of this government’s ‘go home’ campaigns and hostile environment, and the evidenced rise in violence related to the proBrexit campaigns. I think about how fragmented we feminists and Remainers are. I begin to get a glimpse of the anti-establishment cynicism felt by so many who voted to leave in the referendum. I watch Prime Minister Johnson’s speech at the Conservative Party conference. The new party slogan is ‘get Brexit done’. His tone and demeanour spread the message that he can do what he likes, his male authority is unchallengeable. He refutes allegations that he groped two women in the 1990s. I wonder again, what use is democracy to women without girly swots willing to call our leaders to account, and how can we do that without laws to adhere to? We have to keep going, we have no choice.
Pivotal Moment 12 Another Momentous Day: Elusive Hopes 19 October 2019 And now I feel it … deep sadness. It was in the voice tone of the Italian EU negotiator on the news yesterday – in his references to social responsibility, care for the harm that will be done to 24
Townsend, M. (2019). Police investigate ‘extremist’ targeting of Stella Creasy by antiabortion group. The Guardian, October 6. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian. com/politics/2019/oct/06/stella-creasy-anti-abortion-group-police-investigate-extremisttargeting. Accessed on May 20, 2020. 25 A Woman’s Place UK. No answer from Labour over intimidation. AWPUK, September 23. Retrieved from https://womansplaceuk.org/2020/02/15/no-answerfrom-labour-over-intimidation/ Accessed on May 20, 2020.
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 55 rdinary people if we crash out with a no deal Brexit. I was struck o by the shocking contrast between his words and tone and the belligerent rhetoric of our government who shrug off any difficulty as a mere temporary blip, and the EU’s consistent repetition of the message that they are respectfully responding to UK proposals and doing their utmost to avoid a ‘no deal’ exit. But then on 17 October, we receive shocking news: televised pictures of Michel Barnier, European Commission Brexit negotiator, looking exhausted, Prime Minister Johnson triumphantly declaring that he has succeeded in what was said to be impossible, and has reached a deal with EU negotiators. This is a deal that drops all alignment with EU regulation, such as workers’ rights and environmental protection, and that breaks the promise made to Northern Ireland negotiators to avoid reinstating the ‘hard border’ that will threaten the Peace Agreement. We are told that this will be the basis of a Withdrawal Agreement to be put to the House of Commons on Monday. If it falls, the Prime Minister will be required to write to the EU asking for an extension, which Michel Barnier is on record today to say he will not support. No one knows what will happen next. The People’s Vote campaign will be demonstrating again as the House sits on Saturday. We will be marching at the same time as Parliament sits. It will be turmoil. I am exhausted and feel quite ill. I can’t think straight and when I try, get palpitations. It’s as if my head is blocked up with this constant speculation about what will happen next … it’s as if emotion is amplified by this turmoil, the toxic drip feed of news, repetition that this is a ‘momentous week’ or ‘momentous day’ and then still no resolution, waiting for the next twist of events and negotiations. There is a sense of drama on the People’s Vote demonstration, knowing that, as we march and gather in Parliament Square, Parliament is sitting, and MPs are debating another amendment designed to prevent a no deal Brexit. There are celebratory roars when we hear that the amendment is voted in, and a sense that we are playing a part in making history. MPs come out from Parliament and address the crowds, saying they had been spurred on as they heard us shouting and calling during the debate. I feel exhilarated and a sense of the rightness of our cause as MP after MP, from each party, comes out, takes apart the government’s proposed agreement and makes the case for a People’s Vote on any deal negotiated. There are many powerful female speakers. Yet, in contrast to the rally at the previous People’s Vote demonstration, there are none who speak directly of women’s rights. Instead, the emphasis is on coming together, uniting across our differences, as ‘one family’.
56 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page As we walk away, I experience a sense of disorientation. A ‘no deal’ Brexit had been blocked, and now there should be hope for a negotiating a deal that protects and maintains women’s rights. There should also be hope for a second referendum on any deal negotiated. Yet these possibilities seem ever more elusive. We cannot be sure of how our MPs will vote in Parliament. Women MPs have spoken powerfully in favour of a second referendum, but not of women’s rights. There are dispiriting news reports that evening, claiming that little had changed. We feel deflated.
Pivotal Moment 13 Cat and Mouse in Parliament 23 October The Prime Minister puts his Withdrawal Agreement to the House for a vote. 19 Labour Party MPs vote with the government in favour of the agreement and this secures a majority. And so, it is done. We are leaving. The die is cast. I feel numb. Unable to think or feel. A sense of unreality, as if some terrible catastrophe has taken place but I cannot feel it yet. Delayed pain. Disorientation. Betrayal by our Party leaders. Without those 19 Labour Party votes the deal could not have gone through. In common with many Labour Party members, and MPs I feel utterly betrayed. It’s over. Or is it? The Bill must still be subject to debate and scrutiny by MPs. The Prime Minister proposes a short three day timetable for MPs to debate the Bill which will form the basis for a deal to be signed off with EU member states. But he is out-manoeuvred by MPs who defend their right for more time to scrutinise the Bill. Thanks to legislation that MPs put in place, the Prime Minister is now required to request a further extension from Brussels. He does so with bad grace and Brussels grants him a ‘flextension’, three months to secure agreement in Parliament, until 31 January 2020. But then the Prime Minister calls a general election. Defenders of democracy in Parliament are outmanoeuvred again, any hope of scrutiny by MPs avoided. It’s a war of nerves. A game of cat and mouse. Prime Minister v. MPs.
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 57 Pivotal Moment 14 Defeat: A General Election: Back to the Drawing Board November–December 2019 In election mode, parties make competing promises to spend money and undermine each other’s credibility. I am sickened by these careless promises to spend the proceeds of cuts to public services during austerity, money saved by the suffering of women.26 ‘Othering’ is in full flow between Political Parties. Within the Labour Party, allegations of anti-Semitism are made by Jewish MPs,27 and controversial positions taken on the gender identity/sex equality debate by candidates of Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties.28 There is a sense of urgency in discussions between feminists. We establish that the Labour Party manifesto does include many of our basic demands, including a commitment to defending sex-based rights, as well as reforms to the Gender Recognition Act. It also commits to negotiating a new deal for leaving the EU, and for a second referendum of this deal with an option to vote Remain. Many of us decide to set aside our reservations and canvass for Labour. There is too much at stake to risk another term of this Conservative government. We work hard. It is cold, and wet, we canvass from door to door and encourage and support each other. Our MP is a Remainer and campaigner for refugee rights, popular with constituents, and we receive a warm welcome from many as we canvass. But the election result brings us back to reality. Despite our best efforts the government wins with an unprecedented majority. Scotland and Northern Ireland register strong anti-Brexit votes. Nevertheless this majority in Westminster will put an end to scrutiny and democratic debate in Parliament. This government now has the power and the authority to do what it will. Within a few days the Withdrawal Bill is voted through Parliament. We three writers of Chapter 8 meet with the intention of debriefing. Sitting together and sharing food does bring comfort, but we find ourselves unable to engage in coherent conversation. It’s too soon. There will be a year of ‘transition’ until we leave the EU. During this time our future relationship with the EU and terms of our exit will be negotiated 26
Research reports by The Women’s Budget Group demonstrate that women bear the majority of the impact of spending cuts in public services and of austerity measures have been widely publicised. See for example, Elson, D. (2018). The impact of austerity on women. Retrieved from https://wbg.org.uk/resources/the-impact-of-austerityon-women/. 27 General Election 2019. Chief Rabbi attacks Labour anti-Semitism record. BBC News, November 26. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2019-50552068. Accessed May 20, 2020 28 General Election 2029 (2019). Jo Swinson defends stance on transgender rights. The Guardian, December 9. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/ election-2019-50711195. Accessed May 20, 2020.
58 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page by a government with a strong majority in favour of a ‘hard Brexit’. The challenge for feminists will be how to remain engaged? How to lay bare the stakes for women’s equality in a context where Brexit has been ‘done’? Where feminists, women, migrants, refugees, and non-UK EU nationals have been ‘othered’? How to engage anyone now in reimagining a future we can make together? I am back to my dream of edges. We are feeling our way in a grey landscape. There is no clear pathway. But we will maintain feminist spaces for conversation where we will continue to nourish our activist spirits. We will rely on touch to feel our way forward, to discover a new path.
Afterword I was ill for some weeks after the election results were announced. It was as if the results had registered in my body. The shock of the result, the sense of helplessness at being part of a political system from which I feel disenfranchised, catapulted me into shut down. Soon afterwards, we have found ourselves in lockdown, in a dystopian political landscape created by Covid-19. In this new landscape the terrain created by austerity and by Brexit has not changed, but been amplified. We have developed a new vocabulary of hope, one of the ‘new normal’. Once again women are playing leading roles in the fight to defend democracy and to highlight widening inequalities and to demand change. During the time of writing Brexit became a metaphor for populist forces unleashed that have implications beyond the decision to leave or to remain in the EU. Brexit has become a manifestation of a single multifaceted phenomenon: ‘othering’ and aggressive attacks on minority identities and on those who hold different opinions, devaluing of experts and evidence-based dialogue, and increasingly misogynist and racist political cultures. Writing this ‘blog’ has become a way to find a place with displaced others in this world of ‘othering’. During this time, memories of being part of feminist collective actions that changed our lives and the lives of others, have rekindled a sense of possibility in our capacity to shape a more nourishing and more equal world. Creating spaces for meeting, seeking to recover and to sustain collective feminist agency together, has become the key theme of this chapter, and a challenge for the future.
References Atwood, M. (1985). The handmaid’s tale. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. Atwood, M. (2019). The testaments. New York, NY: Nan A. Talese.
Pivotal Moments in Feminising Democracy 59 Conley, H., & Page, M. (2015). Gender equality in public services: Chasing the dream. London: Routledge. Dawson, R. (1996). When women gather: The NGO Forum of the Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, 10(1), 7–27. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/20019871. Accessed on April 16, 2020. Mangan, L. (2019). How Girly Swots came back to bite Boris Johnson. The Guardian, September 25. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/ sep/25/revenge-of-the-spider-woman-how-girly-swots-came-back-to-bite-borisjohnson. Accessed on May 22, 2020. McKee, L. (2020). Lyra McKee’s last article: We were meant to be the generation that reaped the spoils of Peace. The Guardian, 28 March. Retrieved from https://www. theguardian.com/news/lyra-mckee. Accessed on May 22, 2020. Moore, S. (2020). Women must have the right to organise. We will not be silenced. The Guardian, March 2. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/society/ commentisfree/2020/mar/02/women-must-have-the-right-to-organise-we-will-notbe-silenced. Accessed on May 22, 2020. Page, M. (1997). Women in Beijing one year on: Networks, alliances, coalitions. London: Community Development Foundation. Page, M. (2001). Patterns for change: Effective local partnerships-working for women? London: Borough of Lewisham Policy and Partnerships Unit. Siddique, H. (2019). Gina Millar, the woman who took on the UK government and wontwice. The Guardian, September 24. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/ politics/2019/sep/24/gina-miller-the-woman-who-took-on-the-uk-government-andwon-twice. Accessed on May 22, 2020. Walby, S. (2011). The future of feminism. Cambridge: Polity. Woolf, V. (1938). Three Guineas. London: Hogarth Press. Younge, G. (2019). Arundhati Roy. ‘I don’t want to become an interpreter of the East to the West’. Interview. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/may/31/ arundhati-roy-novelist-god-small-things-activism. Accessed on May 22, 2020.
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From the Political to the Personal in an Age of Uncertainty: Assault on Self, Identity, Family, Community and Nationhood Susanna Giullari, Moestak Hussein, Negat Hussein, Tove Samzelius and Sue Cohen Introduction From a position of relative security, many became ‘the other’ after the referendum. The vote to leave the EU weakened the security of those with a heritage of migration including more than three million EU nationals (www.the3million.org. uk), many of who had settled in the UK and whose children were born here. In this chapter we come together in conversation to tell of our own experiences in the aftermath of the referendum and to consider ways forward. We all know each other as former workers and activists in the Single Parent Action Network (www. singleparents.org.uk), where we had a common vision for changing the world. Sue Cohen brought us together again for this conversation. The story of Brexit is multifaceted and multinational. It is far more complex than the dichotomy of ‘us’ and ‘them’ that the Brexiteers want us to believe. We consider how in carrying a migrant/refugee history we were destabilised in very different ways by the shift in sense of self and identity: the identity clashes we experience, activist versus mother, or partner, or worker; and when a forced identity was imposed on us by British citizenship/the European Settlement Scheme. Our conversations took place during 2019 when we began to experience firsthand the shift from European Law to Immigration Law: The challenges of the government’s EU Settlement and Pre-Settlement Scheme (www.gov.uk) were taking their toll. The Settlement Scheme allows EU citizens and non-EU family members of EU citizens to get the immigration status they need to continue to
Feminist Activists on Brexit: From the Political to the Personal, 61–75 Copyright © 2021 by Susanna Giullari, Moestak Hussein, Negat Hussein, Tove Samzelius and Sue Cohen. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited under an exclusive licence. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved doi:10.1108/978-1-80043-420-220210006
62 Susanna Giullari et al. live, work and study in the UK. Settled status means continued eligibility to access public services such as healthcare and schools, social security funds and services and is also the first step to obtaining British citizenship. However families are now destabilised by uncertainty, many becoming increasingly complex entities, with siblings who have a different citizenship status from each other, and parents who have a different citizenship to their children. Mothers looking after children without five years continuous employment may have to accept pre-settled status. Those in abusive relationships with no consistent documentation are the most vulnerable (Marwood, 2020). Such insecurity is exacerbated by the ever-increasing divisions in society, impacting on the marginalised and diverse communities in which we live and work, including the legitimisation of racism in an increasingly intimidating environment (Dorling & Tomlinson, 2019, pp. 224–229). Whilst our own multicultural communities have been pivotal to our lives and our identities, in other marginalised communities, isolation pervades. In these settings, it becomes harder than ever to build bridges between divided communities, given that so many people are simply surviving with no time to spare. Referencing our combined histories in SPAN and other activist networks, we unravel the need for radical international feminist perspectives capable of uniting marginalised women at ground level in all their diversity.
‘A Stranger in My Own Country’: Becoming ‘the Other’ One of the strong themes emerging in our conversations is the impact of the Brexit campaign on identity. Participants talk about the fragility of belonging; becoming ‘the other’ – again, or for the first time; feeling trapped in a forced national identity when we are multicultural Moestak: I felt a stranger in my own country. My identity had been taken away. I thought I’d found a home where I could be buried. I thought migration was over. I thought for me I was here and here by choice. That was it for me. You know to get that leave of status where you could finally stay. The most unsettling thing was once again I had to pack my bag and settle somewhere else due to citizenship. I feel worse now. It’s the hostile political environment that’s increasing that feeling: That feeling of not belonging. That uncertainty is more heightened with the threat of the No Deal – not having any assurance, not having good politicians who are behaving in a way that is respectful to the people affected by this. Having problems with the system of the EU settled status. And having people behind a system’ hiding behind a system. Susy: I was not worried during the campaign. Because I thought it was not going to happen. On the morning when I found out I was just literally coming down the stairs and my partner was on the stairs and I said, What happened then? And he said, ‘Oh Brexit’. That moment, I don’t cry very easily, I just burst out crying. I couldn’t stop for like over an hour … That’s how I felt. And then I went to my kids’ school and there are quite a lot of people from Europe in the school, a lot of Somali families too, and we do a lot of stuff together. I walked in and I literally saw that everybody was crying. Everyone. Just crying. But then the nice
From the Political to the Personal in an Age of Uncertainty 63 thing was that there was this huge queue of English citizen born parents queuing up and saying, ‘We’re so sorry. We don’t believe in that. In the school you will be fine’. It’s made me think a lot about what it is like to be an immigrant. I guess it’s been an interesting experience in some ways because although I’ve always been anti-racist empathised with others – asylum seekers or those who have been through some sort of process like yourselves – you empathise and you try your best to support and you think you understand them … But that sense of being an alien. I never experienced it before. I have lived here for 28 years here and in the last 20–40 years Italians have become really popular because of the food, the Italian clothes, the Italian designers. When you say you are Italian it’s ‘Oh Wow!’ Whereas before it was no Irish, no Italians, no dogs. Moestak: And no blacks. Susy: Yes no Irish, no Blacks, no Italians, no dogs. But then after the 60s Italians started getting this great reputation. People started traveling to Italy. So, you know I never experienced hostility. Now suddenly, we are being discriminated against, treated exactly the same as – you were Polish, Romanian, – now very quickly we are all the same. So you realise this sense of belonging …..its so easy to turn it around so you are the ‘other’ now. Moestak: If I wanted to become British, I would have to give up my Dutch citizenship. My Mum is buried there. It was the first country that gave me a safe haven, a refuge. We had an amazing experience growing up (in the Netherlands.) We had trauma therapy. There were theme parks that were closed just for refugees as a way to rehabilitate us, as a way of therapy to build that resilience we needed later on in life. So, for me I’m not interested in giving up my Dutch nationality. For me giving up my Dutch nationality means giving up my safe haven. If I apply for British, I would have to give it up. Tove (who skyped in from Sweden): Can I just add this whole thing that came up about nationality and identity. What all of this does to people like us it tells you, you have to choose your identity according to your nationality and the expectations that come with it. I think most people who have lived in the way we have we don’t feel about identity in that way. Because even now that I live here in Sweden, yes I might be Swedish on paper but I don’t think I’ve ever felt so British since I came here. I have lived in many places and among people from all over the world. My family is multinational. Suddenly I’m expected to think and be in a certain way because this is ‘how it’s supposed to be in Sweden’, but I don’t always agree with it. You are more than just a nationality.
Uncertainty Becoming ‘the other’ again or for the first time brings lots of uncertainty for ourselves and our families compounded by a complicated application process for citizenship and settled status. We are particularly concerned about those who are most vulnerable. All agree that there is a disparity, that is, those white and born in European countries, are finding it easier to apply for settled status and citizenship.
64 Susanna Giullari et al. Negat: I think it took some time for it to sink in. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to us even though my husband is British. I still have a Swedish passport. Do I have to change my nationality? Do I have to go back? What’s going to happen to my children? A lot of people were quite comfortable, they didn’t think that it was going to affect them that much because they didn’t know what the effect was going to look like. Because they had never been involved in discussions about what could happen if we leave, and many had English as a second language so for them it was difficult even to understand the logistics behind it all, what we were going to lose, what it means. So it was all by word of mouth – they hear it from people, they believe the bits they want to believe. I started feeling a bit worried actually last year. Because I thought we were quite safe at the beginning and then I began to think, Oh my God, this is quite serious now. What am I supposed to do? And then nothing was clear. Nothing was clear. Nothing was clear. Susy: I never applied for it (citizenship) because I didn’t want British citizenship. I always identified as Italian and it left me free to go wherever I wanted. I don’t want to give it up. There’s something important about it being automatic, to know that if you live in Europe there are countries you can go to, you don’t have to do anything, you can just go there, you can apply for a job. In terms of identity you knew you had freedom of movement. To me it’s like a huge freedom has been taken away. I don’t want to be a British citizen. Why should I? I don’t want to assimilate. I could get permanent residence, and also the citizenship, but I am not going to swear ‘God Save the Queen’. I’m totally opposed to that. But the amount of argument this causes in my family. I’ve got my family in Italy saying, ‘You need to apply, you need to apply, and (my partner) here, “You need to apply”. What are you going to do if you can’t get a job? What if they kick you out?’ Every day I look at the site – I need to apply but it makes me so angry that my right to live here, to be free, has been taken away from me. My automatic right. Tove: Remi is British (Tove’s partner) and we don’t know what is going to happen if there is a hard Brexit. How are we going to deal with that? What kind of settlement status will he have to have here in Sweden? And I guess a bit like Susy, we keep putting it off. I have to change my British driver’s license as well. If it’s a hard Brexit I can’t drive. And I know that I should just send it off, but I haven’t done it. And then of course there is my family’s situation – my daughter doesn’t have British citizenship although she feels more British than Swedish and was born in Britain. My son is British and Swedish so he’s more privileged. He can go to the UK but Maya can’t in the same way. When Maya was born in 2003 any child born then to a European mother who was not married to the father, only got citizenship status from the mother. Then that legislation changed a few years later. So although Maximus is in the same situation, I wasn’t married to Remi, he still got the British citizenship. Negat: I applied for my 2 children born 2005 and 2006. When we applied for the one born in 2005 they said if you are not married the child has to take their mother’s citizenship. We’d married but we’d married in Islamic law. So we applied for him for a Swedish passport. When I wanted to apply for my second child it
From the Political to the Personal in an Age of Uncertainty 65 was the same situation. What happened when we tried to apply for British citizenship for both of them they said we needed to get my husband’s ‘indefinite’ paper for us to be able to give them proof that he is British. (Citizenship and living in the UK, www.gov.org.uk) My husband has a British passport, so it doesn’t make sense. It became too complicated. We had to call the Home Office. At that time the Internet was not as quick as now. So, I never thought (more) of it. As long as we can travel safe. They have their birth certificates. Then I had Leena in 2012. Fine. We applied. Straight away, she got her British passport. So now I want to apply for a British passport for my first two children of course. I’m thinking they’re going to go to University. I don’t want them to feel different from everyone else. But the thing is we need to apply to where my husband first got his ‘indefinite’. My husband can’t find it at home because it’s been over 30 years. I have to crack on because if the law changes, I don’t want them to have to stick to one nationality. Susy: I applied for citizenship for Jack, he has my surname, Giullari. It took about a year. But he gets registered with his father’s surname instead of being registered as Giullari, because Italian law did not allow the mother to give her own surname to a child if the father was registered on the birth certificate. So effectively Jack has got two passports – one passport with my surname and one with his father’s. So, he’s got two identities. I said (in Italy) ‘Do you realize what you are doing?’ They said, ‘We realize, and he is not the only one!’ Interesting how gendered citizenship status is. My children in theory should have free movement from Italy. It might be they say they want to go to University in Paris and given their dual British-Italian citizenship they should be able to do so and pay cheaper EU fees, not overseas fees. But these are subtle things, and no one is a 100% sure. I was born Italian and I could go anywhere in Europe to study and that’s what I did. Moestak: But if that was a family, (like some of those) we supported at SPAN, they would not have this. Some people are going to be more privileged because they are of European heritage, or British, or dual nationality, whereas people like myself or our children, would not be able to have dual nationality. Less privileged than those who have opportunities to go to France Susy: Yes definitely. Moestak: I can’t have dual heritage because Holland is one of the countries that doesn’t allow you to have dual heritage. People who are born there like my sister and my colleague who is white Dutch, they are struggling to get their dual heritage. So again, there is this disparity with migration. When I was thinking of applying for British it just caused me panic because I know the process is so broken. It doesn’t matter how much documentation I give them, the money, the fact that I would have to find a solicitor to go through the process – just the idea alone of applying for British put me off. Negat: I can’t apply for British citizenship if I don’t have settled status. But I’m scared things are going to change all the time. I don’t want to apply for British (citizenship). I’ve been here 20 years and I never applied for British. But now I feel I’ve had my children here, and we will live here for years and if I don’t have the two passports things might change and become harder for me.
66 Susanna Giullari et al. We are all working against the deadline (for settled status). We just have to make everything safe for all of us. This is not just me this is everyone around me. Everyone’s running around like chickens now to try and sort their papers out, especially the Mums who don’t have a partner. It’s really hard. A lot of them haven’t worked. Even though I have a Swedish passport, (I felt I was British) and now I feel like everyone else who doesn’t have a state. Even though I have. I have been here so long, I’ve given so much of myself, I’ve worked, I’ve volunteered, my papers, everything should really show that. I even have a council house. Why should I have to prove myself ? I should be on the system. Moestak: I got stuck in the settlement process because I don’t have a date of birth on my passport. I’ve got xx. I’ve got 3 older siblings who have Jan 1st and then it got to me and my 2 younger siblings and we received xx and then just the year. According to my paper work I was born in Somalia. I’ve come across other families in this situation. It was very random who would have date of birth and who wouldn’t. Tove: When I was working at SPAN I’ve seen other cases like that. The date of birth is a common one. Moestak: First I was putting nothing and then just the year but the system wouldn’t accept it. I put 000 and it wouldn’t accept it. Then I contacted them. They responded quickly and said put xx. It worked. They changed the system. They obviously had a few (others like me) – but there was no information. So I kind of like panicked again. Oh my God because obviously I’m used to not being able to open a bank account, being able to get a driving licence. I’m always having to problem-solve. I couldn’t get a driving licence without a date of birth so I had to make one up. I couldn’t get NHS or any medical (status) in the UK. Negat: Shall I tell you what happened on Tuesday with my pre-settlement application? I made an appointment because I was so nervous about making a mistake. I just wanted somebody to be there so they could double-check. I didn’t want to mess around. I got my passport and that’s all they asked for, so I went there and filled in a form on-line, I thought I’m going to get my settled status approved. No, it came back and it said there’s a four-year missing gap in your application. I should be registered already. Because they have my national insurance number and because I had all my children here it should go back to 2005 – that’s when I started to apply for child benefit and child tax credit. I’ve been paying tax since then, I think that I should be easy to track. On the form it said we can offer you a pre-settled. Why should I have a presettled? That’s why when I filled in the form I wanted someone to be there with me. But she wasn’t that sure. So I said, ‘Shall we call them?’ She goes, ‘No’. The person I was actually relying on that would check it with me she wasn’t sure. So I was getting nervous. You know when you feel like you’re in an area you have never done before. I had never had anything to do with the Home Office regarding my issues. I thought, no this has to go through because I really want it to be smooth. But obviously now I have to collect all the documents they need and restart again. So I’m not happy at all. I’m quite stressed because I feel like I’m working against time.
From the Political to the Personal in an Age of Uncertainty 67 I’ve got to start collecting the documents. But I always shred them after two years. You know you don’t keep your papers that long. One of the questions was, ‘What is your first nationality?’ and I said it was Eritrean, but I was scared they would say give us proof and I don’t have any proof, no birth certificate, no nothing. You know this was 35 years ago we applied in Sweden for citizenship, when my parents came to Sweden. We came through Red Cross so we didn’t have documents. So I was really scared if they are going to ask for proof of my original nationality what am I going to do? You know when you hold your fingers like that sitting like that all the time – (Negat crossing fingers between her hands) I was really, really nervous. I was praying please God, every time she pressed the button on the computer, it’s just going to go through, because I thought that I can’t go through any more stress. It was really stressful. I didn’t go back to work I just went home. Moestak: You know that point you made about how Brexit affects citizenship? I think Brexit affects a third of people with mental health problems. I felt a deep hole of despair (after the referendum) and who is responsible for measuring this? Where are the people? Who was campaigning? Negat: Even when there is a march and discussion you don’t see a lot of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups coming out and making that debate. There are a lot who don’t understand the terms in the language they use and even what it means when you leave. I think if in October we leave, we need to say to people this is how it is going to affect you, point by point, so people feel, Oh actually I have been informed properly. Because even when they discuss it with their children, they don’t know. A lot of women are relying on the younger children who speak English, or friends to help them. At Refugee Women, all the time I advise them. All of them don’t know what’s going to happen. You know sometimes you see the problem so far away from you, you wait for other people to make that decision hoping that it is going to be good. Moestak: 45% of those who sell the Big Issue in Bristol are from Roma backgrounds, outside of the settlement system. Susy: Roma community have a big problem. We were talking about it the other night. One – they are not aware of it. Two – many don’t have mobiles, laptops, broadband and you can only apply with those. Moestak: So again a lot of people won’t be able to apply. Because it’s also people who have criminal records. Young people who might be in prison. There are no organisations mobilising, apart from the organisations that are European based, How are they dealing with prisoners? How are they dealing with bankrupts? A lot of people because they have had drug-dealing offences or even minor criminal offences, they won’t be able to apply. But they haven’t defined the kind of conviction where you can apply. There’s no clear guidance. A lot of people won’t apply because they think they don’t stand a chance. Susy: Lots of groups are vulnerable – people like Windrush – who have been here 40 years. There are a lot of vulnerable groups. A lot of people have been here for a long time. Their English might still be not good and unless they have family that help them, they might not even apply, and they may go abroad somewhere and find that they cannot get back in (the country).
68 Susanna Giullari et al.
Brexit Increased the Hostile Enviroment and Hate Crimes And then we start talking about how Brexit has made us and others feel unsafe, as hate crime has risen. Some of us had experienced the hostile environment before, but now we all stress how Brexit has made this hostility more obvious and open, legitimising racism. The openly hostile environment in the context of austerity, the immigration card and the lies that have underpinned the Brexit referendum have increased division between those communities on the margins. Moestak: You know the few days after the Referendum it was for me the most surreal experience, because I was hearing incidents that were happening, I saw people looked differently at you. Especially in the supermarkets and the shops. People looked different. Very surreal. I felt like it was one of those zombie movies where everyone is just kind of like hypnotised. It was very dangerous actually because had that been Trump or Boris as a leader at that time, I think it would have been worse. Susy: I don’t like the European Union as a political institution, but they played the racist immigration card and that’s what won Brexit and that’s what’s upsetting. Then the hate crime just piled up. Even in Bristol which was a Remain vote. My friend – She was in Zara talking to her daughter in Spanish. They couldn’t find a pair of jeans and so they turned around to the woman who worked in the shop and said, ‘Excuse me – do you have any other sizes?’ And she turned round and said, ‘Get out of here. People like you don’t belong here. Get out of the shop now’. Another friend in London said he was queuing at the supermarket it was a long queue, by the time he was third in line the cashier said to him, ‘You go back to the end of the queue’. He didn’t even think at the time. ‘What?’ ‘You go back. If you want to buy this, you wait. Wait until everyone is served. Because people like you shouldn’t even be here’. Nobody said anything. My friend is from Somalia – she was coming with her boy on the bus – he was in a pushchair – and this group of young, white British people, they started shouting all this racist stuff spitting at her. Nobody helped; she was terrified and got off at the next stop. She’s a refugee like you, she’s been through all of that but she said she had never had this experience in Bristol before. Tove: I was here in Sweden when the referendum happened. Being here it felt a bit surreal. But I think that this kind of hostile environment we see now started 10 years ago. We could see it gradually targeting EU citizens – housing, benefits, and all these other things. I’m not Polish but a lot of people thought I was because I am white and I have a strange name and I lived close to Barton Hill where there are a lot of Polish people. You could almost feel things kind of bubbling. Expecting something to happen. But I didn’t expect Brexit to happen. I fell between the systems when I had Maya in 2003. I could not claim benefits in the UK because I was an international student; but I was not allowed to be registered as a resident in Sweden either. So I couldn’t get maternity benefits in either country. I started to work when Maya was one month. I think because of that experience I was always aware. All the years I worked at SPAN I saw this happening to people, especially women that had not worked. And then there was
From the Political to the Personal in an Age of Uncertainty 69 domestic violence and the women had separated and then they were not entitled to benefits in the UK. I remember a couple of women that were going through custody battles and were not allowed to leave the country, so they were kind of left in limbo. I think when welfare reform kicked in we started to see more EU citizens, single mothers who were caught up in that. Moestak: There’s been a shift in the sense that it’s blatant, in your face. There’s no more hiding behind policies that are hostile towards migrants like housing benefit. It’s upfront. Tove: It’s much more upfront. Back then it was people like myself who noticed it. But it’s not only the EU, its Windrush (Olusoga, 2019). It’s like what Remi (my partner) is saying. His parents used to talk about that 20/30 years ago. ‘You can never become British because one day they will deport us all.’ And they used to laugh about it. I think this whole nationality thing in my family has always been very strong – first with Remi. He got stopped in Nigeria. He grew up in the UK and we owned a house but when I called the British consulate they said, no he’s not a British citizen so we’re not going to help him. And then we had the situation with our foster daughter Erin who was two years old when she came to the UK from Pakistan. There were all sorts of issues around paper work and I think it took us over two years to get her a passport. So she couldn’t travel. I used to go with Maya and Maximus to Sweden, Erin and Remi couldn’t travel. This thing about passports and nationality, it’s always been very present in our family life. Susy: I agree with what you say – that it’s always been there but I think that the difference with Brexit is that it legitimised racism and anti-immigration discourses in this country. People say, ‘Oh Britain has always been such a tolerant country’. I know you haven’t experienced that (to Moestak) but for a lot of white people that’s what Britain was like. And actually, it’s never been like that. A lot of my friends were shocked and said, ‘Oh I thought Britain was a tolerant country’. I didn’t think Britain was a tolerant country, but I did think it was better than Italy. In Italy it’s very explicit. But the hostility has built up here and now it feels really toxic to me. Moestak: I must say racism in Holland is very systematic, in your face, and very up front. You know it’s there, in the systems, the lack of opportunity. When I was younger I barely saw any diversity in leaders. But what I found here; it wasn’t so much that a hostile environment was here. But it was a broken system that was just messy. Everything is very rigid in Holland. Very structured. So that the racism you experience is systematic. Tove: Sweden is quite similar to Holland. But you know what the difference (to the UK) is being here in Sweden? Maya, the way she has experienced it. It’s much more subtle. Here it’s remarks, Nobody is going to say it in your face, but it’s behind your back, and then kids kind of segregate themselves, especially in Stockholm. So there’s segregation going on in a way that Maya was not used to. She was raised in the inner city. I think it also depends on where in the UK you live and what that experience would be like. So it’s been a bit of a shock. Susy: As you said Tove, it depends where you live because I’m sure Bristol … . Tove: It’s got something special as well.
70 Susanna Giullari et al. Susy: There’s a lot of Left-wing people, it’s known as the society of counter culture, Banksy and all the rest of it. But I have some friends who live in St. George for example, and they said they didn’t feel like that. Because it was full of English flags during the Brexit period. Everywhere – St George, Fishponds, Hartcliffe all those places, it was full of English flags. There was so much lying (by politicians). I remember a week after the referendum there was a documentary on tele and they went to one small area up north, where 99% of people had voted Brexit and it was a white working class area where people had lived there for a long time and they interviewed this woman who worked in a hairdresser’s shop. She said, ‘I didn’t really want to vote, I’m not really into politics, but my Dad is severely ill, my brother is severely ill, there is never enough money for us, and when I saw that bus I thought well the money is going to go to the NHS, I’m going to vote for that’. Then she started crying and said, ‘The morning after I have to see Boris Johnson saying it wasn’t true it was a lie’ (BBC, 2017). But to me this happened because the Brexit referendum happened in the context of austerity. Immigration is an amazing thing but where public services, housing, hospitals, school places have all been cut, who pays the price? Not me. It’s the poorer communities. If you go to places like Hartcliffe, it’s those poorer communities who voted for Brexit. They are not necessarily racist – I’m sure some of them are and some of them are not. But that thing about wanting a change – The same happened in Italy, the same happened in America. Since Thatcher, poor people who live on the margins, have been more, and more marginalised, and the Left had done nothing for them. Absolutely nothing. And then people, when they’re so angry, say fuck it, I’m going to vote for Brexit because I’ve had enough. I saw some stats after the referendum. If you look at Bristol St. George, Hartcliffe, Knowle West – they were Leave – not Lawrence Hill because obviously there is deprivation there but also migrant mobility. But with housing – I know housing officers – they say there is hardly any housing, and you can only get housing if you are in priority need. And rightly so – someone who has maybe been through war issues has more of a priority than someone who hasn’t, but because there are not enough houses for everyone, then antagonism starts, rule and divide. Its not that people hate each other, we’re all being exploited, but instead of people working together, there are major divisions. Tove: The same thing is happening all over Europe.
Creating Radical Grassroot Bridges of Resistance Across Communities and Countries We begin talking about the pivotal role that multicultural communities play in our lives. Then move on to reflect on whether it is still possible to unite people on the margins as we did when we worked at SPAN. Negat: Tove is a foreigner in Sweden even though she is Swedish. Her whole family are foreigners there. To live in Sweden you need to have a certain mentality to be able to cope. Especially as England has moved so far ahead of all that we have in Sweden now. You know to do with immigration, refugees, community.
From the Political to the Personal in an Age of Uncertainty 71 There are no communities in Sweden. In England we have communities. I live in a community. Without that community I wouldn’t be able to build a really good network with a lot of the women. I didn’t have anything to do with community development before (when I was in Sweden). When you look round we do much better (in the UK) than anyone else in Europe. We do have a sense of support. It’s part of your identity. To be connected to your own groups. Especially Somalis. Sudanese. Arabs. It’s really important. It might be hidden but it does exist. People have so much support – it helps build their confidence before they move on. As the first step before they go to work, you know like SPAN did. People came for advice. Fill in forms. Even just to sit and chat to people. It was somewhere to go and get help. Where there was someone to listen to, or build a new friendship, or network. It’s really important for me. And I do believe we need it. The community does need to carry on existing. Sue: How would you describe the community? It’s interesting. You said it wasn’t there in Sweden. Negat: Community is a place that you can go to and you can seek help and meet people who listen to you, and where you feel you are a part of something, and you can develop yourself and have your voice heard, and have your weakness recognised, without you feeling less, because you are new in the country, because you’re isolated. It could be because you have suffered from any kind of abuse. It’s a place where you can go and be empowered, it’s a safe place for a lot of people to get together, get ideas exchanged. I’ve seen it a lot. I’ve seen it through SPAN – how people were really empowered, where they feel a part of something. Sue: You’ve still got this sense that community exists in this country? Negat: Community is still there. It will always be wherever people are in need especially when you have worked with women. It’s very important. Because you need to go somewhere where there are other women. And be supported. We have such a big responsibility. And everyone has their own needs. I work with refugees so I know what’s needed when they first arrive. You want to find someone who looks like you. Or speaks the language like you. Or find a friend. Most of our volunteers are English who work there. They are lovely because they believe women have a need. We should be able to support them and empower them with the skills they have. English language, arts and crafts, the Listening Project. I think we are the women who can work together better. That we can understand. Even if sometimes we don’t have the language between us. Tove: What Negat describes is what I miss the most living in Sweden. Being part of a community of people who care and help each other. SPAN and Easton was that for me – it still is every time I go back and visit. When I started to do research with homeless single mothers here in Stockholm, what struck me the most was how solitary their struggle was and how difficult it was to find places like SPAN or Refugee Women of Bristol (www.refugeewomenofbristol.org.uk) that were more than just a place to ask for help. I try to explain to people here, but only some people will understand. Negat is the one that understands the best, because she grew up in Sweden.
72 Susanna Giullari et al. Susy: There’s a lot going on for example against the prorogation of parliament. When Johnson came to power, one of the things Corbynistas did was to get in touch with Grime artists in London because they felt that Labour wasn’t in touch with young black people. As a result when Stormzy played at Glastonbury this year he purposefully wrote that song, and Banksy made him a special Union Jack stab-proof vest. During the concert he sang, ‘Fuck the government. Fuck Boris. You sing along’. All of a sudden you had 200,000 people singing that, and 4 million viewers!! Some of these Grime artists are part of the Women’s Strike (womenstrike.org. uk) as well, and they organised this thing called ‘Fuck Boris’. There was a big demonstration and as a result of that John McDonnell spoke at it. I didn’t go but I saw the news and it was very diverse. Moestak: Do you think that mobilises people though? Because I think a lot of people now tend to feel apathy. A lot of people feel crippled. Susy: I think people are angry as well. Moestak: I think people are crippled. It could be angry, it could be paralysed, uncertain, I mean the state that we are in, people feel stuck. We are stuck because we can’t get people together like SPAN did. Tove: But back then, a few years ago now, single parents didn’t have to work until their children were older. They were around during the day. Susy: Now they are saying that (some) people who are working in poverty, are averaging 3–5 jobs per family. Tove: This is what I see in Sweden. I’ve been doing individual interviews following some of the women who live in the direst circumstances you can imagine. I would say all of them have a very strong political awareness, and they are very politicised in what they say, but there is no outlet for it. There is no way of bringing people together because they are so focussed on their own families and surviving. What I see in Sweden is that they challenge on an individual basis, but they don’t have any support, or backing, or any way of channelling that resistance. It becomes a very individualised struggle. Susy: Another problem is that the political movement, including Women’s Strike it generally tends to be middle class political people like myself, people who have a lot of social capital. Most of the people like us are Remain. We need to go and work in communities who voted to leave, and also in migrant communities. Poor migrant women are going to be affected the worst. But on the other hand poor white British communities (are affected), this is what I see in my job every day, children who haven’t got anything to eat, and in those communities there isn’t that solidarity either, so it’s a very lonely place to be. We have to go there and start spreading a different message. Because the only people going into those communities who are very active are fascists or people like Farage – they sell them a load of nonsense – ‘If you get rid of all the immigrants you will be fine again’. But the Left doesn’t go there; the Women’s Strike doesn’t go there – until we go there who are they going to listen to? They read the Sun. Somebody has to go there with a different narrative. It is about how you engage those on the margins. In Women’s Strike there is a group of us who have decided to focus on the possible No Deal Brexit, because
From the Political to the Personal in an Age of Uncertainty 73 we feel that is going to be the most damaging to people. And we decided to start what we call ‘mutual aid’ strategies. The motto is ‘Solidarity not Charity’. It was applied in America after Hurricane Katrina. It’s not like us going in there and delivering food banks for people, it’s about getting people together to help each other. We want to offer spaces and resources that enable people to develop mutual aid, and not us doing it all for them or telling them what they need to do. Moestak: In all fairness I think there is a need for that. Without it we are in serious trouble. We need to change the discourse. I feel we need that middle ground – it could be someone who voted Leave but it would need some clarity for the common aim. Tove: I look at the Swedish debate, and I think, Oh my God, you act as if there is nothing outside the borders of this country. I think probably the UK is a little bit the same. It’s about Brexit. So it is a bit like your analogy with the Second World War Sue, we are focussing on what we see as problems that are specific to our country, but actually there is a pattern going on. I’m not the first one to say that. You can see the pattern. But the media, and the ways our societies work, with people who might not have those international contacts, they might not see it. Susy: This is true in Italy – so right wing and racist. Losing an international perspective is really dangerous. Tove: A lot of these women’s mainstream organisations have bought into this discourse. You need a more radical international movement than you have. Susy: Well the Women’s Strike movement is international. It’s not very big in this country. I don’t know about Sweden but it’s in Argentina, Latin America, Italy, Spain. In Italy this year the Women’s Strike was active in 85 cities. In Spain there was a General Strike with backup from the Unions. It’s huge, with millions on strike. Here we managed to get no more than 100,000 people out. Also the Women’s Strike has got big links with the Kurdish revolution. There are a lot of links that way internationally. We are not liberal feminists. We believe that neither the state nor charity can bring about change. We believe that collective organisation from the ground will create this change – and we are anti-capitalist. We don’t believe in social democracy. We believe that the best of states cannot fight global capital. We believe that looking after kids is work even if it is unpaid. And if we want to change women’s lives, we need women to strike to show that the unpaid care work that women do is what keeps the world going. It is not enough to say, ‘Oh let’s break the glass ceiling’. Because those women have all got cleaners and nannies. Yes, they broke the ceiling but they exploit migrant poor women.
Conclusion: From the Political to the Personal In this chapter, we discussed the multiplicity of our identities as mothers, activists, migrants, workers, friends, wives/partners, and how Brexit has caused us to experience identity clashes between our political/activist/migrant identities and our personal ones: Clashes that make it even harder to create radical bridges of resistance at ground level. We are internationalists at heart, with strong connections
74 Susanna Giullari et al. to one another, but the dominance of nationalistic politics invades our personal space. Susy: You know I went through a long phase – do I want to live in Italy, do I want to move back? I was so upset. Then one day it just dawned on me that I’m the happiest when I am amongst people like me. Tove: Yes exactly. Susy: It doesn’t matter if I am in England or in Australia. I want to be around people who do not identify themselves by their nationality but are open to multiculturalism. They have experience of travel. They are open-minded. That’s where I feel at home. I think you can have more than one nationality. That’s why I think that so much of my freedom has been taken away because yes I’m an Italian but politically I don’t identify with the Italian state, so I just feel like an individual but now I have to be British! Tove: Isn’t what we are saying that we connect with other people who have this international experience and now we feel it’s much more difficult to be like that? Because people will see on the surface that we look quite different, we have different backgrounds, but we also have some strong connections. Susy: I feel we are being forced to do the opposite journey – from the political to the personal. Tove and Moestak: I like that – from the Political to the Personal. ---------------------------------------Single Parent Action Network (www.singleparents.org.uk, SPAN, 2019) came from a history where the personal challenges of single parenthood became political through collective action and empowerment work. In an era where nationalism is yet again on the rise, the political becomes very personal for those of us who have transnational families and lives. What this will mean in the longterm is still uncertain, but to converse and break the silence around how political issues become personal is the foundation for new forms of counter-action and transnational mobilisation. We are many, but within the current political order there is a real risk that our experiences become individualised. Together we can counter isolation and individualisation.
References BBC. (2017, September 18). Boris Johnson: Does his £350 million per week add up? Retrieved from https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=BBC+(20 17)+Boris+Johnson:+does+his+%C2%A3350+million+per+week+add+up%3F+ 18th+September&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8. Accessed on May 7, 2020. Dorling, D., & Tomlinson, S. (2019). Rule Britannia. London: Biteback Publishing. Marwood, S. (2020, January 31). Brexit could leave some survivors of domestic abuse unable to access refuge services. Retrieved from https://www.womensaid.org.uk/ brexit-could-leave-some-survivors-of-domestic-abuse-unable-to-access-refugeservices/. Accessed on May 28, 2020.
From the Political to the Personal in an Age of Uncertainty 75 Olusoga, D. (2019, June 16). Windrush: Archived documents show the long betrayal. The Observer. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/jun/16/ windrush-scandal-the-long-betrayal-archived-documents-david-olusoga. Accessed on May 28, 2020. SPAN. (2019). SPAN: A hands on history project. Retrieved from www.thespanproject.org. uk https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/projects/span-a-participatory-history. Accessed on May 28, 2020. www.singleparents.org.uk
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Post-Brexit Haiku: Countering Prejudice with Sticks-in the-Spokes and Danish Pastries Jane Speedy
An introduction to the Gloucester Road area of Bristol is probably necessary here in order to clarify the meaning of ‘post-Brexit’ in this context. The Gloucester road (a thriving local inner city high street full of independent shops and enterprises) is situated in the middle of Bristol West: the most Remain-voting area of a determinedly Remain-voting city, surrounded by the leave-voting rural areas of Somerset: Wiltshire and Gloucestershire (see BBC News, 2016). Thus, the ‘post-Brexit’ atmosphere of veiled hostility described below was not dependent on a vote for ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’, but upon the divisive mood of ‘othering’ that pervaded the entire country, immediately following the 2016 referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. My reactions/actions to the change of mood in my neighbourhood were, and still are, informed by my earlier experiences of second wave feminist activism (and humour) at Greenham Common and elsewhere (see Kutz-Flamenbaum, 2007; Watling, 2019). The text is segmented into a layered account (Rambo-Ronai, 1995) by shards of the author’s artwork: a series of paintings informed by the palimpsests found along the buildings of the Gloucester Road, Bristol (see Janespeedysartwork. co.uk). Austerity brought out some prejudice towards cripples and our like I remember Nell wheeling down her lane amongst ‘cripple’ shouts from cars
Feminist Activists on Brexit: From the Political to the Personal, 77–80 Copyright © 2021 by Jane Speedy Published by Emerald Publishing Limited under an exclusive licence. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved doi:10.1108/978-1-80043-420-220210007
78 Jane Speedy Yet on Gloucester Road midst all the hustle-bustle/ I felt safe to roam twixt buggy-pushing hipsters and deliveroo boys wielding bikes and hefty packs they clocked the white curls/ pink stripes brought forth a passing ‘love the hair’ from some they saw me/some smiled/ connected in this vibrant city neighbourhood My slow progress with walking stick and slumped left side/ deftly skirted round
brexit transformed the atmosphere overnight and harsher tones seeped in the next day it was young versus old and them versus us/open season on crips and crocks/ young men on bikes suddenly failing to see me
and in the bread shop/ ‘bet she’s a WASPI1 woman’/ murmured in the queue 1
WASPI women are fighting a campaign to protect women’s pensions. For details see: https://www.waspi.co.uk/2020/02/22/2020-waspi-campaign-update/. Accessed 26/01/21
Post-Brexit Haiku 79 As I fumble, one-handed for change/ ‘brexit’ has made us impatient people… Still I walked out on the crossing/stuck my stick in the spokes across my path/ ‘what the fuck’ he screamed/ brakes screeching/bike shuddering to a halt/‘CRIPS PERKS’ I beamed /pottering across the zebra crossing to the library (poor old duck) /But in the bakers/ I turned and said ‘yes I am, and you know what?’ if we get it, I’m spending all that extra WASPI pension on Danish pastries/Help yourselves!’ And forthwith handed round my sugary paper bag…
I had a blue print/ hard-earned in my radical youth/ for raging old ducks dealing with dicks….
References Artist’s website. (2020). Retrieved from https://janespeedysart.co.uk BBC News. (2016). EU referendum: Local results. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/ news/politics/eu_referendum/results. Accessed on December, 2019. Bridges, N., Brown, L., Ferguson, J., Gale, K., Gallant, M., Hung, Y.-L., … Wyatt, J. (2013). Riffing off Laurel Richardson: Taking three words to twitter. International Review of Qualitative Research, 6(4), 585–603. Retrieved from https://irqr.ucpress. edu/content/6/4/585.short Kutz-Flamenbaum, R. (2007). Code pink, raging grannies, and the missile Dick chicks: Feminist performance activism in the contemporary anti-war movement. NWSA Journal (Feminist Formations), 19(1), 89–105.
80 Jane Speedy Rambo-Ronai, C. (1995). Multiple reflections of child sex abuse: An argument for a layered account. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 23(4), 395–426. Speedy, J. (2015). Staring at the park. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. Watling, E. (2019). Tea, sit-ins and solidarity: Inside Greenham Common’s radical protest. Independent Newspaper, September 1.
Feminising Democracy in Westminster and Devolved Nations
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Inspiring Change: Women Organising Across the Devolved Nations Natasha Davies, Hade Turkmen Lyn Carvill, Emma Ritch and Sue Cohen Introduction Lyn Carvill, from the Women’s Budget Group Northern Ireland, Natasha Davies and Dr Hade Turkmen from Chwarae Teg Wales, and Emma Ritch from Engender Scotland – all are leaders of women’s organisations working to further women’s equality in their respective nations. In this chapter, we see how each of their analyses informed by their participatory activism unravel the impact of Brexit on women in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Critical for all three nations is the loss of EU funding directed towards more disadvantaged women including those furthest away from the labour market, alongside the threats to gender mainstreaming, employment protections, human rights and anti-discrimination legislation. We see just how significant the EU influence has been in helping to shape progressive advances on the road to equality in each of the nations. These advances have taken different forms given their different political and economic contexts, from the historic Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland, the Gender Matters Roadmap in Scotland and the Gender Equality Review in Wales. Women’s movements in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have also taken different trajectories, given their different socio/political histories, cultures, and government settings. In Scotland and Wales, the shifts and changes brought about by devolved government, have opened up opportunities for activists to strategise, forge spaces and realise tangible gains in political decision-making arenas. Conversely the lack of a devolved government in Northern Ireland in recent years created a vacuum for feminist equality and human rights movements to make ground-breaking advances in reproductive rights. Yet with Brexit, women in Northern Ireland face specific and formidable challenges with threats to the border communities and to the peace and reconciliation process and equalities legislation enshrined in the Good Friday agreement. We learn how dynamic women’s movements in rural and urban areas are mobilising in response.
Feminist Activists on Brexit: From the Political to the Personal, 83–104 Copyright © 2021 by Emerald Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved doi:10.1108/978-1-80043-420-220210010
84 Natasha Davies et al. We learn too how cross-border networks and alliances between women’s organisations on the Celtic fringe and indeed across the five nations (England, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales) become ever more critical given the UK government’s indifference to gender equality in any of the Brexit negotiations up to this moment in time.
Lynn Carvill: Women’s Budget Group Northern Ireland The implications of Brexit for women in Northern Ireland are in many ways similar, to the potential consequences faced by women in England, Scotland and Wales. The risk of labour rights being eroded (rights hard fought for and often guaranteed through membership of the European Union), is faced by all. Deregulation will undoubtedly impact on women disproportionately across the UK; we do not come to society on a level playing field, and the laws preventing discrimination on the basis of gender, race, and disability, for example, may not survive in the wake of Brexit. Nevertheless, whilst taking this into account, the people of Northern Ireland and women living here face specific and complex challenges in relation to Brexit that may not be comparable to other parts of the UK, and the ways in which feminist and equality NGOs and movements have risen to counter these often daunting challenges is commendable. On Friday 24 June 2016, the UK awoke to the news that the referendum held on the 23rd, asking the public ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union’ had resulted in a 51.9% vote in favour of leaving. Referendum results varied across the regions: the decision in Northern Ireland and Scotland was to remain in the European Union – 55.8% and 62%, respectively. The Wales vote was 52.5% to leave, whilst London voted 59.9% to remain. Whilst political chaos became the order of the day following the vote, as evidenced by the UK parliament’s tortuous progress to an orderly EU exit, this turmoil had more serious implications in Northern Ireland given its unique and troubled context. Northern Ireland has the UK’s only land border with the Republic of Ireland (and one that, post-Brexit, could become an external border of the EU), and this, coupled with the lack of a regional devolved government for three years (having collapsed in January 2017), greatly exacerbated the turmoil. The underlying fragility of the ongoing peace and reconciliation process has been exposed, whilst contentious issues largely resolved through the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement have been reopened by Brexit. The Good Friday/Belfast agreement signed in 1998 set Northern Ireland on a path towards peace, establishing a power-sharing devolved government. It was a compromise agreement reached by most of the political parties in Northern Ireland under the auspices of the Irish and UK Governments, creating a framework that established North-South and East-West institutions and collaborative relationships, in which the Northern Ireland devolved administration would take its place. What is perhaps less well known is the key role played by the European Union in supporting the peace accord. The European Union provided an overarching political framework for relations between the UK, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and also a cohesion policy that would pay particular
Inspiring Change 85 attention to Northern Ireland over the years to support economic and social development in the context of the peace process. The EU has invested billions of pounds in charities across Northern Ireland through various iterations of the Peace programme, an EU funding stream unique to Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland, aimed at enhancing reconciliation between divided communities. Almost all employability and skills delivery aimed at helping disadvantaged groups access work is funded through the European Social Fund (Miller, 2019). The conflict in Northern Ireland, claiming almost 4,000 lives, manifested itself in the most part as inter-community violence, with national ‘identity’ viewed as all-important. Typically, Catholics, nationalists and republicans identify as being Irish, whilst Protestants, unionists and loyalists identify as British. Northern Ireland became the battleground for what were seen as incompatible identities within the same space. Overcoming the perceived incompatibility of these identities, and the conflict it gave rise to, was key. The Good Friday/Belfast agreement involved much dexterity and skill on the part of the national governments’ negotiating teams, assisted by the United States’ Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, Senator George Mitchell, and resulted in a unique solution to this issue of contestation. The 1998 Agreement gives citizens in Northern Ireland the right to be British, Irish or both, but also and critically pre-Brexit, citizens of Northern Ireland, whether British or Irish, were also citizens of the European Union. The ‘identity’ bar was raised and centre ground found, enabling the peace and reconciliation process to move forward. Brexit, however, has brought the issue of ‘National Identity’ back front and centre to the political debate as a renewed source of contestation, evidenced by the recent legal challenge taken by Emma de Souza1 (Moriarty, 2019). Contestations over identity have also been fuelled by the debates over whether the nature of the border with Ireland is changed (seen as injurious to those in Northern Ireland who identify as Irish), or whether a new border regime will be put in place between Northern Ireland and Great Britain (perceived as an assault on Northern Ireland’s place within the UK, and, therefore, inimical to those in Northern Ireland who identify as British). Brexit has led to ancient wounds, somewhat healed by the peace process, being picked apart bringing pain once again to Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland (De Mars, Murray, O’Donoghue, & Warwick, 2020). Meanwhilst, much of the Brexit debate happened in the absence of devolved government and local political leadership. Following what they perceived as irresolvable disagreements, including Brexit, between the two main parties in government (Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party), the Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed in January 2017, leaving a chasm in terms of political decisionmaking, leadership, and the possibility of a unified voice from Northern Ireland. Further afield, but equally important, is the fact that the Conservative government in 2017 struck a ‘confidence and supply agreement’ with the Democratic
AvrioAvocati. (2019). Northern Ireland, Brexit and the Emma deSouza case. Retrieved from http://www.avrioadvocati.com/n-ireland-brexit-and-the-emma-desouza-case. Accessed on May 26, 2020.
86 Natasha Davies et al. Unionist Party (DUP), a pro-Brexit party, to create a majority in the House of Commons with the support of its ten MPs. Whilst Northern Ireland as a whole voted to remain in the EU, this view was largely muted in the House of Commons as Sinn Féin’s seven MPs follow a policy of abstentionism in relation to Westminster and do not take their seats, leaving Lady Sylvia Hermon, an independent unionist, to articulate the particular impacts Brexit will have on Northern Ireland, and the fears of people here. This situation changed after the UK General Election of December 2019 when, although Lady Hermon did not stand, a number of Northern Ireland ‘pro-Remain’ non-abstentionist candidates were elected to Westminster. This meant that the particular issues facing Northern Ireland could be articulated in Westminster in the run-up to Brexit day on the 31 January 2020, and as the UK Government began the process of negotiating its post-Brexit relationship with the EU. It is well documented that women in post-conflict societies have particular negative experiences. UN Security Council Resolution 1325, despite persistent advocacy from women’s organisations, has never been implemented in Northern Ireland. Yet our experiences mirror those of women living in similar societies across the world; an increased risk of domestic and sexual violence (vastly underreported during the conflict), disproportionate under-representation in political and public spheres,2 and patchy access to legal redress. One might presume that the political vacuum created by the collapsed Northern Ireland Assembly, has resulted in the silencing of civic voices. Indeed the lack of political space and interface has created a major challenge for women’s organisations, and other equality and human rights NGOs to impact the debate. However, Northern Ireland’s chequered and difficult past has resulted in the emergence of a resilient and determined women’s sector. Following various consultation events with grassroots women across urban and rural areas, regional NGOs have taken their voices beyond the local institutions, and are advocating nationally and internationally. Women from urban areas have been unequivocal on how Brexit has the potential to reignite the conflict. Evidence speaks to a growing political polarisation coupled with increased sectarianism on the ground. In Northern Ireland, there is little in our political discourse that transcends orange (unionism) and green (nationalism), and this has once again been the case in relation to Brexit. With large caveats, unionism can be viewed as ‘EU Leave’ and nationalism as ‘EU Remain’. The hard-won peace in Northern Ireland was always fragile and Brexit has reopened the Northern Ireland constitutional issue like nothing else has in the last 21 years. Women in rural areas have also spoken of increased political polarisation and how this has been magnified with the reopening of the highly contentious ‘border’ issue. As articulated in a study on the ‘UK Withdrawal (“Brexit”) and the Good Friday Agreement’:
The most recent NI Assembly election in March 2017 resulted in 30% of those elected being women.
Inspiring Change 87 The institutions of the Agreement sought to reframe the border as a point for cooperation not conflict. These institutions were framed by constitutional adjustment in the two states to include Ireland’s acceptance of the continuation of the status quo and British acceptance of the possibility of change in Northern Ireland’s constitutional status […]. In so doing, the border conflict was not removed or resolved, but managed differently. More broadly, the language and convention of EU policy-makers created “an open space for contending parties to talk about solutions to old problems in a new way and to act upon that” […]. Most fundamentally, common EU membership has transformed the British–Irish relationship at both a symbolic and practical level […]. Ultimately, it appears that it is not so much the actors or structures of the EU but the actual process of European integration itself that has created the external environment and model that made possible the imaginative frameworks for cross-border and intergovernmental cooperation in the Good Friday Agreement. (Phinnemore & Hayward, 2017, p. 24) Of course, ‘the Border’ has featured prominently in national, European and international political discussions but what may be less well known is the sterling work undertaken by women’s NGOs to ensure that the lived reality, the concerns of rural women and those living in the border areas are brought to bear on these high-level discussions and decisions. The work of rural women’s organisations in Northern Ireland is historically under-resourced. Notwithstanding this, the Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network (NIRWN), comprising a small part-time team, is an excellent example of a women’s NGO punching above its weight and amplifying the voice of rural women to Brexit influencers beyond Northern Ireland. With ample evidence from the ground, NIRWN has persistently illustrated how Brexit could be disastrous for people living and working in border communities, if the particular issues it gives rise to in Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland are not fully resolved.3 Following the launch of ‘Rural Women’s Voices’ (Coyle, 2018) in March 2018, determined to amplify rural women’s voices in the Brexit debate the Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network met with the EU’s chief negotiator on Brexit, Michel Barnier in May 2018. NIRWN impressed on Barnier that the concerns of their members were not framed in local politics but the realities of lived lives. NIRWN have continued to give voice to rural women, meeting other influencers in the wider UK, Republic of Ireland and the EU, vehemently arguing against the (re)introduction of a hard border and leaving the EU without a deal (Galligan, 2019). Other women’s NGOs have opened space for debate and taken women’s voices and views outside Northern Ireland. In October 2018, the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform hosted ‘Women and Gender Equality in a Changing 3
See also Hayward (2017).
88 Natasha Davies et al. Europe: A Roundtable to Explore Women’s Priorities in Brexit’. This event, organised on a five nations basis (including the Republic of Ireland) featured a series of panel discussions, highlighting women’s views and current evidence on the potential impact of Brexit on women. It focussed on priorities to share with policy and decision-makers in order to ensure gender equality is central in future policy making. Many women’s NGOs have been frequent visitors to Brussels bringing the views of Northern Ireland women directly to the heart of the European Union. There is still concern, however; whilst the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) has ruled that the UK can remain a member of EWL, the UK’s membership of other networks may be at risk. This could mean, for example, that the European Institute for Gender Equality’s Gender Index will no longer offer its reflection of UK progress on gender equality. The Northern Ireland Women’s Budget Group has also developed its capacity, taking its work outside of Northern Ireland, and forging stronger links with sister organisations and women’s budget groups across the UK regions. Brexit, coupled with the three-year absence of a devolved decision-making assembly in Northern Ireland, has encouraged the women’s movement to find collaborative partnerships beyond the local and closer to where power currently resides and NGOs and others are working to secure established networks and build new ones. Since the Brexit referendum there have been times of frustration, exasperation and even utter distress. A resurgence of violence from a dissident republican paramilitary group resulted in the tragic death of 29-year-old journalist, Lyra McKee in April 2019. This tragedy served as a stark reminder of how political voids can too easily be filled with violence. Such vacuums can, however, also provide opportunities and in this vein, feminist, equality and human rights movements advocating for social change have been very active over the last few years in adapting to the context resulting from a lack of devolved government in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has long been a socially conservative society when compared with the rest of the UK. The extent of that social conservatism was brought into sharp relief when the Democratic Unionist Party struck the ‘confidence and supply’ agreement with the Conservatives in 2017, bringing to the nation’s attention the reality that citizens across the UK did not enjoy similar rights. This gave a further impetus to feminist movements, alongside others, in their work for social change. Reproductive rights and marriage equality have been at the forefront of the human and social rights agenda in Northern Ireland over the last number of years; in contrast to the rest of the UK, until very recently, abortion had been a criminal offence in Northern Ireland (Gentleman, 2016) and marriage between same-sex couples denied. Prior to 21 October 2019, abortion was a criminal offence under the 1861 Offences against the Person Act.4 Moreover, rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities were not grounds for legal termination in Northern Ireland, with the
In 1945, an exception was added to say abortion could be permitted to preserve the mother’s life.
Inspiring Change 89 1967 Abortion Act not applying in Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK. High-profile campaigns undertaken by a range of feminist and human rights NGOS highlighted the suffering of hundreds of women and girls unable to access terminations in Northern Ireland. Meanwhilst, a campaign in the Republic of Ireland to repeal the eighth amendment to the Irish Constitution (which, like Northern Ireland, prohibited abortion in almost all cases) resulted in a referendum held on 25 May 2018. The referendum result – 66.4% to repeal the eighth amendment – was a landslide victory for the women’s movement and feminist activists. Activists from Northern Ireland involved in a range of movements, such as Alliance for Choice, the Belfast Feminist Network and Reclaim the Agenda, supported their sister organisations south of the border, assisting proactively in the campaign. The result spurred activity in the North and the campaign for women’s reproductive rights in Northern Ireland was strengthened, as in the case of Sarah Ewart, for example. Having been refused a legal termination in Northern Ireland following a fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis in 2013,i Sarah (supported by Amnesty International) challenged the law and in October 2019 the High Court in Belfast ruled Northern Ireland’s abortion law breached human rights.5 Same-sex marriage manifested as another socially contentious issue in Northern Ireland and remained banned in Northern Ireland five years after it was legalised in Great Britain. Between 2011 and 2016 the ‘Petition of Concern’, effectively a veto that can be employed within the Assembly, was used five times by the Democratic Unionist Party to block marriage equality in Northern Ireland (Smythe, 2016). After decades of campaigning, feminist movements and human rights NGOs took their campaigns to Westminster. Following intensive lobbying, clauses were successfully added to the Northern Ireland Executive Formation Act, 2019, respectively by Labour MPs, Stella Creasy on abortion6 (Section 9) and Connor McGinn on Equal Marriage (Section 8), which provided that unless the Stormont Assembly was restored before 21 October 2019, abortion would be decriminalised and samesex marriage legislated for in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Assembly was not reformed by that date and although these matters remain contentious for some, feminist and equality campaigners could claim a watershed victory with the introduction of the landmark legislation they had so long been calling for. In Northern Ireland, similar to all other UK regions, Brexit has presented significant challenges. Across the UK, some wanted to ‘get Brexit done’ whilst others advocated for a ‘People’s vote’. The General Election held on 12 December 2019 was considered by both Northern Ireland political parties and the electorate as an opportunity to rerun the referendum. This resulted in a significant shift in political strategy and voting behaviour, exemplified by what transpired in the
BBC News. Northern Ireland abortion law found to breach human rights. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-49900668. Accessed on May 26, 2020. 6 Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. Retrieved from http://www. legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2019/22/. Accessed on May 27, 2020.
90 Natasha Davies et al. South Belfast constituency. Held by Emma Little Pengelly of the DUP, the only significant party in Northern Ireland to campaign for Brexit, Sinn Fein and the Green party stood aside in South Belfast to ensure the ‘Remain’ vote was less diluted (although the Alliance party, a pro-Remain party, ran a candidate). The result was that the SDLP candidate, Claire Hanna, an MLA and significant proRemain voice in the previous three years of political hiatus won the election by a huge majority. Overall, the December 2019 election resulted in the following: 8 DUP MPs returned (pro-Leave), 6 Sinn Fein MPs (pro-Remain but abstentionist), 2 SDLP MPs (pro-Remain) and 1 Alliance MP (pro-Remain). ‘Standing aside’ in elections is a rare occurrence in Northern Ireland politics and the lack of articulation of many people’s views from 2016 undoubtedly had an impact on the outcome of the General Election. This may have been somewhat muted by the huge Tory majority returned by the electorate across Great Britain but nevertheless, a shift in what can be often believed as embedded political allegiance happened in Northern Ireland. The Tory majority also meant that the DUP’s votes in Westminster were no longer necessary to guarantee the safe passage of the government’s legislative agenda, including legislation shaping the post-Brexit landscape. In the wake of the general election, renewed efforts to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly were ultimately successful as the main political parties in Northern Ireland agreed that the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ deal presented to them by the UK and Irish Governments was sufficient to bring back the institutions of devolved government in January 2020. However, this has in fact led to many in Northern Ireland questioning why the political vacuum endured for so long, and what had it ultimately achieved. The women’s movement and equality and human rights NGOs have played their part in ensuring the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, its specific and complex, post-conflict context remain central to the debate and negotiations. The deal over the UK’s exit from the EU has yet to be ratified, and feminist and other organisations will continue to rise to the challenge of safeguarding the already fragile peace and preventing the roll-back of hard-won equality and human rights standards. Even when (or if) Brexit ‘is done’, the challenge will remain in the years ahead as the UK negotiates a new relationship with the EU, and attempts to strike trade deals with other nations. In the particular context of Northern Ireland, where identity, rights and equality are central issues in the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, women’s organisations will always continue to rise to the challenge.
References Coyle, L. (2018). Rural voices: Action research and policy priorities for rural women. Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network. Retrieved from https://www.nirwn.org/ nirwn-womens-rural-voices-research-report/. Accessed on May 26, 2020. De Mars, S., Murray, C., O’Donoghue, A., & Warwick, B. (2020). Continuing EU citizenship “Rights, Opportunities and Benefits” in Northern Ireland after Brexit (March
Inspiring Change 91 2020). Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Retrieved from https://www. nihrc.org/publication/detail/continuing-eu-citizenship-rights-opportunities-andbenefits-in-northern-ireland-after-brexit. Accessed on May 26, 2020. Galligan, Y. (2019). Brexit, Gender and Northern Ireland: Changing the State-Society Relationship. Political Studies Association Blog, March 11. Retrieved from https:// www.psa.ac.uk/psa/news/brexit-gender-and-northern-ireland-changing-statesociety-relationship. Accessed on May 26, 2020. Gentleman, A. (2016). I needed an abortion but my consultant said ‘I’m not going to prison’. The Guardian, January 7. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/ world/2016/jan/07/northern-ireland-abortion-ban-sarah-ewart-interview. Accessed on December 16, 2020. Hayward, K. (2017). Bordering on Brexit: Views from Local Communities in the Central Border Region of Ireland/Northern Ireland. Irish Central Border Area Network, Queens University Belfast. Retrieved from https://www.qub.ac.uk/brexit/Brexitfilestore/ Filetoupload,780606,en.pdf. Accessed on May 20, 2020. Miller, R. (2019, October 23). Let’s talk about shared prosperity. Scope NI. Retrieved from https://scopeni.nicva.org/article/let-s-talk-about-shared-prosperity. Accessed on May 26, 2020. Moriarty, G. (2019). Derry Woman is British until she Renounces citizenship. The Irish Times, September 10. Retrieved from https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-andlaw/derry-woman-is-british-until-she-renounces-citizenship-tribunal-told-1.4013861. Accessed on May 26, 2020. Phinnemore, D., & Hayward, K. (2017). UK Withdrawal (Brexit) and the Good Friday Agreement. European Parliament. Retrieved from https://www.europarl.europa. eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2017/596826/IPOL_STU%282017%29596826_EN.pdf. Accessed on May 20, 2020. Smythe, C. (2016). Petition of concern, party responses. The Detail, September 29. Retrieved from https://www.thedetail.tv/articles/stormont-s-petition-of-concern-used-115-timesin-five-years. Accessed on May 27, 2020.
Emma Ritch: Engender Scotland It is early September 2019 in Glasgow. Children have been back at school for nearly a month and the city is bathed in autumn sunshine. There is something else in the air; the possibility that the Brexit stalemate will cause the UK Government to fall and that we will have another general election. Westminster seems distant from the lunchtime bustle along Buchanan St, but perhaps most remote from the concerns of the women who are working its retail jobs, cleaning the nearby offices, and spending their lunch breaks running errands and shopping for their families. Like so much of the Brexit referendum campaign, and the commentary, analysis, and parliamentary theatre that has come in its wake, today’s debates and political manoeuvring do not seem to be about women at all. Despite the fact that women and women’s equality and rights have been on the very margins of the public discussion about Brexit and the UK’s place in Europe, there are significant implications for us in a UK departure from the European Union. The nature of the trade deals the UK negotiates post-Brexit has the potential to reshape the labour market and see women’s labour market attachment decrease. There is likely to be a permanent displacement of the women who are EU citizens and work in the UK’s care sector (Stephenson & Fontana, 2019).
92 Natasha Davies et al. These risks are exacerbated by the ‘Cinderella status’ that gender mainstreaming has within trade and economic policy (Mott, Mary-Ann, & Marzia, 2018) and the likely lack of gender competence within trade negotiation teams. Tightened rules on migration for EEA citizens are likely to have a particularly negative and disruptive effect on women who have provided long-term care for dependents. They will also have a punitive impact on women working in low-wage occupations, including social care (Fletcher & Miller Westoby, 2018). It is not all about the economy and labour market, though. Leaving the European Union also removes the safety net underpinning anti-discrimination law. The sex discrimination and equal pay measures within the Equality Act 2010 implement a range of EU directives, as does the very existence of the statutory Equality and Human Rights Commission (Robison, 2017). These provide protections for women at work, from sexual harassment, unequal pay and other forms of discrimination, but also as users of public and private goods and services. Finally, although there has been a diminution of gender mainstreaming within structural funds delivery in Scotland (McSorley & Campbell, 2016), and a retreat from the mainstreaming standard for programmes and projects (GenderCoP, 2013), they have nonetheless represented fairly substantial investment in employability and violence against women initiatives that have benefitted women to some degree (Engender, 2016a, 2016b, 2016c, 2016d). Although the replacement UK Shared Prosperity Fund is in development, initial scoping does not suggest that it will include vertical priorities of women’s rights, or a horizontal approach to integrating gender concerns (Brien, 2019). As the potential realities of Brexit have unfolded, it has seemed almost impossible for women’s organisations in Scotland to gain purchase in the debate. Despite the concerns of the women who are worried about feeding their families; scared that their disabled and non-disabled children will have to go without muchneeded medicines; worried about the future of care packages when the European migrants who live here are potentially going to be repatriated; concerned about their own immigration status and the people in their families; fearful for their jobs and the future of the industries they work in; and concerned about their and their children’s prospects for future study; the political conversation appears to be going ahead in elite spaces in which parliamentary procedure and technical abstraction reign. This pattern of exclusion of women’s voices and of gender as an analytical lens runs both with the grain of the constitutional debates that have absorbed Scotland in recent years, and cuts against the galvanising impact of the Scottish independence question on women’s conversations about our rights. Before the independence vote there was sustained activity by women in the run-up to the referendum on devolution in 1997, and the subsequent re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. Responding to a mainstream ‘civic Scotland’ that was only tepidly inclusive of women, activist women ‘mobilised around their feminist and gender identities – sometimes across other significant social and political divisions and identity claims – to insert gendered claims into the constitutional process’ (Mackay, 2006). This movement eventually drew in thousands of women from across trade unions, churches and organised feminism and focussed their
Inspiring Change 93 efforts on securing women’s equitable representation in the Scottish Parliament. Their advocacy won commitments to field gender-balanced slates of candidates from Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats. When the new Parliament was convened in April of 1999, 37% of its elected members were women (Brown, 1999). Devolution brought policy divergence from Westminster with it, and women’s advocacy organisations like Engender, Close the Gap, Rape Crisis Scotland, and Scottish Women’s Aid increasingly found their work shaded by constitutional questions. Although the focus of the day to day was on specific devolved policy, including violence against women, closing the gender pay gap and expanding public provision of childcare, women’s organisations had one eye on the issue of where power was held. In the years that ran up to the Scottish independence referendum in September 2014, Engender had been convening women under the banner of ‘Feminists talk Scotland’s futures’. This strand of discussion events brought feminist decision-makers, civil servants, third sector stakeholders, and interested women together to explore paths to women’s equality under different constitutional arrangements (Ritch, 2019). We launched a report to chart the opaque division of power and responsibility between Westminster and Scottish Government at our International Women’s Day event in 2014 (Wood & Ritch, 2014). One of the key information deficits that Engender intended to plug during the campaign was widespread confusion about the jagged border between reserved and devolved matters. The analytical deficit that we and others attempted to ameliorate was even starker: what about women? The independence referendum was asymmetrical in the way that it animated participation, which is to be expected in a contest between imagined futures and the status quo. Autumn 2012 saw the launch of ‘Women for Independence | Independence for Women’, which was explicitly created to link women’s and feminist concerns with a campaign for independence. It was born of the exasperation of many women involved in politics, who did not see themselves or their political concerns reflected in a male-dominated debate about the constitution that was circling mineral rights and the technical details of referendum implementation. Over the following months and years, it was to galvanise women’s participation through the creation of a network of local groups, and meet some of the demand for a conversation about how a newly-independent Scotland might satisfy women’s thirst for equality and human rights. Although its relationship with institutional feminism was flexible – some of its members and founders were committed feminists and others would never apply that label to themselves – the content of its meetings and events certainly overlapped with well-worn feminist concerns. WfI members were occupied with childcare delivery, with the gender pay gap, with developing a health care economy and with ending violence against women. These remained the focus of its campaigning as it continued its work after the independence referendum. In the years following 2014, it has established initiatives to carry out media analysis to highlight men’s overrepresentation in current affairs programming; mass observation of Scottish courts to inform campaigning priorities around women and justice; and campaigned to end ‘period poverty’ and against the building of a replacement for the notorious Cornton Vale prison.
94 Natasha Davies et al. The long run-up to the independence referendum, and even longer campaign for devolution, created an opportunity for parallel or orthogonal organising around women’s rights in Scotland. Neither the timing nor mode of the Brexit campaign provided that same space. The EU referendum campaign was short and intense, with its date announced only four months before the vote. In Scotland, the campaign period overlapped with that of the Holyrood 2016 elections and there was only seven weeks between polling days. During those seven weeks fell other commitments for Scotland’s institutional feminists, including the European Women’s Lobby general assembly and the examination of the UK’s compliance with the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in Geneva (Engender, 2016a), as well as the usual round of meetings with newly appointed ministers within the Scottish Government. Polling figures suggested that prioritising Brexit engagement was not an effective use of resources for women’s organisations in Scotland, with all available sources confirming that Scotland was markedly less Eurosceptic than England and that the nation was likely to vote to remain by some fifteen points. To add a further disincentive to wading into the public debate, all of the major political parties in Scotland – including the Scottish Conservatives – backed Remain (McCall, 2016). Engender committed a small amount of resources to working with local women’s centres to hold conversations about Brexit; learning from some of the methodologies that had been refined during the independence referendum. We also developed briefing materials setting out the principal issues for women’s equality and rights and the way in which European Union membership enabled, supported or prevented these (Engender, 2016b). These were later adapted to inform some of the scrutiny that Scottish Parliament and its committees applied to Westminster’s Brexit proposals (Engender, 2016c). Most of Engender’s work to gender Brexit though, was in coalition. We joined with the Human Rights Consortium Scotland and Scottish Universities Legal Network on Europe to host events to explore and amplify an increasing intensity of concerns that women and gender were being overlooked as salient dimensions of the Brexit negotiations being pursued in Brussels (Busby & Fletcher, 2018). We wrote as members of the UK Joint Committee on Women, and the Brexit Civil Society Alliance (Engender, 2019) to flag the lack of information, participation, and consideration of women’s equality and rights as the UK hurtled towards a ‘hard’ Brexit. We have also created space for exploring some of the possibilities that Brexit might bring; hosting blog posts that explored the ways in which the replacement to the structural funds might pick up the baton of gender mainstreaming (Wilson, 2019) and participating in networks generating feminist proposals for cross-border civic organising on the island of Ireland (Dickson, 2019). Engender’s work around Brexit as a policy issue has informed our networks of feminist advocates and activists but has yielded little in terms of influencing UK Government to engage with women’s organisations, apply gender as a lens in negotiations, or even increase women’s representation in UK negotiating teams. Women’s organisations working in the Celtic nations of the UK have, therefore, needed to consider how they might best act to advance women’s equality and
Inspiring Change 95 rights when the UK Government appears to have a different sensibility about gendered concerns than their national governments. One of the losses that feminist policy advocates are facing as the UK withdraws from the European Union, is the remaining vestiges of commitment to the pan-European project of gender mainstreaming. The European Commission has integrated a high-level commitment to apply a gender lens to both its own work and that happening at member state level, flowing from the global commitments made at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. The European Institute for Gender Equality, an agency of the European Commission, has developed mainstreaming tools for use by member states (European Institute of Gender Equality, n.d.). The fruits of gender mainstreaming have doubtless been slow to grow. Rosalind Cavaghan, in her survey of practice and impact within the European Commission, notes that ‘despite high levels of rhetorical commitment to gender mainstreaming, research into its results does not demonstrate a significant reduction in gender inequality, nor significant change in state policy’ (Cavaghan, 2017). Nonetheless, our best evidence tells us that we need to lean in harder to the practice of mainstreaming to see better results for women and girls. Scotland, like many European nations and states, requires its public bodies – including Scottish Government – to mainstream a gender analysis within policy-making and legislating. The Equality Act 2010 contains an integrated public sector equality duty (PSED) that was intended to advance equality on the grounds of race, age, religion and belief, sex, gender reassignment, disability, sexual orientation, and pregnancy and maternity. The public sector equality duty requires public authorities, including local councils, universities and colleges, health boards, criminal justice system and other agencies to publish employment data, describe how they will reduce their gender pay gap, and carry out and public equality impact assessments on all of their significant policies. The requirement to impact assess is the strongest driver of gender mainstreaming within the duty. Unlike other elements within the Equality Act 2010, the Public Sector Equality Duty is not underpinned by European law (Robison, 2017). Analysis by feminist policy advocates in Scotland finds that the decade of gender mainstreaming that the predecessor Gender Equality Duty (GED) and PSED should have rendered has fallen short of expectations (Burman & Johnstone, 2015). However, policy divergence that has been exacerbated by Brexit and animated by the gulf in priorities observable between Scottish and UK Governments, provides some space to act. The 20 years since devolution in Scotland has seen gender justice advocates ‘animated by the possibility of newness’, as the Scottish Parliament was reconvened with gender-sensitive features as diverse as a creche, a standing Equal Opportunities Committee, and almost some 40% female parliamentarians. This sense of the possible was refreshed during the debate about Scottish independence between 2012 and 2014, as women’s organisations entered a bold period of imagining those [new] powers and institutions as shaped, directed, and delivering to meet the needs of women and girls, as well as boys and men. (Ritch, 2019)
96 Natasha Davies et al. As some perennial asks of gender advocates were integrated into Scotland’s Programmes for Government under the feminist leadership of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, including gender balancing measures on public sector boards, it became necessary to generate new ideas for policy and legislative change. It was this sense of permission to imagine a broader set of calls that led Engender to work with women’s organisations and communities of women to generate its Gender Matters Roadmap (Engender, 2017). This attempted to create some detailed milestones on the journey towards shared gender equality outcomes that would be deliverable by 2030. It did this in domains that extended beyond the emblematic, including within transport, planning and public space, the Internet, media and sport. Although not intended as a workplan for the organisation, it has shaped Engender’s advocacy strategy with regard to some key policy and legislative frameworks. One of the areas that Engender’s Roadmap focussed on was the question of mainstreaming, and the broader issue of creating the most robust possible gender architecture for Scotland. Work to improve capacity and leadership around mainstreaming has been strengthened in two critical ways. Firstly, the First Minister of Scotland has established a National Advisory Council on Women and Girls (NACWG), which comprises eleven women from across public life and includes a representative of Engender. This body has elected to focus its set of annual recommendations on the structural enablers of women’s equality and rights, rather than domain-specific concerns. It concentrated on building gender competence in Scottish Government and the wider public sector in its second year (First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls, 2019), and is devoting the entirety of its third year to developing recommendations for an intersectional gender architecture for Scotland (First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls, 2018b). Second, both NACWG and a separate advisory group to the First Minister on human rights leadership have recommended that the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) be incorporated into Scots Law (First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls, 2018a). Feminist advocates in Scotland, then, are swimming amid the crosscurrents of European withdrawal, tepid Westminster enthusiasm for women’s equality, and an intense Scottish national policy focus on realising women’s rights. This raises questions for how Engender and other national women’s organisations can best collaborate with those from the other four nations, recognising the different contexts for our movement. Four nations feminist work is substantially underresourced, and the participation of Engender, Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform (NIWEP), Women’s Equality Network Wales (WEN Wales) and the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO) in the UK Joint Committee on Women – the only four nations women’s structure – is compromised by a lack of capacity and funding. Nevertheless, the threats to women’s rights that are likely to follow the UK’s exit from the European Union require cross-border alliances and shared learning and strategy. The lesson from Scotland is that constitutional shifts can create space for our shared calls for equal access to safety and security, resources and power for women and girls.
Inspiring Change 97
References Brien, P. (2019). The UK Shared Prosperity Fund (Briefing Paper). House of Commons Library. Retrieved from https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/ Summary/CBP-8527#fullreport Brown, A. (1999). Taking their place in the new house: Women and the Scottish Parliament. Scottish Affairs, 28(1), 44–50. Burman, M., & Johnstone, J. (2015, January). High hopes? The gender equality duty and its impact on responses to gender-based violence. Policy & Politics, 43, 45–60. https:// doi.org/info:doi/10.1332/030557312X655846 Busby, N., & Fletcher, M. (2018). Brexit and Women’s Rights (The Civil Society Brexit Project). Retrieved from https://sulne.files.wordpress.com/2018/04/csbp-briefingapr-18-womens-rights.pdf Cavaghan, R. (2017). Making gender equality happen: Knowledge, change and resistance in EU gender mainstreaming (1st ed.). London: Routledge. Dickson, E. (2019, September 24). Towards a New Common Chapter. On the Engender. Retrieved from https://www.engender.org.uk/news/blog/towards-a-new-commonchapter/ Engender. (2016a). Unblocking the pipeline: Gender and employability in Scotland. Retrieved from https://www.engender.org.uk/content/publications/Unblocking-thePipeline---Gender-and-Employability-in-Scotland.pdf. Accessed on December 16 2020. Engender. (2016b). Shadow report to the sixth periodic report of the Government of the United Kingdom on measures taken to give effect to ICESCR. Retrieved from https://www.engender.org.uk/content/publications/Engender-shadow-report-April2016-ICESCR-UK.pdf Engender. (2016c). The EU referendum and gender equality. Retrieved from https://www. engender.org.uk/content/publications/The-EU-referendum-and-gender-equality.pdf Engender. (2016d). European and external relations committee call for evidence on the implications of the EU referendum result. Retrieved from https://www.engender.org. uk/content/publications/engender-response-to-the-european-and-external-relationscommittee-call-for-evidence-on-the-implications-of-the-eu-referendum-result.pdf Engender. (2017). Gender matters roadmap: Towards women’s equality in Scotland. Retrieved from https://www.engender.org.uk/news/blog/-feminists-launch-roadmapfor-womens-equality-in-scotland/ Accessed on December 16 2020. Engender. (2019, August 29). Engender joins forces with over 85 civil society organisations to express concerns about no-deal. On the Engender. Retrieved from https://www. engender.org.uk/news/blog/engender-joins-forces-with-over-85-civil-societyorganisations-to-express-concerns-about-n/ European Institute of Gender Equality (EIGE). (n.d.). Gender mainstreaming. EIGE. Retrieved from https://eige.europa.eu/gender-mainstreaming. Accessed on February 7, 2020. First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls. (2018a). Workplan priorities 2018-20. Scottish Government. Retrieved from https://onescotland.org/wp-content/ uploads/2018/05/NACWG-Priorities-2018-21.pdf First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls. (2018b, December). 2018 First report and recommendations. Retrieved from https://onescotland.org/ wp-content/uploads/2019/01/2018-Report.pdf First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls. (2019). 2019 Report and recommendations. Scottish Government. Retrieved from https://onescotland.org/ wp-content/uploads/2020/01/NACWG-2019-Report-and-Recommendations.pdf Fletcher, M., & Miller Westoby, N. (2018). Brexit and EEA Citizen Rights (The Civil Society Brexit Project). Retrieved from https://sulne.files.wordpress.com/2018/04/ csbp-briefing-apr-18-eea-citizens.pdf
98 Natasha Davies et al. GenderCoP. (2013). European Standard on Gender Mainstreaming in the ESF. Retrieved from http://standard.gendercop.com/index.html Mackay, F. (2006). The impact of devolution on women’s citizenship in Scotland. McCall, C. (2016, February 26). EU referendum: Where do Scotland’s political parties stand? The Scotsman. Retrieved from https://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/general-election/eu-referendum-where-do-scotland-s-political-parties-stand-1-4038649 McSorley, L., & Cambell, J. (2016). Whatever happened to gender mainstreaming?: lessons for the EU’s 2014–20 structural and investment funds. Retrieved from https://researchonline.gcu.ac.uk/en/publications/whatever-happened-to-gender-mainstreaminglessons-for-the-eus-201. Acessed on December 16 2020. Mott, H., Mary-Ann, S. & Marzia, F. (2018). Exploring the economic impact of Brexit on women. Women’s Budget Group. Retrieved from https://wbg.org.uk/wp-content/ uploads/2018/03/Economic-Impact-of-Brexit-on-women-briefing-FINAL-1.pdf Ritch, E. (2019). Foreboding newness: Brexit and feminist civil society in Scotland. In M. Dustin, N. Ferreira, & S. Millns (Eds.), Gender and queer perspectives on Brexit (pp. 333–362). London: Palgrave Macmillan. Robison, M. (2017). The Scotland Act 2016: Additional possibilities for gender mainstreaming. Edinburgh: Engender. Stephenson, M.-A., & Fontana, M. (2019). The likely economic impact of Brexit on women: Lessons from gender and trade research. In M. Dustin, N. Ferreira, & S. Millns (Eds.), Gender and queer perspectives on Brexit (pp.415–438). London: Palgrave Macmillan. Wood, J., & Ritch, E. (2014). Gender equality and Scotland’s constitutional futures. Retrieved from https://www.engender.org.uk/content/publications/Gender-equalityand--Scotlands-constitutional-futures.pdf Wilson, L. (2019, November 1). Brexit: A risk to women’s equality, or an opportunity to reshape gender mainstreaming in economic development? On the Engender. Retrieved from https://www.engender.org.uk/news/blog/brexit-a-risk-or-an-opportunity-toreshape-gender-mainstreaming-in-economic-development/
Natasha Davies and Dr Hade Turkmen: Chwarae Teg, Wales Chwarae Teg has been working to tackle the barriers women face in the Welsh economy for over 25 years. Brexit poses one of the most significant challenges we have seen, as vital legal frameworks securing women’s rights and protections appear under threat and Wales looks set to lose significant funding that has focussed on tackling poverty and inequality. In this section, we consider how these two issues threaten progress towards equality in Wales and how feminist organisations are responding to this shifting context.
Women’s Rights and Protections The EU has provided an invaluable legislative and financial framework for Wales that has enabled feminist and equality organisations to deliver programmes aimed at tackling inequality whilst also adding impetus to the wider policy agenda. Membership of the EU has supported, and in some cases driven, campaigns across the UK to tackle structural causes of inequality, to strengthen and protect women’s rights and to focus on advancing equality not only preventing discrimination.
Inspiring Change 99 In Wales, it has helped to create a space in which the Welsh Government could pursue more ambitious equality goals and aspirations, evident in the more progressive specific equality duties, Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act and Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act. We have also seen a number of international treaties embedded into Welsh law through the ‘due regard’ principle, including the International Convention for the Rights of the Child. Without the EU framework of directives, such as the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, Pregnant Worker’s Directive and Part-Time Workers Directive, there are valid concerns that the UK will begin to fall behind, and eventually roll-back the hard-won rights and protections we currently enjoy. Whilst there have been assurances from UK Prime Ministers that rights will not be lessened post-Brexit, there has also been a concerning rhetoric from successive UK Governments about the problem of the socalled ‘red-tape’ and plans to repeal or revise the Human Rights Act (Conservative and Unionist Party, 2017). There was significant opposition from the UK Government to including the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the EU (Withdrawal) Act and analysis of the UK’s approach to negotiations in the EU on core gender equality policies and directives, has also suggested that gender equality rights are likely to backslide or progress more slowly post-Brexit (Guerrina & Masselot, 2018). This sits in stark contrast to the discourse in Wales, where a focus on equality and human rights has not only been maintained, but also reaffirmed, most recently through the commissioning of a Gender Equality Review which considers how Wales can be a world leader for gender equality and how the Welsh Government can be a feminist government (Davies & Furlong, 2019). What makes the potential loss of this EU framework for gender equality more worrying is the rising backlash against equality and feminism. This has been seen on a global scale, with the rise of the far right and the so-called ‘men’s rights activists’ and increased abuse towards women on social media (Amnesty International, 2018; BBC, 2019). These issues are apparent in Wales as well, with female Assembly Members regularly targeted for speaking out about ‘niche issues’, by which they mean equality, human rights and feminism. In an age of populist politicians, this context only fuels concerns that post-Brexit, we may see a steady roll-back of rights and protections for vulnerable groups.
EU Funding The loss of EU funding is a further pressing concern in Wales. Unlike some parts of the UK, Wales is a net beneficiary of EU membership, receiving around £230 per head compared to £85 per head in England (Keep & Ward, 2016). Despite this, the majority in Wales voted to leave the EU (52.5%), which in itself raises questions that are yet to be answered in full. Chwarae Teg’s Agile Nation 2 (AN2) project is just one example of the interventions made possible due to EU funding. AN2 is a £10.2m project, which seeks to address the gender imbalances in the Welsh economy through working with women and employers. The Women’s Programme offers career development support for women who are working below their skill level and are ready to take their first step into leadership. The impact of the programme is clear; since 2015 participants have received in excess of £2m in pay rises.
100 Natasha Davies et al. Alongside this work, AN2 works with businesses across Wales to create inclusive workplaces and support employers to address barriers to the recruitment, retention and progression of women. Since the start of the programme over 400 businesses have been supported to make changes to their policies and practice. This dual approach is important, as we are able to support women directly, whilst also tackling some of the structural issues that contribute to ongoing inequality, namely workplace practice and culture. This moves beyond some traditional approaches that have focussed on ‘fixing women’ whilst ignoring the fact that the system itself is broken and biased. EU funding has also enabled us to build invaluable transnational relationships, to facilitate learning and the sharing of best practice, and carry out research into the causes and solutions to gender inequality.7 This research, which would not be possible without EU funding, adds to the evidence-base and enables us to explore both shared and Welsh-specific solutions to inequality.
Uncertainty about Future Funding The simple fact is that without EU funding, many services and programmes that are supporting women would not be possible. To date, there remains significant uncertainty about what post-Brexit funding will look like and whether programmes such as AN2 would be possible. Commitments have been made to the development of a UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), but to date, there has been limited detail published about the design and administration of the fund and a consultation is long over-due. Based on what information is available, there are a number of serious concerns. The UKSPF will be designed ‘to tackle inequalities between communities by raising productivity, especially in those parts of the country whose economies are furthest behind’ (Brien, 2020). This arguably turns the focus of the ESF on its head, which instead focuses on tackling inequality as a means of improving productivity. The UKSPF seems to rely on the assumption that improved productivity will trickle-down and address inequality. History would suggest this is a flawed assumption, given significant inequality remains between different parts of the UK and between different groups. Therefore, serious questions need to be asked about how a focus on tackling structural inequality will be embedded into the new funding. EU funding is allocated on the basis of need, not population size. Any move to a population-based allocation, such as the Barnett formula,8 would see Wales lose funding. Unlike much of the funding administered by the UK Government, EU funding has often been offered on a multiyear basis, which better supports 7
During Agile Nation 2, we have carried out two research projects to explore Modern Working Practices and Men’s Perceptions of Gender Equality. 8 The Barnett formula is currently used by the UK Treasury to determine changes in the size of the block grants given to the devolved administrations of the UK. It takes population and the degree to which certain Government functions are devolved into account on order to scale increases or decreases in funding (Source: Commons Library Briefing, The UK Shared Prosperity Fund, September 2019).
Inspiring Change 101 programmes to have impact at scale. A move to annualised funding would significantly reduce this. Questions remain about where and how the new fund will be administered. EU funding has been administered from a central point within Wales, the Wales European Funding Office (WEFO). Through WEFO, civil society and other stakeholders have been engaged during the development of each operational programme, which includes the strategy and priorities for the funding round. This approach has ensured that the views of organisations working on the ground with different groups have informed the priorities set for funding rounds and helped to strengthen the cross-cutting themes of gender, equality and tackling poverty. This has also ensured that funding in Wales has aligned with Welsh Government priorities for economic development, skills and equality, which reduces the risk of duplication or incoherence across core programmes and the additional interventions supported through EU funds. There is a strong suggestion from UK Ministers that future funding will not be administered from a central point in Wales, or by the Welsh Government, and instead may either be administered from Whitehall or on a regional or local basis. Welsh organisations generally fair badly when competing for funding administered from Whitehall, for example, the tampon tax fund. There is also currently limited regional infrastructure in place in Wales to administer funding and ensure robust governance and reporting mechanisms are in place. The approach taken in England to administer funding through Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) has been criticised with the National Audit Office concluding that the department [MHCLG9] has made no effort to evaluate the value for money of nearly £12bn in public funding, nor does it have any robust plans to do so. The Department needs a grip of how effectively these funds are used. It needs to act if it wants to have any hope of learning the lessons of what works locally for future interventions in local growth, including the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund. (National Audit Office, 2019) Wales does not have LEPs, and any move to administering funds on a regional basis would need careful consideration to ensure the mistakes seen in England are not repeated and that any new regional infrastructure is adequately resourced to manage funding effectively. There are lessons that can be learnt from previous funding rounds to ensure that known challenges are addressed; for example, ensuring that smaller organisations are able to bid for funds more easily. However, it’s important that we don’t lose what has worked well, namely engaging stakeholders, including civil society, in the design of the fund, basing allocation on need not population and maintaining a central focus on tackling inequality and poverty. This approach has offered a significant degree of autonomy in how EU funding is utilised in Wales, which better supports the development of solutions that are relevant to Welsh challenges. 9
Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government
102 Natasha Davies et al. A full and meaningful consultation to inform the development of the UKSPF is, therefore, crucial, with steps taken to listen to voices in Wales, especially those who have been involved in the delivery of EU funded programmes and understand the existing landscape. In addition, a meaningful equality impact assessment should be carried out on any future funding model to ensure that it delivers for women and other protected groups.
Growing Constitutional Questions Brexit has re-ignited the debate around the constitutional arrangements of the UK and raised questions about what devolution should look like. Whilst at first glance these discussions may seem more prominent in Scotland and Northern Ireland where the majority voted to Remain, we have seen increasing numbers of people deemed ‘indy-curious’ in Wales. As we move forward and potentially see ever-greater divergence between the priorities and approaches of the UK and Welsh governments, it’s likely that the current devolution settlement will come under the micro-scope. Questions may need to be asked about whether there is scope to better utilise existing powers to embed international treaties and standards, or whether the current devolution settlement needs to change to enable the Welsh Government to pursue a more progressive agenda for equality and human rights. As feminist organisations and others respond to the challenges that Brexit creates, we will need to be mindful of these fundamental questions.
Responding to these Challenges Brexit raises a number of challenges and threats to women in Wales, whether it’s through the loss of rights and protections or the loss of programmes and services that are possible as a result of EU funding. These are not simple challenges for civil society and feminist organisations to respond to, particularly given many of the decisions taken, and levers to address or mitigate the challenges, reside in Westminster, not with the Welsh Government. However, organisations in Wales are coming together to respond to these challenges. Over the past 18 months, stronger links have been forged across the women’s movement. Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales, Women Connect First, Welsh Women’s Aid and ourselves produced a manifesto in 2018 setting out key actions we want the Welsh Government to take to address gender inequality, including responding to the challenges posed by Brexit. A new Cross-party Group for Women has been set up in the National Assembly10 to provide a space to discuss challenges and solutions, and host a new network, Women in Europe (Wales), which focuses on responding to Brexit. There have also been moves to facilitate greater coordination across civil society through the Wales Civil Society Forum on Brexit. Bringing together 10
The National Assembly for Wales has now changed it’s name to Senedd Cymru – Welsh Parliament.
Inspiring Change 103 voices from across Welsh civil society and from academia, the forum has not only produced guidance and sought to influence the Brexit debate but also fostered discussion within Wales and with other nations about shared challenges and responses, to strengthen the voice of civil society in a crowded Brexit arena. Support from both the Welsh Government and the National Assembly has been clear on issues including equality, women’s rights and funding post-Brexit (National Assembly for Wales. External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, 2018; National Assembly for Wales Finance Committee, 2018). Maintaining links and relationships with sister organisations outside of Wales post-Brexit will be an important part of our response to a changing environment in which existing rights may be under threat. However, this is not without its challenges. Links with organisations across the UK, particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland are very much valued but may not be as strong as they have been in the past. Whilst steps are already being taken to maintain Welsh voices in EU forums such as the European Women’s Lobby there are valid concerns about whether there will be sufficient resources, funding and infrastructure to effectively maintain existing relationships and networks and build new links post-Brexit. Brexit has played a role in reigniting discussions on equality and human rights in Wales. In response to a potential loss of legal frameworks and protections, Welsh Ministers have refocused on maximising existing powers, either through improved implementation of existing legal duties or the introduction of new legislation. The Welsh Government commissioned Gender Equality Review concluded in 2019, and set out a range of recommendations to mainstream gender and equality into all of Welsh Government’s work. These recommendations have subsequently been accepted and include action to better align existing regulations, such as the WSED and WFG Act, and to mainstream gender equality into core government processes including policy and programme development and budgetary decisions (Davies & Furlong, 2019). Consultation also began in early 2020 on commencing the socio-economic duty, a review of the Welsh Specific Equality Duties is imminent and work has begun on a Social Partnership Bill, which will be an important element of Welsh Government’s Fair Work agenda. Research is also likely to be commissioned to investigate the value of bringing additional international conventions into Welsh law. Linked to these discussions is the question of public procurement. Within the limits of the current devolution settlement, procurement is often looked to as a means of driving change. As a result, the existing landscape of procurement guidance in Wales is quite complex. Both the Public Sector Equality Duty and Well-being of Future Generations Act place expectations on public bodies in relation to procurement. There is also a Code of Conduct for Ethical Procurement, Community Benefits policy and a growing programme of work around the foundational economy, which all seek to maximise the social value of public spending. Brexit will require changes to procurement, as we will no longer be covered by EU rules and regulations. This could be an opportunity to simplify and consolidate procurement guidance in Wales, to clearly articulate what social impact is expected from public spending and how public bodies can best use their spending power to advance Welsh Government’s equality aims and objectives.
104 Natasha Davies et al.
Conclusion Membership of the EU has been invaluable from both a rights and legal protections perspective and in providing funding to address the structural inequality that still blemishes our society and economy. Wales will be worse off post-Brexit as we lose funding, access to networks and, potentially, legal rights and protections for women and other protected groups. Women in Wales will feel the impact of Brexit more acutely, particularly any economic downturn that Brexit may cause. Despite this, there has been insufficient action or discussion to date about how to address these issues as Brexit looms ever closer. The Welsh Government have outlined bold ambitions for gender equality as part of the Gender Equality Review (Davies & Furlong, 2019). Brexit will almost certainly make achieving these ambitions more difficult. Civil society, Welsh Government and the UK Government must, therefore, find a way to work together to ensure that Brexit does not undermine these ambitions and that women in Wales are not forced to pay a higher price as the UK leaves a union that has predominantly served to make it stronger.
References Amnesty International. (2018). Toxic Twitter: A toxic place for women. Retrieved from https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/research/2018/03/online-violence-againstwomen-chapter-1/. Accessed on October 30, 2019. BBC. (2019, July 15). A web of abuse: How the far right disproportionately targets female politicians. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-48871400. Accessed on October 30, 2019. Brien, P. (2020). The UK Shared Prosperity Fund. Briefing Paper Number 08527 House of Commons Library. Retrieved from https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/ documents/CBP-8527/CBP-8527.pdf Accessed on December 16, 2020. Conservative and Unionist Party. (2017). Forward together: Our plan for a stronger Britain and a prosperous future. The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto 2017. Davies, N. & Furlong, C. (2019). Deeds Not Words Summary Report: Review of Gender Equality in Wales (Phase Two). Chwarae Teg. Retrieved from https://chwaraeteg. com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Deeds-Not-Words-report-summary.pdf. Accessed on December 16, 2020. Guerrina, R., & Masseolt, A. (2018). Walking in the Footprint of EU Law: Unpacking the gendered consequences of Brexit. Social Policy and Society, 17(2), 319–330. Keep, M., & Ward, M. (2016). Effect of the UK leaving the EU on infrastructure in Wales. House of Commons Library. (21 October, 2016)). Retrieved from https://commonslibrary. parliament.uk/research-briefings/cdp-2016-0186/. Accessed on December 16, 2020. National Assembly for Wales External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee. (2018). Wales’ future relationship with Europe Part one: a view from Wales. Retrieved from https://senedd.wales/laid%20documents/cr-ld11491/cr-ld11491-e.pdf. Accessed on October 2019. National Assembly for Wales Finance Committee. (2018). Preparations for Replacing EU Funding for Wales. Retrieved from https://senedd.wales/laid%20documents/ cr-ld11748/cr-ld11748-e.pdf Accessed on October 2019. National Audit Office. (2019). LEPs: An update on progress. Retrieved from. https://www. nao.org.uk/report/local-enterprise-partnerships-an-update/. Accessed on October 2019.
Feminist Mobilising Against Brexit in Westminster Jenna Norman Introduction Journal entry, 23 June 2019 So here we are. 3 years on. In Westminster Parliament is paralysed and politics is toxic. The next Prime Minister’s partner has been recorded reacting to what sounds like abuse. The reality is that no one is surprised, and it won’t hamper his trajectory to Number 10. In fact, in the eyes of the right-wing press: it’s his privacy that has been violated and the whistle-blowers at fault. The tiny demographic who will ultimately elect him are unlikely to be affected by these revelations, committed as they are to Brexit. Nothing – not poverty, not the union, not demonstrable racism or evidence of abuse – will waiver their support for this man. This dangerous caricature of a man who wants to take from the poor to give to the rich and will – with a mere haircut and temporary gagging order from his campaign team – waltz into Westminster next month to drive the country over the cliff for his five minutes of vacuous fame. In the very same anniversary week, violence against women has become the latest causality to the culture war, now subject to partisan dimorphism – like everything else. Twitter means all of us and none of us are experts on anything and nothing because the value of expertise or objective fact has expired. It is an irrefutable fact that the exploitative campaign which led to this mess was fought illegally using illegal money, but none of that matters.
Feminist Activists on Brexit: From the Political to the Personal, 105–126 Copyright © 2021 by Emerald Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved doi:10.1108/978-1-80043-420-220210011
106 Jenna Norman In 2019, all that matters is that I am right and you are wrong and neither the twain shall meet. On the Left we are waging our own internal war, fighting for the soul of a party paralysed by its own identity crisis. Wars take time, energy and resources and whilst ours are targeted at each other, we have nothing left to fight for what really matters. What really matters is that child poverty is at its highest in decades, our inertia on climate change means children are having to take action into their own hands (incidentally, the only beacon of hope) while racist and homophobic violence is commonplace on our trains, planes and streets. We are told this is because Brexit has enabled people to finally speak their minds unbridled by political correctness. 3 years ago today, we are told, a match was lit on a bonfire of hatred, years in the making. And we have chosen to believe this lie, to brand the fault lines of society along the tribes of north/south, left/right, young/old, leave/remain, each being pushed further towards the extreme by the other’s dogma. At the same time, the reality is that most people have just had enough. Enough. Our political agency has been ground down by years of voicelessness somehow exacerbated by the chance to turn our voice into a vote. But that plays into their hands. That allows them to carry on regardless while the rest of us tweet and talk and tear our hair out at the relentless cycle of news while everything happens but nothing changes. So, we retreat smugly to our echo chambers where blankets of mutual approval suffocate any real activism and appease our anger until it is dissolved of agency. But eventually something will change. Perhaps not for those with the privilege of a safety net, of a passport, of white skin and wealth. Perhaps not for most of the commentariat embroiled in this and a million other proxy wars. Perhaps not immediately or dramatically but things have changed and, if we sit back and do nothing, they will only get worse. Austerity will continue, worsened by the economic suicide of a no deal and the tax cuts Johnson wants to impose. Violent and sexist discourse will continue to be normalised and emboldened, spilling out from social media on to the streets. Rights and freedoms will be rolled back to favour some nebulous euphemism for ‘cutting red tape’. In a country where homelessness and food bank usage are higher than ever, where lesbian couples are beaten up on the
Feminist Mobilising Against Brexit in Westminster 107 bus home and protestors are manhandled by elected representatives; this is not ‘project fear’ hyperbole but the reality of where we are headed. It feels as though this is a turning point: if we let Boris Johnson swan into Downing Street next month we are consenting to whatever happens next. The battles will be much harder to fight if we lose the war. All I can say is we have to find ways to reclaim our political agency, to stay angry and turn that anger into action. It turns out time does not heal all wounds.
November 2019 This is an entry from my personal journal exactly three years after the 2016 referendum. My despondency and feminist rage are potent, my hope somewhat non-existent. I open here with my own indulgent melodrama only to immediately foreground the timeless feminist refrain which underpins the analysis which follows: ‘the personal is political’. For feminists engaged in resistance to Brexit since 2016, these words ring true time and again. In this chapter I weave together the personal experiences of women involved in mobilising against Brexit with my reflections on how Brexit has affected women in their personal lives as well as its impact on the British feminist movement. I seek to document my own and others’ experience of how we continued to support Britain’s position as a European country, as part of our opposition to Britain’s departure from the EU, and how we sought to influence the negotiations ongoing at the time of writing. I begin as we reach the climax of three years of debate about how the UK will enact the result of the 2016 referendum and leave the European Union (EU). This debate is far from concluded and it is too soon to draw consistent or even reliable conclusions about the impact of Brexit on women and women’s resistance to it. In what follows I reflect on women’s personal and political resistance to Brexit at this particular moment in time: I explore and document the stories of four women who played leading roles in mobilising against Brexit in the three years between the summer of 2016 and the summer of 2019. Alongside them, I draw from published material by Gina Miller, whose two successful legal challenges prevented the government from avoiding parliamentary scrutiny of the EU Withdrawal Bill (Siddique, 2019). Drawing from interviews conducted between April and October 2019, I weave together the stories of Susie Courtault, Women for Europe; Caroline Criado Perez, feminist writer and campaigner1; Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, human rights lawyer and Rachel Franklin, Director of Women for a People’s Vote.2 These rich interviews revisit many of the themes touched on in the opening of this chapter: we first discuss motivations for resisting Brexit, feminist or
Criado Perez, C. (2019a). Interview with Jenna Norman. April 2019. Franklin, R. (2019). Interview with Jenna Norman. May 2019.
108 Jenna Norman otherwise; then, their personal experiences of being involved in the pro-European movement and finally; what Brexit has exposed about the fragility of feminist progress in British politics. I also drew from Gina Miller, human rights and transparency campaigner, given her extremely high-profile role as a woman campaigning against Brexit and for parliamentary scrutiny (Siddique, 2019). I drew on podcasts of interviews with her in 2018 and 2019 where she gives oral accounts of her activism, that are comparable to those I interviewed. In reflection on what follows, I was most interested to seek out sources where Miller speaks openly about the impact of her activism on herself, her family and her motivations to keep going.
Method, Theoretical Framework and Aims What follows then, is a small qualitative study of women of different ages, backgrounds and occupations intertwined by their common interest in Britain’s enrolment in European project and feminism, to which they each afford different weights.3 I explore in depth their motivations and experiences of resisting Brexit as well as its ‘affect’ on their emotional lives (Ahmed, 2004; Pedwell, 2012) their lives and their opinions on the macro-political events of the last three years. I situate myself within this study as a way of reflecting on my own experiences whilst working for Women for a People’s Vote and the Women’s Budget Group from November 2018 to the time of writing. My journal entry at the beginning of this chapter reflects much of my initial thinking about what I wanted to capture at that moment it demarcates the emotional weight attached to this political movement, something I was interested to interrogate in other activists. I asked relatively open questions regarding these individuals’ motivations for being involved in the pro-European movement, following up where necessary and always imploring them to explore how their involvement made them feel. I was interested in the organisations and networks that had sprung up at this time, and the role that my interviewees had played in them, but more interested in how they had been (re/ de) politicised by the referendum result announced on 23 June 2016 and how this believed that this interacted with a long history of feminist resistance. Many of the findings below demonstrate that Brexit is indeed a deeply feminist issue, connected to and perpetuating age-old feminist issues and concerns such as the politics of caring responsibilities, equal representation, and the political importance of emotion, and affect (Ahmed, 2004; Himmelweit & Plomien, 2014). This is not in any way an exhaustive account. It would be impossible to profile and document the stories of all women engaged in the pro-European or antiBrexit movement within the scope of this paper, as there are countless women, organisations and campaigns which warrant mention. My interviewees were selected and it’s important for me to immediately say that they are all women
I feel it necessary to state here that Gina Miller does not publicly associate with the term feminism although she roots her work in advocating for women and children. This is important to remember throughout my analysis.
Feminist Mobilising Against Brexit in Westminster 109 I have worked with in the last three years. They were chosen in part due to access and proximity as well as for their remarkable yet quotidian engagement with the subject matter. Many of the other contributors to this book as well as MPs, MEPs, campaigners and members of women’s civil society4 have had a huge role to play in the feminist resistance to Brexit and I am indebted to them all in my brief foray into this enormously rich field. My own thinking, questioning and writing are heavily influenced by reading and thinking about feminist theory: I worked for Women for a People’s Vote and the Women’s Budget Group shortly after undertaking a postgraduate degree in Gender Studies. The following work is situated within and informed by the feminist tradition of connecting the local to the national and global (Enloe, 2014; Mohanty, 2003), the personal, relational and emotive to the political. The work cited here is reflective of my interpretation of gender in the Brexit debate as both a variable for – at times blunt5 – analysis and an epistemological way of reading the events of the last three years. It is not just that different groups of women and men have operated within the political hierarchies of recent events but that gender, as a relational structure, is a way of reading Brexit politics from a specifically feminist perspective (Achilleos-Sarll & Martill, 2019). This piece, thus, builds on a small body of literature on gender and Brexit (see e.g. Aida Hozić & Jacqui True, 2017; Dustin et al., 2019) to consider how personal experience, motivations and emotions have shaped women’s resistance to Brexit. It draws – albeit short-sighted – conclusions about the questions posed by the last three years for women, feminists and feminisms. Additionally, I foreground an intersectional (Crenshaw, 1989) understanding of gender and it’s subjugating force. Following Wendy Brown (2000, p. 236), I do not interpret intersectionality only as an analysis of individual discriminations but of structural oppressions: ‘it is impossible to pull the race out of gender, or the gender out of sexuality, or the colonialism out of caste out of masculinity out of sexuality’. The masculine dominance I discuss does not exist in isolation from racism and the prolonged hegemony of whiteness (Eddo-Lodge, 2017), heterosexism6 as well as the legacy and lived reality of coloniality in the UK, which has 4
Notable mention ought to go to some of the following people: MPs on the Women and Equalities Select Committee; those present at the ‘The Making of Feminist Democracy in a Brexit Environment’ symposium at Bristol University; all contributors to the ‘Feminist and Queer Perspectives on Brexit’ volume; countless members of the voluntary women’s sector, pro-European infrastructure as well as journalists and academics up and down the country and continent. 5 Throughout this work I use what Gayatri Spivak (1993) calls ‘strategic essentialism’ in that I make generalisations about women and men’s behaviour in such a way that is not correlated to their so-called ‘biological’ determinism but instead, rooted in the realities described by my very small sample of interviewees. This is not to suggest that this essentialism is fixed or deterministic but slippery and resistible. 6 Although I do not unfortunately have the space to engage throughout with structures of heterosexism and coloniality as much as I would like. And, it is important to add that most of the women I spoke to have positions of intersectional privilege in terms
110 Jenna Norman been bought to the foreground for many by the Brexit conversation.7 Regrettably, many of these themes are beyond the scope of this piece but it must be acknowledged that in discussing the interaction between feminism, gender and Brexit, I do not see gender as an isolated structure but as: Revealing the masculinist, militarist, racialised and heteronormative nature of Brexit discourse can go some way to explaining how this is currently affecting, and how it will continue to affect, the negotiations and their outcome. (Achilleos-Sarll & Martill, 2019, p. 16) Whilst I often move between the singular first person and the plural collective narrative, I think it is important to note that each of the women interviewed here speaks from a position of marginality determined by their location within the structures of power. Whilst these women are not speaking from the margins (hooks, 1991) – they are still women, and some are women of colour, and in this sense marginalised by hegemonic power structures. I attempt to signal this throughout. My transnational understanding of gender rooted in power, discourse and empiricism underpins the forthcoming analysis. Here, I also recognise my own privilege to represent these stories and the discursive risks of doing so (Alcoff, 1995). I hope to have accurately represented their experiences alongside my own. I situate myself within this narrative: I am anything but an ‘objective observer’ but imbricated in what I’ve written, imbuing emphasis suggested by my own subjectivity and bias. I did not always agree with interviewees: we have all studied and experienced feminism in different temporal and geographical locations, and it would be an oversight to assume this would not strongly influence our shared and competing opinions. Whilst I reject linear feminist progress narratives in this piece, I also appreciate that feminism’s predominant targets and concerns morph, re-circle and transform through time and space (Hemmings, 2010). Therefore, our key concerns and motives vary and perhaps this becomes evident throughout my analysis. I hope this signals my understanding that contemporary feminism, rightly or wrongly, is an enormously broad church often comprising those who may not even identify with the movement. I begin by giving a brief outline of the institutions and ideas drawn upon in this work and by my interviewees as well as introducing my interviewees in more detail before moving to a discussion of their personal and political motivations for resisting Brexit. I then interrogate their experiences of women’s resistance to Brexit before concluding with a comment on what the last three years has taught
of class, race and heterosexuality which go unacknowledged in this work yet have been said to be hugely formative in the Brexit conversation (see e.g. Hozić & True, 2017; Mompelat & Snoussi, 2019). 7 Although it has certainly been the prevailing ‘condition of modernity’ (Mignolo, 1999; Quijano, 2000) for many people of colour in the UK for much longer than that and we ought to be vigilant against Brexit narratives to the contrary.
Feminist Mobilising Against Brexit in Westminster 111 us about feminism in the UK and what opportunities remain for solidarity and resistance.
Women, Feminisms and Brexit ‘What does Brexit have to do with feminism, or even, gender?’ is a question that I have been asked many times in recent years. Despite widespread concerns about loss of women’s rights, under representation in debates and decision-making, and the economic downturn and its impact on women, the feminist case against Brexit is still seen as ‘niche’ (Criado Perez, 2019) by many within the pro-European movement as well as the mainstream media. This is the case despite both consensus within the women’s movement and empirical evidence (Guerrina, Exadaktylos, & Guerra, 2018) that women’s voices, concerns and motivations for remaining or leaving the EU were all but erased both by Remain and pro-Brexit campaigns during the 2016 referendum campaign. Specifically, research done by the University of Loughborough (2016) exposes the quantitative bias in media reporting; and research carried out for Women for a People’s Vote (2018) demonstrates that women’s voices were also underrepresented in parliamentary speaking time during debates on Brexit. This extremely limited quantitative data on women and Brexit suggests there has always been a clear case for feminist frustration about women’s exclusion from this national conversation. Within state institutions there has been an overwhelming silence about equalities and Brexit: The Women and Equalities Select Committee (2016) report ‘Impact of Brexit on the Equalities Agenda Inquiry’ as well the occasional baseless ‘equality impact assessment’ from the government (2019, p. 68) encompass the sum total of the state institutions and government’s engagement with this topic. Feminist researchers in the academy’ are engaging where possible (Dustin et al., 2019; Hozić & True, 2017) although it is difficult to acquire research funding and/ or reach conclusions given the ongoing uncertainty. Meanwhilst, as I discuss later, there has been a reluctance on the part of many organisations in the women’s voluntary sector to engage in the Brexit debate for fear of contravening the Lobby Act, Electoral Commission guidelines or Charitable donor regulations in an increasingly stretched funding environment. As time has worn on it is likely that the potent political currency of weariness has also contributed to this reticence. It is not fair to say that the ‘women’s sector’ has not wanted to engage more directly in opposing Brexit; many of us have been all too aware of the impact it could have on services, funding and rights-frameworks, but there is a sense that organisations were cowed by the constraints I discuss later. That being said, there is an important body of work which laid the foundations for much of the activism I discuss. The Women’s Budget Group and Fawcett Society (2018) report explores the economic impact of Brexit on women whilst later reports from Best for Britain (2019) and the office of Mary Honeyball (2019) – former MEP – also provide a wealth of information.
112 Jenna Norman Nevertheless, most of the interviewees, did not necessarily cite this evidence base to ground their work as women and especially as women of colour in their varying professions and roles as mothers, carers and Europeans. They knew that Brexit was not just about Britain’s departure from the European block. It was a symptom as opposed to a cause of a wider political shift that would adversely affect those marginalised by gender, race, ethnicity and other structures of power. The four women I interviewed have each had a specific engagement with the subject matter in the last three years whilst Gina Miller has received huge amounts of press coverage for her activism (Siddique, 2019). In 2016, she immediately bought forward her concern for the sanctity of the law and for parliamentary scrutiny, leading the Article 50 case against the government (Miller, 2018a). In interviews she does not explicitly identify her work as feminist but regularly speaks out about feminist themes including survival of domestic abuse and sexual assault as well as equity in the workplace (Miller, 2018a). Her book, ‘Rise’, is rooted in Maya Angelou’s eponymous Black feminist poem ‘Still I Rise’ (Miller, 2018b). Feminism has been afforded different weights by each of the women I interviewed: some regularly participate in feminist reading, activism and solidarity but for others, Brexit saw a politicisation of their womanhood specifically in ways which I explore below. The pro-European movement revived in the UK in 2017, as more questions came to light about the validity of the referendum and the complications in delivering the result. However, the organisations cropping up seemed to be largely concerned with questions of economic growth and stability as opposed to the socio-political effect of Brexit. It was with this backdrop that women including Susie Courtauld and Rachel Franklin decided there was a place for specific campaigns to mobilise women against Brexit. The first of these to appear was ‘Women for Europe’,8 formed in late 2017 by Susie Courtauld. This was followed by an off-shoot of the People’s Vote campaign ‘Women for a People’s Vote’9 which released a launch report (2018) illustrating the underrepresentation of women in the Brexit debate. Both aimed to increase women’s representation in the proEuropean movement as well as raising awareness about the specific ways that Brexit could impact women and other marginalised groups differently. Caroline and Shola were involved in campaigning for both of these organisations. Caroline10 is also on the board of Open Britain11 and has written on the topic (see e.g. Criado Perez, 2019c) in her role as journalist and broadcaster whilst Shola has compered pro-European rallies (Otte, 2019) and been a constant voice of resistance on social media. All of these women explicitly or implicitly identify with
Women for Europe no longer has a web domain but evidence of their work can be found on social media: https://twitter.com/women_4_europe?lang=en 9 Women for a People’s Vote no longer has a web domain but evidence of their work can be found on social media: https://twitter.com/women4pv?lang=en 10 Until October 2019 when Caroline stepped back. 11 https://www.open-britain.co.uk/
Feminist Mobilising Against Brexit in Westminster 113 advocating for women’s rights and attribute the role this played in their resistance to Brexit.12 This is a brief – but by no means exhaustive13 – account of the women I profile in this piece and their engagement with Brexit since 2016. Women’s contribution to the pro-European movement since 2016 has been rich and numerous with many of the grassroots branches being led by women. It would not be possible to account for all of these activists in the scope of this work. Furthermore, there is an important distinction to be made between women’s resistance to Brexit and feminist reasons for resisting Brexit. Not all of the women I interview here foreground feminism as their primary motivation for resistance but many of them do including Rachel, Susie, Shola and Caroline. Some have been leading voices in the feminist resistance to Brexit. I now turn to each of these women’s personal and political motivations to resist Brexit before recounting their experiences and assessing the impact Brexit has had on feminism in the UK.
1. Why resist Brexit? All of the women I interviewed for this piece identify their resistance as ‘gendered’ although they do not necessarily identify as ‘feminists’. Many of them feel politicised by Brexit and recognise similar patterns and silences within their other work. They also have their professional, political and personal roots in feminist activism: Rachel worked on gender justice in the European parliament prior to Brexit; Caroline authored two important books (Criado Perez, 2015, 2019b) on women’s representation as well as campaigning for a woman to be on the new ten pound note and for the first statue of a woman in parliament square; Shola was a women’s rights lawyer and founder of the Women in Leadership14 platform; and Susie Courtauld was an ex-social worker passionate about the ‘small p’ (Courtauld, 2019) politics of care. Gina Miller was a lifelong transparency-campaigner and fighter against sexism and racism and for justice and fairness.15 Many of
Although, they do not all associate with the term feminism which is interesting in and of itself. 13 The youth movements For Our Future’s Sake (FFS) and Our Future Our Choice (OFOC) also worked to increase the diversity of voices in the pro-European movement to enrol young women and young people of colour in the debate. In late 2019, the pro-European group, Best for Britain, also released a comprehensive report detailing the ways in which women’s hard-earned economic and social rights were at risk from, particularly, a hard Brexit. The Women’s Budget Group has also published updated evidence on the impact of a ‘no deal’ Brexit on women as well as Boris Johnson’s October 2019 report. This analysis can be found on their respective websites. 14 https://www.wilpublication.com/ 15 Hirsch, A. (2018). Rise by Gina Miller review – Unapologetic and impatient to make a difference, The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/ aug/23/rise-gina-miller-review-woman-defeated-government-article-50. Accessed on June 18, 2020.
114 Jenna Norman them explain that they became enrolled in the pro-European movement out of a demand to see more of these themes in the Brexit debate. Nevertheless, they identified differing reasons for getting involved in the antiBrexit movement. For Susie, her reasons for setting up Women for Europe were deeply personal, connected to her concerns about her children and grandchildren, as well as global and political. She interprets the cause and consequences of Brexit as inextricably linked to an international shift to the far right and the resurgence of hegemonic masculinity (Connell, 1987): Brexit is our Trump moment …. The whole Brexit project is a male project, it’s ideologically right wing. We know now the links to the far right and Trump. We know what it is and what’s driving it. For the Women for European founder, this masculine dominance is the reason that women’s experiences or perspectives have been all but erased from the conversation. Speaking as mothers, and as a grandmother in Susie’s case, many of the women I interviewed explained that their experiences of motherhood were extremely formative in their decision to get involved or stay involved in pro-European politics after 2016, and that it was for children’s’ ‘futures and opportunities’ that they felt a responsibility. Interviews with Gina Miller also characterise motherhood as important to her work: as she tells one interviewer: ‘everything I do is because I’m fighting for the world I want them to grow up in’ (Miller, 2018b). Susie elaborated here to explain that she thought women have a different perspective and they are concerned about different things. They’re less concerned about tariffs and trade, their concerns are about how am I going to feed my children, care for my elderly relative, how am I going to give my children a good future. Perhaps what connects these comments is an age-old (feminist) struggle for the political and economic valuation of care as a primary necessity in society yet is a responsibility placed on the shoulders of women, and as a consequence devalued financially and socially (Himmelweit & Plomien, 2014). This view was shared by many women the campaigners had spoken to in recent years, with many in their social and digital networks feeling anxious about what Brexit might mean for future generations of their family. One woman approached Susie on International Women’s Day 2018 to say, ‘we don’t talk about it at home but I’m so angry that I clench my teeth at night’. Here it is also possible to get a sense of why Brexit has become a(nother) source of emotional labour for some women who either mitigate tensions in their own families or take on the burden of the pervasive and enduring uncertainty that has characterised the last few years. The dichotomy between the personal and political is complicated here: clearly women’s concerns about Brexit cannot be identified as or limited to either the
Feminist Mobilising Against Brexit in Westminster 115 private or the public sphere as is so commonly thought. In reality, there are multifaceted and interconnected specific reasons why differently situated women might fear Brexit. Susie in particular makes a connection between the specific fears expressed by those with caring responsibilities of what a move to the far right might mean, to the prospect of a smaller state with fewer public services to help redistribute unpaid care work. This is an interesting example of how quotidian feminist issues of care connect with the international and political, a connection explored by Cynthia Enloe (2014). It is not just women’s identity as carer or mother that motivates their individual resistance however,16 but their professional and personal political identities. For example, Rachel worked in the European Parliament in her early career and feels a deep sense of loss and anxiety about having her European identity forcibly taken away. For Caroline this relationship is perhaps the inverse: ‘I am resisting for feminist reasons … I’m pro-European because I’m a feminist’. And, she told me, she reached this conclusion from a very pragmatic and empirically-informed perspective: unsure which way to vote in the referendum she was initially concerned about the neoliberal doctrine pursued by the EU and what that has meant for women after being ‘horrified’ by their treatment of Greece. However, her research demonstrated how much the EU had protected women during the coalition years and quickly changed her mind: I looked at the current dramatically disproportionate impact of austerity on women from this government and I just thought ‘I do not want to remove these EU protections’ which as far as I could tell was what they [a lot of leading Leave advocates] wanted. All this talk about cutting red tape –cutting red tape is never a good line for women!. Caroline, therefore, situated her resistance to Brexit as part of her feminism, once again connecting up the personal and the political by explaining that her research shows how ‘women are systematically ignored in so many areas and I know how damaging that is for our health, our mental health’. She expressed anger at how austerity has disproportionately impacted women citing women’s lack of decisionmaking power in political institutions: That happened because of a room full of men or women without a feminist analysis. It wouldn’t have happened like this if there were feminists in the room – you need to make decisions in a gender equitable way. I don’t worry that it will be same with Brexit. It is the same with Brexit.
And I certainly do not want to fall foul of essentialism in suggesting that women’s experiences of Brexit exist solely in the realm of motherhood. Women are multifaceted and diverse, like all human beings! Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/ books/2018/aug/23/rise-gina-miller-review-woman-defeated-government-article-50
116 Jenna Norman I said above that Women for a People’s Vote came about as a way to move beyond the androcentric pro Remain discourse of the consequences of Brexit for GDP. However economic concerns were a primary motivator for my interviewees. By shifting the locus of the economy beyond abstract indicators they revealed that Brexit would have life consequences, especially for women. Feminist economic concerns came up time and again in my interviews with them as a consequence of Brexit and a reason to get involved: Rachel stressed to me that the economic downturn and changes in the immigration system associated with Brexit would be likely to disadvantage women disproportionately (Women’s Budget Group, 2018). Migrant women, for example, who are amongst those who are most affected by the economic downturn and changes in the immigration system and hostile environment promoted by the Brexit campaign, are least represented in the Brexit debate (Reis, 2020). Moreover, economic concerns about Brexit were sometimes seen to be pitted against women’s rights, with most interviewees expressing the view that the majority of pro Remain organisations had focussed too much on economic consequences and not enough on their corresponding impact on ‘quality of life or freedom of choice’. As well as citing issues including care and money, campaigners were also concerned with women’s role in democracy and the need to take a stand against injustice. Shola particularly stressed to me that Brexit was ‘a question of women’s and ethnic minority groups’ role in society’ which she considers ‘central to our democracy’. Susie cited feminist legacies of protest and suffrage as her reasons for getting involved: 2018 marked 100 years since some women in the UK won the right to vote. She says this led her to reflect on where women were a century later and what Brexit might mean for gender equality in civic spaces. In her 60s now, she thought her feminist activist days were over before Brexit, telling me that she had ‘burned her bra in the seventies and held hands around Greenham common in the eighties’. She felt as though she had retired from feminism leaving it to the younger generation to pick up new and old battles. Susie felt as though the voices of marginalised people, including women, had been all but silenced in the Brexit debate: ‘we will feel the effects most, but no one asks us’. Likewise, an enduring feminist appeal to have women’s voices heard in this cataclysmic political event served as a collective motivating factor for all women who cited their frustration at how particular and collective concerns of women had been consigned to the margins both before and after the referendum. Shola describes how the rights of women and ethnic minority groups have been relegated to an ‘afterthought’ by both the pro and anti-Brexit movements (MosShogbamimu, 2019). In truth, observing three years of Brexit debate through gendered lenses perhaps tells us more about the enduring hegemony of masculine norms than it does of women’s lives. At the time of writing women have been largely silenced both inside and outside of parliament with a Prime Minister elected by 120,000 Conservative party members – 71% of whom are men and 97% of whom are white (Norman, 2019). There is a dismally undiverse cabinet which includes a deputy who has described feminists as ‘the most obnoxious bigots’ (ibid, 2019). One of feminists’ key concerns about Brexit, connected to the global shifts to the far right mentioned
Feminist Mobilising Against Brexit in Westminster 117 above is that ‘a lot of people who are now in government have spoken extensively about cutting back on red tape which is so often a euphemism for women’s rights’ (Franklin, 2019). Shola stresses that this isn’t just about gender but that the current government’s language is also fuelled by and fuelling an increase of racism: ‘the language being used by the far right – encouraged by the Conservative government – is running on the fumes of white supremacy and nationalism’. She told me this has real consequences for ethnic minority groups in the UK as discussed below. For Rachel and others, Brexit has exposed just how far we have to go to truly reach parity in our political institutions, not only in a literal quantitative sense but also in upgrading our political culture and debate from what still, particularly today, resembles a ‘back room boys club’. Both Women for a People’s Vote and Women for Europe were founded on the basis that women’s experiences, perspectives and ways of working were desperately needed on both sides of gauntlet because ‘diversity gives a greater panorama of the complexity of it all’. Gina Miller has also spoken out about the current lack of diversity ‘not just of gender but of mindset and background’ (Miller, 2018b). Caroline and Susie both felt that there had been a real failure to diversify the discourse at all: ‘we’re not being listened to by the mainstream media’. I explore later how equal gender representation for representation’s sake (Phillips, 1995) has been exposed as fragile and flawed by the last three years of Brexit which have, after all, been dominated by Theresa May, Britain’s second woman Prime Minister. Representation in the Brexit debate matters not just because women are 50% of the population so have a right to be represented but also ‘because of the way women are socialised [we] have different priorities based on different life experiences’ said Caroline. Nonetheless, this requires more than just an ‘add women and stir’ approach, whether to integration or upheaval of political structures. In fact, when asked why women and especially ethnic minority women ought to be involved Shola said to me ‘we are citizens, we helped build this country … it shouldn’t even be a question’. Had more women been involved from the outset, argued Caroline, ‘we could potentially escape the power playing dynamic which has dominated Brexit the whole time: the grandstanding, egos, the winning and losing’. Rachel agreed ‘I think we might have seen some different options that we haven’t explored, and I think the whole debate would be far less toxic’. There is a sense, explored further elsewhere (Achilleos-Sarll & Martill, 2019), that Brexit has unleashed, emboldened and reintroduced a particularly toxic nationalist masculinity into the British political debate both inside and outside of parliament. This dominance of masculinity is both cause and consequence of women’s alienation from the Brexit debate due to the dichotomised gender relations upheld at many levels of British society. It is not just that men’s voices have quantitatively dominated the debate during parliamentary speaking time or in the media, but that masculinity has obscured the discourse and frame through which we understand and experience Brexit. As Achilleos-Sarll and Martill (2018) note, the negotiations have often taken on a performatively masculine air – looking more like combative, competitive and business or military brokering than exercises in
118 Jenna Norman collaborative dialogue. From the outset, the UK Government has been keen to demonstrate, to the UK and other citizens of the EU, characteristics associated with performative masculinity, including economic rationality, ambition and stoicism, thereby eclipsing more performatively feminine qualities like empathy and care. This has had personal and political consequences for women and their experiences of resisting Brexit, as I explore in the following section.
2. Experiences of Resistance ‘Hitting your head against the brick wall!’ (Criado Perez, 2019a). That is how Caroline described the process of trying to enrol more women into the Brexit debate both within and outside of the pro-European movements. Gina Miller has spoken openly about the failure of ‘Remain’ to get through to women, claiming in her book, Rise, that ‘I was replaced by more “obedient” women … Because I wasn’t speaking to the script, I stopped being asked [by pro Remain campaigns] to speak’ (Anthony, 2019). Rachel and Susie shared these concerns, citing their personal experiences of being a woman resisting Brexit in recent years, including being minimised or silenced in meetings. It is certainly not only women in the UK who feel politically depleted or who have had their wellbeing worn down by three years of uncertainty and political turmoil: one Mental Health Foundation study finds that four in ten people reported feeling powerless (43%), angry (39%) or worried (38%) about Brexit (Mental Health UK, 2019). Yet, there are more serious consequences for Black and Minoritised women, and differently and multiply marginalised people, who since the referendum have been subjected to increased hate crime (BBC, 2019). EU citizens living in the UK have faced severe uncertainty and anxiety regarding their right to live and work in the UK after Brexit. It is feminist allusions to the personal as political as well as contemporary feminist work on ‘affect’ (Pedwell, 2014) that helps us to make sense of how emotions are political and politics emotional, especially in regard to Brexit. This body of relatively new work signals a return to the weight of emotion as political and feminist currency. These are not the ‘humbug’ concerns of ‘girly swots’ (Sylvester, 2019)17 dismissed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but feed into a broader narrative of a divided, anxious and volatile body politic whose anger and frustration has real consequences for women involved in the Brexit debate. Notably, there is the increase, or increase in attention given to abuse faced by women on social media and the ways in which this abuse has spilled out into the public domain. As Shola told me ‘there are real consequences for women who are anti-Brexit, those consequences come in the shape of violence, threats and abuse’. All of the women I interviewed about this spoke unprompted about abuse to varying degrees which in large part depended on their public profile. Of course,
This is language used by Boris Johnson in the autumn of 2019 to describe other leaders and those concerned about derogatory and violent language being used in parliament.
Feminist Mobilising Against Brexit in Westminster 119 Gina Miller has been subject to horrendous online and ‘on-land’ abuse which she describes as ‘absolutely shocking’ (Anthony, 2019) and explains has ‘completely changed her life’ (Miller, 2018a) forcing her to hire private security and stop going out in public with her children. In one interview, she recounts her son being shown misogynistic images of her online (Miller, 2018a). As emancipation can be intersectional, so too can oppression and much of the abuse Gina Miller has been subjected to has been more to do with her heritage and race than her gender (Miller, 2018c). Many women of colour describe having been told relentlessly to ‘go home’ in encounters on the streets and in social media. Gina Miller describes the impact of extensive abuse on social media and physical threats directed at her as a woman of colour, and a person who has come to the UK, being told she has no right to have a voice (Miller, 2018d; Rawlinson, 2017). As a result of this vitriolic and life threatening abuse, others who she anticipated would have joined her challenge to government and who shared her views held back, and she was left to make the challenge and deal with the abuse alone. This is a well-trodden path for women who have been ‘trolled’. Social media gave all women a voice that has fuelled movements such as #MeToo and #EverydaySexism, but despite its emancipatory potential many women have been ostracised. Has Brexit had a part to play in reversing this liberation? This is a global phenomenon and it is now well theorised that we are seeing ‘post-truth politics’ (Kalpokas, 2019) play out around the world. Standpoint feminists (Haraway, 1996; Harding, 1995) have long called for a more subjective interpretation of the truth as it is so often ‘the work of men which they confuse with the absolute truth’ (de Beauvoir, 2010). Yet, it seems that whilst everyone now feels entitled to their own subjectivity, these ‘truths’ have now been co-opted to fuel a twenty-first century misogynists’ agenda. Caroline also cites her abuse as, in part, xenophobic due to her surname but as with many women campaigning for women’s liberation, she also faces extremely misogynistic abuse on social media. Gina (Miller, 2018c) and Caroline (Criado Perez, 2019a) both agree that it is not so much that abuse has increased in volume since 2016 but that it has become more ‘socially acceptable’ as Caroline told me: when you have official campaigns engaging in that [misogynistic and xenophobic] rhetoric, it gives people the opportunity to behave like that. It’s made people feel they no longer need to be ashamed of being racist and sexist…it’s a matter of pride now…a badge of honour! Susie and Rachel agreed although they had not experienced this discursive violence to such a degree but appreciate that Brexit has been a ‘hotbed or magnet’ for misogynistic abuse and so there is a need to have solidarity with women in the public eye, particularly women MPs who are speaking out about Brexit. I explore below what Brexit has taught us about feminism even from a very short-term perspective. The misogynistic backlash as it is expressed online is central to our understanding that the digital age posits new challenges for marginalised people. The emotional response to the last three years also manifests in
120 Jenna Norman different predictions and hopes for the future of Brexit and feminism which I now address in this final section.
3. Affective Realities and Alternative Futures Clearly, there have been extreme and at times, life-changing consequences of resisting Brexit so I want to give weight here to the affective reality of doing this work. Constantly feeling attacked, anxious and on the back foot has produced different emotional responses for different women. Rachel expressed deep sadness at the current state of affairs, particularly the difficulty in having women’s voices taken seriously in the pro-European movement, whereas Caroline and Susie expressed similar thoughts but through frustration and anger. Susie remained indignant and furious about the ‘outrage to our democracy’ whereas Caroline felt more resigned to the damaging treatment of women in the last three years: ‘I’m just so exhausted and demoralized’. Shola shared Caroline’s feeling, telling me ‘one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is overwhelming despair’. It cannot surely just be women who feel this way but there is a sense that many of the consequences have been more personal for the women I interviewed, eroding their energy and enthusiasm to fight for change. It is not all bleak, however: Shola also told me ‘despite the despair I know that the worst thing I could possibly do is nothing’ and she is proud of her work in the last three years of raising her voice persistently: ‘I am using what I have to be part of a movement that is necessary’. Gina Miller comes across in many interviews as an eternal optimist telling an interviewer in 2018 that ‘people are amazing and when it comes down to it we really do love each other and that is why I have hope’ (Miller, 2018a). Shola told me that ‘the nation is far more educated on Brexit now than we ever were before’ – for her this is an important reason for supporting a People’s Vote. Shola said she has learnt so much throughout this process and thinks other people who might otherwise be politically inactive have too: ‘we understand politics in a way we never did’. If knowledge is power, then perhaps we can hope for transformative change in British politics once the dust has settled. Shola said she thinks Brexit has actually increased ‘active citizenship’ for many groups and even though she doesn’t agree with all of them she thinks the mobilisation of ordinary people into political activism is a ‘silver lining’. Gina Miller expressed concern about ‘so much prejudice and division’ and the need to remember our ‘common values’; that ‘we all have families, we all cry, we all laugh, we all worry’ (Miller, 2018b). Brexit has been personal as well as political and many strategists would argue that emotions prevail as the most effective political currency of our times. It is often theorised that the ‘Leave’ campaign in 2016 won because they targeted hearts not minds, exploiting the fear and manufactured ignorance of marginalised people, whilst the ‘Remain’ campaign focussed on technical concepts like GDP. Emotion, then, must be taken seriously in analysing the past three years and feminist literature on affect is helpful here. As voters and campaigners we do not experience the world at one remove but rather we are imbricated in, coconstitutive of and emotionally provoked by the events around us (Ahmed, 2004;
Feminist Mobilising Against Brexit in Westminster 121 Berlant, 2004; Pedwell, 2012). Acknowledging this can begin to deconstruct the logic of ‘rational man’ which has been used to omit women from politics and the economy. Finally, I want to ask what the past three years of Brexit negotiations have revealed about British feminism.
4. What has Brexit Revealed about British Feminism In the final part of my interviews, we discussed what the interviewees thought Brexit had revealed about feminism in the UK and, where there were opportunities for ongoing resistance and activism. We need to be clear here that there is not really enough space between what has happened and the present to observe what Brexit means for social movements including feminism. Nonetheless, all interviewees thought Brexit had exposed just how fragile progress to achieve gender justice in the UK truly was, especially with regard to women’s meaningful political representation. I use meaningful deliberately here to signify that although the majority of this process was ‘led’ by Britain’s second ever Prime Minister who is a woman and many MPs who are women have been very outspoken about Brexit, the dominance of masculine social norms in British politics have re-materialised stronger than ever in the last few years signifying that representation isn’t just about presence (Phillips, 1995). All interviewees expressed frustration that this is not just on the part of pro-Brexit politicians, but that the upper echelons of British politics is so glaringly a place that is run by an elite of predominantly white men. This is in part a question of critical mass which women have not achieved at any level of political representation, but it is also a question of discourse, procedures and social norms, many of which are still geared to archaic interpretations of performative masculinity. All of the women I spoke to connected Brexit with global trends of misogynistic, xenophobic and free-market orientated populism. On a global level, Susie expressed a sense of global solidarity with women facing similar and more perilous struggles for freedom around the world: ‘for me [Brexit] has cultivated a sense of feminist solidarity for women abused all over the world’ (Courtauld, 2019). Nevertheless, Rachel thought that Brexit has truly exposed that Britain isn’t ready for feminism! Britain is not a feminist country. Not just in terms of Twitter discourse but also the level of parliamentary debate … gender mainstreaming just hasn’t worked. Shola agreed: ‘Brexit has shone a huge light on how dismissive our society is of feminism and how our society is still predominantly patriarchal’. Here, I need to be clear that I am not suggesting that it is just Brexit that has revealed this unreadiness: for many women at the sharp end of multiple axes of discrimination this has been clear for decades but for those with more privilege, perhaps it has led to important insights and expressions of solidarity. In parallel, I have personally observed that the last three years of political turmoil have exposed the superficiality of ‘progress narratives’ within British feminism. With homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic and racist hate crime also
122 Jenna Norman increasing since the referendum in 2016 there is a sense that ‘white liberal feminism’ (Carby, 1982) has made only shallow progress within the structures that already exist, for example, by putting in place Britain’s second woman Prime Minister but, failing to cultivate transformative change for marginalised people. For example, the way in which Gina Miller was all but erased from media reports of the Supreme Court ruling in September 2019 in favour of Baroness Hale (Bouazzaoul, 2019) is an indicator of how hegemonic whiteness continues to compromise feminism – although Miller has not herself commented on this. This is also a word of caution against ‘linear feminist progress narratives’ (Hemmings, 2011) as well as a reminder that our feminism must be aligned and must integrate with other emancipatory social movements to be effective. If there is a silver lining to this it could be that problems brought to the fore by Brexit – like xenophobia, for example – that have been with us for some time are now central to our political debate.18 Some interviewees also reflected on what Brexit has meant for the women’s movement in the UK. Specifically, Caroline explained to me how she thought there had been a difficulty for the women’s sector to organise around Brexit due to competing priorities, lack of resources, competition for the ‘same pots of money’ and the lack of a centralised movement: The movement is too disparate – we don’t have a centralised women’s caucus and [Brexit] has taught us that we need that. We’ve got loads of great women’s organisations but they are all fighting for the same pots of funding and they don’t work in a joined-up way – we need a united umbrella that can give women a united force. (Criado Perez, 2019) Of course, this has not happened by chance and is political in and of itself: in the last 10 years and even before, public sector funding for voluntary organisations has been all but erased (WBG, 2018) whilst national mechanisms for integrating the voices of women’s civil society organisations – such as the National Women’s Commission – have been abolished. Disguised in money saving language, which is problematic in its own right, this erasure of civil society in the UK has had real consequences for the women’s movement generally and particularly in terms of their role in resisting Brexit. Looking ahead, Caroline said: we also need the women’s organisations that do exist to be a lot braver but if they felt they were part of a big united movement it would be a lot easier to be a lot braver. (Criado Perez, 2019)
To some extent this example is problematic in that it has only been by inserting whiteness into the migration debate that it has become ‘mainstreamed’ but on the other hand, solidarity with migrants has arguably increased in ‘liberal’ politics since the referendum.
Feminist Mobilising Against Brexit in Westminster 123 Brexit has exposed how the capacity and autonomy of women’s organisations has been restricted by an overstretched underfunded movement. The past three years have arguably revealed a darker truth about the silencing effect of an increasingly neoliberal environment where the organisations which advocate for and support over 50% of the population to achieve equal standing in society are seen as a ‘costly luxury’ as opposed to valued advocates for equality, justice and human rights.
Conclusion This saga is far from over. There have been many women involved in resisting Brexit and what it stands for. There will be many more. In this brief study I have portrayed the experiences of just five19 women’s resistance to Brexit between the summer of 2016 and the summer of 2019. Reflecting together on their motivations, experiences and emotions during this time, we have concluded that resistance to Brexit is entangled with wider feminist concerns about suffrage, democracy, representation and care. We have deduced that being involved in challenging Brexit has had real political effects on these women including the normalisation and increased acceptability of abuse and the strengthening of white masculine norms in mainstream politics. These effects have crept into my interviewees’ personal lives cultivating anger, sadness and hope in different ways and this analysis confirms the salience of emotions or ‘affect’ in not just contemporary feminism, but all contemporary political analyses. This short-term study has perhaps even revealed a certain complacency within British feminism, showing us that it is not enough to break the glass ceiling – genuine transformative change for the most marginalised women will require rebuilding ‘the masters’ house’ (Lorde, 2007). Of course, these are not new ideas but ones echoed by feminists throughout history. Applying them to the specific context of Brexit, however, has ramifications not just for our feminist politics but our institutions which have been partially silenced and siloed by a disparate funding environment. There have been many challenges and revelations in the last three years of resisting Brexit. I hope this chapter is a brief insight into lessons learned and ways forward towards an alternative future.
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As stated in the introduction to the chapter, in addition to the four interviewees, this chapter draws extensively on Gina Miller’s written material and talks that are in the public domain.
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Feminist Mobilising Against Brexit in Westminster 125 Lorde, A. (2007). The masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house. In A. Lorde (Ed.), Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Berkley, CA: Ten Speed Press (New Edition). Loughborough University. (2019). Gender Balance in EU Referendum coverage. Centre for Research in Communication and Culture. Retrieved from https://blog.lboro.ac.uk/ crcc/eu-referendum/gender-balance-eu-referendum-coverage/. Accessed on October 30, 2019. Mignolo, W. (1999). Local histories/global designs: Coloniality, subaltern knowledges and border thinking. New York, NY: Princeton University Press. Miller, G. (2018a). Interviewed on Unfiltered with James O’Brian 17 September 2018. Retrieved from https://podcasts.apple.com/vn/podcast/gina-miller-brexit-takingon-government-ending-chaos/id1290769207?i=1000419861196. Accessed on May 22, 2020. Miller, G. (2018b). Interviewed on How to Fail with Elizabeth Day 29 August 2018. Retrieved from https://podcasts.apple.com/sk/podcast/s1-ep8-how-to-fail-elizabethday/id1407451189?i=1000418706133. Accessed on May 22, 2020. Miller, G. (2018c, August 6). Interviewed on Ways to Change the World with Krishnan Guru-Murphy. Retrieved from https://podcasts.apple.com/ua/podcast/gina-milleron-post-brexit-world-death-threats-rethinking/id1359195562?i=1000417406742. Accessed on May 22, 2020. Miller, G. (2018d). Gina Miller on abuse she faced over Brexit cases. Hartalk. BBC World News, October 2019. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07smnml. Accessed on September 21, 2020. Mohanty, C. T. (2003). Feminism without borders: Decolonising theory practicing solidarity. North Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Mompelat, L., & Snoussi, D. (2019). We are ghosts’ Race, class and institutional prejudice. CLASS and The Runneymede Trust. Retrieved from http://classonline.org.uk/docs/ Race_and_Class_report_v3.pdf. Accessed on May 22, 2020. Norman, J. (2019). We can’t let out future be decided by white male Conservatives. The Times. Retrieved from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/we-can-t-let-ourfuture-be-decided-by-white-male-conservatives-6ct7w8hq0. Accessed on November 19, 2020. Otte, J. (2019). March for change: Anti-Brexit protestors take to London streets. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jul/20/marchfor-change-anti-brexit-protesters-take-to-london-streets. Accessed on October 30, 2019. Pedwell, C. (2012). Introduction: Affecting feminism: Questions of feeling. Feminist Theory, 13(2), 115–129. Phillips, A. (1995). The politics of presence. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Quijano, A. (2000). Coloniality of power, Eurocentrism and Latin America. Nepantla: Views from the South, 1(3), 533–574. Rawlinson, K. (2017). Viscount jailed for offering money for killing of Gina Miller. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/13/viscountjailed-for-offering-money-for-killing-of-gina-miller. Accessed on September 21, 2020. Reis, S. (2020). Migrant women and the economy. Women’s Budget Group. Retrieved from https://wbg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/WBG-28-Migrant-Women-Reportv3-Digital.pdf. Accessed on September 26, 2020. Siddique, H. (2019, September 24). Gina Miller: The woman who took on the UK government and won – twice. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/ politics/2019/sep/24/gina-miller-the-woman-who-took-on-the-uk-government-andwon-twice. Accessed on April 17, 2020. Spivak, G. (1993). Outside the teaching machine. New York, NY: Routledge. Sylvester, R. (2019). Ignoring women is a risky game for Johnson. The Times. Retrieved from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-tories-may-regret-not-reaching-out-towomen-ngc6r38ks. Accessed on November 23, 2019.
126 Jenna Norman Women and Equalities Select Committee. (2016). Oral evidence: Impact of Brexit on the Equality Agenda. Retrieved from http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/ committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/women-and-equalities-committee/impactof-brexit-on-the-equalities-agenda/oral/38384.pdf. Accessed on October 30, 2019. Women for a People’s Vote. (2018). Women demand a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal. Retrieved from http://women4pv.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/W4PV-launchreport-.pdf. Accessed on October 30, 2019. Women for a People’s Vote. (2019). Press release: On International Women’s Day 2019 women continue to be unrepresented in the Brexit date. Retrieved from http:// women4pv.org/2019/03/08/press-release-on-international-womens-day-womencontinue-to-be-underrepresented-in-the-brexit-debate/. Accessed on October 30, 2019. Women’s Budget Group. (2018). Life-changing and life-saving services: Funding the women’s sector. The Women’s Budget Group. Retrieved from https://wbg.org.uk/analysis/ life-changing-life-saving-funding-for-the-womens-sector-2/. Accessed on October 30, 2019. Women’s Budget Group and the Fawcett Society. (2018). Exploring the economic impact of Brexit on women. Retrieved from https://wbg.org.uk/analysis/new-report-exploringthe-economic-impact-of-brexit-on-women/. Accessed on October 30, 2019.
Risky Futures: Women in the British Labour Market Susan Milner Introduction This chapter provides an overview of women’s situation in the UK labour market, based on Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, and assesses likely outcomes of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, drawing on the scenarios outlined in the Women’s Budget Group 2018 report. It argues that growing polarisation in women’s labour market positions is likely to increase after Brexit, in the absence of countervailing legislative protections. Discussions between the two main parties in early 2019 suggest strongly that existing protections contained in the proposed withdrawal agreement are weak and contingent on political leadership, which in turn indicates that whilst fears of a wholesale ‘bonfire of legal rights’ may be unfounded, existing protection of women in part-time, low-paid employment is already weak and particularly vulnerable to future deterioration. Trends in labour shedding, under-employment and labour market discrimination are likely to continue or worsen. More positively, this overview, therefore, allows us to see what an alternative policy programme might look like, focussing on new regulation of part-time and marginal hours working, a coherent care strategy, and a gendermainstreamed economic and industrial strategy. Amidst the confusion of debates about the pros and cons of leaving the European Union, with or without a deal, women’s voices have struggled to be heard. But when women have spoken, it is often to raise concerns about the loss of antidiscrimination and employment-based gender equality rights. Sophie Walker, then leader of the Women’s Equality Party, expressed these concerns when she spoke of Brexit as being shaped by ‘overconfident men trading bluster for knowledge and honesty’. Although the EU still failed women by ignoring the situation of women in ever more marginal positions in the labour market, Brexit would, she argued, ‘likely bring an economic shock, cuts to the public purse and renegotiation over workplace protection’ (Walker, 2018). The Women’s Budget Group
Feminist Activists on Brexit: From the Political to the Personal, 127–139 Copyright © 2021 by Emerald Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved doi:10.1108/978-1-80043-420-220210012
128 Susan Milner had already in 2018 set out the evidence for this claim, focussing on the economic damage of Brexit which would hit women hardest due to their over-representation in vulnerable sectors and the public sector (WBG, 2018). Moreover, women of colour will be even harder hit by the economic fallout from Brexit (Hall et al., 2017, see also Emejulu & Bassel, 2017). The impact of withdrawal from EU membership for employment-based rights is difficult to forecast, not just because at time of writing the shape of the future relationship is unclear, but rights will depend on the intentions of future British governments. Leaving the EU means trading a protective framework which may leave significant gaps but is buttressed by case law developed over 40 years, and upheld by the European Court of Justice, despite the vagaries of domestic politics, in a context where one of the mainstream parties (Conservative) has campaigned for decades for a ‘bonfire of regulations’ (IER, 2014; see also WBG, 2018, pp. 9–10, 2019a). According to European Commission officials, the Johnson government’s representative argued to them that future trade deals would require abandoning the idea of alignment with EU environmental and social and employment standards (O’Carroll, 2019). Furthermore, not only will Brexit endanger existing rights by decoupling them from the EU’s overarching equality framework, but it risks isolating the UK further from progressive influences within the EU through informal policy coordination (Fagan & Rubery, 2018), notably those of Scandinavian member states.
The Rise of Women’s Employment: Gender Pay Gaps, and Horizontal and Vertical Segregation Women’s labour market participation is one of the biggest social changes of the last 50 years. In early 1979, just over half of women aged 16–64 were in paid employment (56.3%); by early 2019, women’s employment rate was nearing three quarters (71.8%). Whereas men’s employment rate had dropped slightly over that period (by 7.9%), women’s employment rate had risen by 27.6%, resulting in a narrowing of the gender employment gap (down by 73%) (ONS, 2019a). However, this apparent success story hides other tales of entrenched inequality (Roantree & Vira, 2018). Part of the explanation for women’s higher labour market participation is pensions inequality: women aged over 60 today have lower pensions savings than men, and have to work for longer than they may have expected, due to changes in eligibility for state pensions in 2011 (ONS, 2019a). A disproportionate number of women face hardship due to inadequate pensions, and there is evidence that the gender pensions gap, which had started to narrow, has widened again due to younger women’s financial hardship which restricts their ability to save (see Scottish Widows, 2018). Overall, women’s employment patterns differ significantly from those of men, with significantly more periods spent outside the labour market, and more switching from full-time to part-time employment (Olsen, Gash, Kim, & Zhang, 2018). Women are disproportionately concentrated in lowerpaid sectors and occupations, and within work organisations to be concentrated in lower-paid jobs, and under-represented in higher-paid jobs. Women working in the ‘gig economy’ are also more likely than men to report that it is their only source of income (TUC, 2019a).
Risky Futures 129 The most common sectors for female employment are health and social work, where 79% of all jobs are held by women, retail (where 66% of sales assistants are women) and education, where 70% of jobs are held by women (Powell, 2019). The care sector is the most highly feminised: over 97% of nursery jobs are occupied by women, and over 95% of childminders are women, whilst over 83% of care home workers are female (Working Futures, 2018). Conversely, jobs in engineering and technical sectors are overwhelmingly male-dominated, as are skilled crafts (such as plumbing or carpentry). Mid-level service jobs are more evenly split between men and women. Horizontal or occupational segregation is held to be a common feature across countries, and may even increase over time as more women enter the labour market (Anker, 1998). It is generally thought to account for around 20% of gender pay gaps, and recent studies suggest that around 18% of the UK gender pay gap can be explained by occupational segregation (Olsen et al., 2018). However, the neoliberal idea that occupational segregation reflects gender choices, with men opting for higher wages and women choosing family over career, neglects structural factors influencing those choices, such as the availability of jobs in one sector or another, gendered assumptions about care, and childcare provision; and it also neglects gender stereotyping and discrimination at recruitment. According to some studies, the UK managed to reduce occupational segregation slightly between 2000 and 2008 and at various times has had lower levels of segregation than many other EU countries (Meulders, Plasman, Rigo, & O’Dorchai, 2010), although it has increased since then (EIGE, 2018). Occupational segregation accounted for 15% of the gender pay gap in 1997, 17% in 2007, and 19% in 2014–2015 (Olsen et al., 2018). This trend is explained at least in part by the fact that women’s employment is growing fastest amongst lower paying occupations: sales and customer services; elementary and process roles; and plant and machine operatives (ONS, 2019a). Occupational segregation has also been linked to part-time employment: it makes a significant contribution to pay gaps between male and female part-time employees but not for full-time employees (Mumford & Smith, 2009). Vertical segregation, that is, male domination of senior and highest-paid roles, is persistent (Manning & Petrongolo, 2005) and helps to explain why the gender pay gap rises with age. The gender pay gap increases as the pay scale rises, and it is highest of all for managerial positions. Moreover, this gap in higher paying roles exists across both the public and private sector (Jones & Kaya, 2019). The growth in the gender pay gap at the top of the pay scale (ONS, 2019b) reflects a wider trend towards increased pay inequality (Fortin, Bell, & Böhm, 2017). Tackling gender pay gaps, therefore, requires attention to the reasons why women are not promoted to the same extent as men even when equally qualified and experienced (Priola & Brannan, 2009), but it also raises questions about the mechanics of paysetting more widely (Rubery & Grimshaw, 2015). To summarise, individual psychological factors are thought to account for only a very small share of gender pay gaps. Instead, as highlighted above, women’s structural position in the labour market contributes significantly to the gender pay gap, whilst forms of workplace discrimination in recruitment and promotion
130 Susan Milner also account for much of the disparity which cannot be explained by occupation. The UK, where the gender pay gap stood at 17.3% in 2019 (ONS, 2019b), compared to around 16% for the EU28 on average, suffers from both problems of a ‘glass ceiling’ whereby women’s career progression lags behind that of male comparators, and of a ‘sticky floor’ whereby women are disproportionately concentrated in low-paid sectors (Bargain, Doorley, & Van Kerm, 2019). Part-time employment stands at the heart of this structural disadvantage in relation to men. Women with children are more likely to be in employment than in the past: over 75% in 2019, compared to 66% in 2000 (ONS, 2019c). This change is thought to be related in part to new measures to help women balance paid work and caring responsibilities, such as the extension of maternity leave. However, it is only after the youngest dependent child is aged ten or over that mothers’ employment patterns resemble those of fathers; until then, the most frequent family arrangement is likely to be male full-time employment and female part-time employment (ONS, 2019c; see also Olsen et al., 2018). Fewer than half of single mothers are likely to be in employment when the youngest child is under school age. When women move from full-time to part-time employment, they move to lower paid roles in most cases (Harkness, Borkowska, & Pelikh, 2019; Longworth, 2016). Female part-time employment is disproportionately associated with low pay and weak opportunities for career progression, which helps to explain why the introduction of a national minimum wage had little impact on the gender pay gap in the UK (Bargain et al., 2019). Even when part-time wages rise as a result of increases to the national minimum wage, as in 2018 (ONS, 2019d), such gains make little difference to broader pay disparities. Female part-time work is often linked to insecure contracts with weak employee control over working hours. Women make up 54.5% of workers on zero hours contracts, for example (compared to less than half of the workforce not on zero hours contracts) (ONS, 2018), and they are also more likely than men to report that this type of employment is their only source of income (TUC, 2019a).1 The three sectors which employ most workers on zero hours contracts are also those which have predominantly female workforces and low pay: accommodation and catering, customer services, and retail. In those sectors, full-time employment also sees the lowest wages overall and the strongest clustering of earnings at the bottom end of the scale (ONS, 2019d). As well as labour market trends of weak workplace regulation, and increasing inequality between top and lower incomes, women’s labour market position reflects their double burden as employees and carers (see Neizert, 2019). Childcare costs continue to rise, and together with patchy availability constitute a major barrier to women’s ability to work full-time (Coleman & Cottell, 2019).
The TUC report found more men than women in their sample saying that they worked in the platform economy with little or no control over working hours. This seems to be because their sample included more students (working for example as delivery drivers) than the ONS data.
Risky Futures 131 This situation is likely to continue, despite women’s rising educational attainment, as policy interventions to date have had little impact on workplace practices or households’ ability to choose more egalitarian work-family arrangements. Indeed, such interventions have made little headway against strong countervailing trends of austerity, welfare cuts and employment insecurity (Howes, 2019; Périvier, 2018; WBG, 2019b). These trends in turn have occurred against a backdrop of growing insecurity in the labour market (as highlighted above) and polarisation of jobs, a hollowing-out of mid-level jobs, increases in low-paid work, and the growth of marked income inequalities. Evidence from the United States which has led this phenomenon indicates that women are more affected by polarisation than men (for an overview, see Cerina, Moro, & Rendall, 2018). In the UK, too, although a long-term trend of polarisation of jobs is partly driven by the growth of graduate jobs, it also reflects the growth of those female-dominated employment sectors which are characterised by low wages and insecure contracts, whilst more secure ‘white-collar’ jobs which have traditionally provided employment for women have declined (Gardiner & Corlett, 2015).
Policy to Address Gender Inequality in the Labour Market Gender inequality in the labour market is often thought to be a ‘wicked’ problem as it results from interactions between multiple, embedded and context-specific situations, making it difficult to isolate causes and, therefore, solutions, and there is disagreement about how to go about resolving it (O’Brien, Crane, Fitzsimmons, & Head, 2017; see also Rubery & Grimshaw, 2015). However, there is substantial international evidence about what constitutes effective policy intervention. The ILO’s work on gender pay gaps highlights the importance of transparency, strong employer duties to diagnose pay gaps and take action to remedy them, and an overarching equality machinery with powers to monitor and enforce (Chicha, 2006). Comprehensive data and transparency in pay systems are prerequisites for action, but employers are often reluctant to disclose information (Conley & Torbus, 2019). Encouraging greater transparency and gathering data have, therefore, been the focus of British policy aimed at closing the gender pay gap. As noted above, vertical segregation constitutes a significant part of the gender pay gap and has, therefore, been the primary focus of policy attempts over the last decade. Analysis of the UK’s gender pay gap as driven by insufficient numbers of women in senior decision-making roles drove the voluntary approach to regulation established in the Davies and then Hampton-Alexander reviews, which consisted of setting voluntary targets for the proportion of women on the boards of Britain’s largest companies (Hampton-Alexander Review, 2018). The result was an increase in the proportion of women on boards, which doubled from 2010 to 2015, but still fell short of the target, and occurred almost entirely on non-executive boards. The faltering of the voluntary process after 2015 indicates that, although some cultural change has taken place, gendered and sometimes outright sexist assumptions prevail in many companies, including larger organisations, and that outside a small number of ‘pioneer’ companies change has been limited.
132 Susan Milner The second major government initiative of the period after 2008 was the surprise decision to enact gender pay gap reporting, initially envisaged in the Equality Act 2010 but not put on the statute books until 2016 (Milner, 2019). Gender pay gap reporting has undoubtedly achieved the stated goal of ‘shining a light’ on gender inequalities but to date regulatory efforts have not moved employers to act on the disparities uncovered by the reporting exercise. Although pressure to tighten the legislation has been maintained by equality campaigners and bodies, and by MPs, Conservative governments have so far preferred instead to accompany the regulations with a soft-touch hortatory approach which experience of other countries such as Australia show would most likely result not just in inertia but regression (see Charlesworth & Macdonald, 2015). Nevertheless, proposals which remained on the table in 2019 indicate willingness to include requirements to include information on parental leave and other family–friendly benefits, as well as data on employment and salaries by race and ethnicity (BEIS, 2019). In the 2019 general election campaign, the Liberal Democrat manifesto argued for extended reporting duties to include more information on parental leave policies, and Labour published proposals to strengthen enforcement of the regulations and lower the reporting threshold from 250 to 50 employees. These actions go some way towards creating the knowledge base for actions to tackle gender pay gaps, but they do not address the structural mechanisms of disadvantage which cause them (WEC, 2016). The parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee explicitly criticised the government in 2017 for failing to address the causes of gender pay inequity (WEC, 2017). In 2019, under pressure from MPs, the government reopened discussions about ways of addressing mothers’ pay penalty. Launching the government’s gender equality roadmap in July 2019, Conservative equalities minister Penny Mordaunt argued that actions need to remedy women’s disadvantage across the pay scale, not just at the top of it, and she advocated measures to address poor career progression prospects for women in low-paid occupations. This speech was noteworthy not only for the shift in focus towards low-paid women’s jobs, but also because it explicitly countered the discourse of choice which is often used to justify lack of policy intervention: We talk about the choices people make. These choices aren’t always ‘real’ choices – especially for women who are less well off. Taking time off work to care for family; going into a less well-paid job that provides more flexibility; spending for today’s needs and not saving for tomorrow’s – these can all seem like the only sensible options. (Mordaunt, 2019) To address this problem, Ms Mordaunt presented a series of proposals aimed at strengthening workplace rights of parents. For the last two decades, governments have developed policies to support working parents, beginning with interventions under Labour governments which resulted from women’s political mobilisation. Focussing initially on strengthening rights for mothers, with the extension of maternity leave to 52 weeks (38 paid), policy subsequently developed in two main directions: first, increasing parents’
Risky Futures 133 ability to request flexible working, initially for those with children under five then extended (under the coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat government in 2015) to children up to the age of 18; second, encouraging a more equal sharing of care between male and female parents by establishing paid paternity leave and incentivising the sharing of parental leave. These rights have had only a very limited impact on parents’ choices in practice, with very low take-up of the new shared parental leave since 2015, because the regulations are complex and the replacement rate for leave-takers low, and in the case of flexible working they allow employers to refuse requests. Meanwhilst, there is evidence that since 2008 it has become harder for parents to exercise their rights, even the relatively wellestablished right to maternity leave (EHRC, 2016), and that parents who request flexible working can be stigmatised (O’Brien et al., 2017). Evidently, creating new rights requires more ambitious policy design in order to change organisational behaviour. Moreover, these rights are limited in law to those with secure labour market attachment: that is, those defined as employees (which currently excludes those on zero hours contracts, for example, although draft EU legislation would bring them into the scope of employment regulation) and have at least six months’ continuous service with their employer (one year for unpaid parental leave) (O’Brien et al., 2017; TUC, 2019b). Therefore, whilst they can be welcome solutions to wider problems which limit women’s choice in the labour market, work-family policies are in practice restricted to those in stable employment, and, therefore, fail to address the situation of many low-paid women working in sectors which rely increasingly on insecure employment contracts. Likewise, childcare policy has to date not fully addressed the real problems of access to affordable care provision, particularly for those on low incomes. OECD data show that the UK continues to have the highest childcare costs in the EU (and lower only than the United States when all OECD countries are compared) whether calculated for a couple on average wages, a couple on minimum wages, or a single person on two thirds the average wage (OECD, 2019). Although the extension of free childcare hours for three-year olds in 2016 was welcomed by campaigners, it has also been severely criticised for inadequate funding to secure its availability in practice. Investment in childcare would not only raise women’s employment rates and narrow the gender pay gap by allowing more women to retain relatively high-paid full-time jobs, but it is estimated thereby to have the potential to increase economic growth (Onaran, Oyvat, & Fotopoulou, 2019). More generally, there has been little policy attention to low wages since the introduction of the minimum wage, other than by raising the level to a rate which scholars argue still falls below what is required to provide a decent basic income. Alongside upgrading to a real living wage, many studies emphasise the need for a raft of policies, including affordable childcare as outlined above, based on the need for adequate regulation of employment and mechanisms for equitable wagesetting such as that previously afforded by collective bargaining, as well as investment in training, research and development (Mishel & Eisenbrey, 2015; Perrons, 2017; Rubery & Grimshaw, 2011; Warren, 2019). Without such a broad-based investment approach, it is likely not only that women’s economic situation will
134 Susan Milner deteriorate in relation to that of men, but also that increasing groups of women will be left in situations of extreme vulnerability, with no safety net.
Brexit as a Risk Intensifier It is one thing for governments to identify a policy problem, in this case women’s structural disadvantage in the labour market, and then fail to enact adequate measures to remedy it. It is quite another deliberately to take actions in the knowledge that women’s socio-economic position, and particularly that of the most vulnerable women, will be negatively affected by those actions. In 2010, the Fawcett Society, based on research by the Women’s Budget Group, challenged the government austerity budget on grounds that it disproportionately and negatively affected women in three ways: because they are more dependent than men on welfare benefits, and on public services and public sector employment, and because they are more likely to have to take on more unpaid care work as a result. Although the court rejected the claim, it upheld the view that the Equality Act 2010 requires government to take account at an early stage of the gender impact of specific policies such as benefit changes and the public sector wage freeze. Nevertheless, government policy continues to show scant regard for the gender impact of decisions. The UK’s withdrawal from the EU exposes women to economic risk in two main ways. First, it increases the risk of deregulatory policies which could erode or dismantle existing rights. Such rights exist at the level of the overarching legal architecture, such as the concept of indirect discrimination on which protection of part-time workers’ rights is based, as well as at the level of primary legislation which, depending on the nature of the future relationship with the EU, may not be aligned with the EU after the end of the transition period. Given the importance of part-time work for women’s employment, and the loopholes or noncompliance which are already apparent in the British economy and which help to explain a significant part of the gender pay gap (Longworth, 2016), deregulation is likely to increase the insecurity and economic vulnerability of low-paid women Second, by reducing the scope for economic growth and public expenditure, Brexit exacerbates negative trends already existing within the British economy. In its November 2019 forecasts for economic growth in 2020 and 2010, the Bank of England drew attention to the problems already besetting the British economy, and for the first time incorporated Brexit modelling into its standard forecast report. After the 2016 referendum and subsequent drop in the value of sterling, the interest rate was reduced to 0.25% where it remained until the last quarter of 2017. In 2019, faced with gloomy predictions, the Bank of England did not take the decision to cut rates again, not least because this could have been seen as politically motivated during an election period however the fact that the board was divided on whether to cut rates showed the depth of concern. In the second half of 2019, employment slowed down and unemployment rose. The Bank of England’s forecast emphasised that Brexit’s negative impact on the economy largely reflected the uncertainty caused by political divisions over whether and how to withdraw. However, it also noted that the free market
Risky Futures 135 approach advocated by Boris Johnson’s government in the bill presented to parliament in October 2019 already worsened the economic outlook in comparison to his predecessor Theresa May’s withdrawal bill (Bank of England, 2019). In 2018, in response to a request from the House of Lords, the Bank of England had published its economic scenarios under Brexit, showing a negative impact on economic growth for all withdrawal scenarios, ranging from an income loss of between roughly 1% and 3% in the event of a close economic partnership with the EU (relative to continued EU membership) and of between roughly 7% and 10% in the event of a no-deal withdrawal, between 2020 and 2024 (Bank of England, 2018). The Bank of England’s modelling, along with that of other financial institutions, was used by the Women’s Budget Group in 2018 to estimate likely impacts of Brexit on women, particularly those on low incomes. Its report found three main economic consequences of Brexit, of with varying degrees depending on the impact of new trading conditions: first, disproportionate exposure to Brexit fallout in sectors which employ high numbers of women, such as textiles, which will be affected by less favourable trade deals and pressures on production costs (jobs and wages); second, likely losses to budget receipts which will affect public sector employment and public services, on which women depend disproportionately; and third, increased food prices, which will hit poorest families hardest (WBG, 2018). Whilst we do not have full information on poverty by gender, women are more likely than men to head single-parent households and to have lower incomes than men when they live alone, so the poverty rate for women is found to be higher, and, therefore, any increase in living costs which affects lower income households more will have a gendered impact (Bennett & Daly, 2014). Any withdrawal scenario, but particularly a free-trade only deal or a no-deal (WTO rules) withdrawal, will, therefore, most likely exacerbate significantly trends which have already been affecting women negatively since the onset of economic crisis and austerity after 2008, namely job shedding in those sectors which employ large numbers of women, downward pressure on wages leading to the spread of in-work poverty, and erosion of public services and benefits to alleviate the situation for lower-income households. This analysis is backed up by other forecasts which show that the impact of Brexit on public services will have a significant disproportionate effect on women as well as vulnerable sections of society such as disabled people (who experience the most marked labour market discrimination of any social group) (see Onaran, 2017). Minimum disruption to the UK’s relationship with the EU is, therefore, a necessary prerequisite for the UK’s future prosperity and for working people, even if by itself it will not stem existing trends of rising inequality.
Conclusion This chapter has outlined the situation of women in the British labour market, highlighting patterns of structural inequality and the disproportionate concentration of women in low-paid sectors of the economy which are also characterised by job insecurity, lower working hours and increasingly weak employee control
136 Susan Milner over working hours. It has reviewed reports which show that withdrawal from the EU is likely to exacerbate this situation and also suggested that Brexit as a political project is led by politicians whose ideological preference is for further dismantling of employment rights and the public sector. Moreover, there is no clear strategy for mainstreaming gender into discussions about future trade deals. At time of writing, then, the future for women in the British labour market looks set on a trajectory of widening inequality and insecurity. This scenario stands at odds with a growing consensus on what is needed to narrow the gaps between men and women, and provide a more secure future for families, whether parents are in or out of work. One of the features of political life in recent decades is that non-governmental organisations have come together to campaign for policy to support and empower women and girls. In 2019, 29 of them issued a manifesto presenting proposals aimed at ending violence against women and girls, securing equal political representation, lifting women and children out of poverty, investing in public services, and achieving equality at home and in the workplace (#GE2019). In terms of specific policies, this includes; free universal childcare, mandatory gender pay audits in larger companies; protection of part-time working and more secure employment contracts; and flexible working for all jobs: as well as measures to reduce occupational segregation by investment in women’s training. In line with these recommendations, the Women’s Budget Group’s Commission for a Gender-Equal Economy, set up in 2019, argues for consideration of women’s paid employment to take account of unpaid labour, that is, women’s unpaid caring roles inside and outside the home. Understanding this wider context means acknowledging that there is no ‘silver bullet’ or single policy solution to tackle gender inequalities (Neizert, 2019) but a need for more thorough-going policies for care, inclusive workplace cultures, and investment in skills and career development, based on the type of society we want for ourselves and for future generations, and on sustainable economic growth.
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Risky Futures 137 Charlesworth, S., & Macdonald, F. (2015). Australia’s gender pay equity legislation: How new, how different, what prospects? Cambridge Journal of Economics, 39(2), 421–440. Chicha, M.-T. (2006). A comparative analysis of promoting pay equity: Models and impacts. Geneva: ILO. Coleman, L., & Cottell, J. (2019). Childcare survey 2019. London: Thomas Coram Centre, University College London. Conley, H., & Torbus, U. (2019). Transparency and the gender pay gap. In H. Conley, D. Gottardi, G. Healy, B. Mikolajczyk, & M. Peruzzi (Eds.), The gender pay gap and social partnership in Europe. Findings from ‘Close the deal, fill the gap’ (pp. 145–166). New York, NY: Oxon. Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). (2019). Good Work Plan: Proposals to support families. Consultation, July 19. Retrieved from https://www. gov.uk/government/consultations/good-work-plan-proposals-to-support-families Emejulu, A., & Bassel, L. (2017). Whose crisis counts? Minority women, austerity and activism in France and Britain. In J. Kantola & E. Lombardo (Eds.), Gender and the economic crisis in Europe (pp. 85–208). London: Palgrave. EHRC. (2016). Pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination and disadvantage. Summary of main findings. London: HM Government. European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). (2018). Gender equality index 2017: United Kingdom. Vilnius: EIGE. Fagan, C., & Rubery, J. (2018). Advancing gender equality through European employment policy: The impact of the UK’s EU membership and the risks of Brexit. Social Policy & Society, 17(2), 297–317. Fortin, N. M., Bell, B., & Böhm, M. (2017). Top earnings inequality and the gender pay gap: Canada, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Labour Economics, 47, 107–123. Gardiner, L., & Corlett, A. (2015). Looking through the hourglass: Hollowing-out of the UK jobs market pre- and post-crisis. London: Resolution Foundation. Hall, S., McIntosh, K., Neizert, E., Pottinger, L., Sandhu, K., Stephenson, M.-A., … Taylor, L. (2017). Intersecting inequalities. The impact of austerity on Black and ethnic minority women in the UK. London: Runnymede Trust/Women’s Budget Group. Hampton-Alexander Review. (2018). Improving gender balance in FTSE leadership. London: Hampton-Alexander Review. Harkness, S., Borkowska, M., & Pelikh, A. (2019). Employment pathways and occupational change after childbirth. London: Government Equalities Office. Howes, S. (2019). Secure futures for children and families: Where we are now and what needs to change. London: Child Action Poverty Group. Institute for Employment Rights (IER). (2014, January 28). Cameron ‘boasts’ of cuts to safety regulation. Retrieved from https://www.ier.org.uk/news/cameron-boasts-cutssafety-regulations Jones, M., & Kaya, E. (2019). Understanding the gender pay gap within the UK public sector. Research Report for Office of Manpower Economics (OME). Cardiff: Cardiff Business School. Longworth, J. (2016, March). How to eliminate the gender pay gap? Local actions. CESR Review. University of the West of England. Retrieved from https://www2.uwe.ac.uk/ faculties/BBS/BUS/Research/CESR/March_2016_Longworth.pdf Manning, A., & Petrongolo, B. (2005). The part-time pay penalty. CEP Discussion Paper No. 679. Retrieved from http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/dp0679.pdf Meulders, D., Plasman, R., Rigo, A., & O’Dorchai, S. (2010). Horizontal and vertical segregation. Meta analysis of gender and science research. Brussels: Université Libre de Bruxelles. Milner, S. (2019). Gender pay gap reporting regulations: Advancing gender equality policy in tough economic times. British Politics, 14(2), 121–140.
138 Susan Milner Mishel, L., & Eisenbrey, R. (2015). How to raise wages. Policies that work and policies that don’t. Briefing Paper No. 391. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute. Mordaunt, P. (2019). Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt – Launch of the Women’s Empowerment Roadmap. Speech, July 3. Retrieved from https://www.gov. uk/government/speeches/minister-for-women-equalities-penny-mordaunt-launchof-the-womens-empowerment-roadmap Mumford, K., & Smith, P. N. (2009). What determines the part-time and gender earnings gap in Britain: Evidence from the workplace. Oxford Economic Papers, 61(1), 56–76. Neizert, A. (2019). Gender equality and paid/unpaid work. Overview paper for the Women’s Budget Group Commission for a Gender-Equal Economy. Retrieved from https:// wbg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Overview-paper-paid-and-unpaid-work-1. pdf O’Brien, K., Crane, M. E., Fitzsimmons, T. W., & Head, B. (2017). Workplace gender equality as a ‘wicked problem’: Implications for research and practice. Academy of Management Annual Conference Proceedings, 1, 1417. O’Carroll, L. (2019). Beyond the backstop: how Johnson wants to change Brexit deal. The Guardian , 6 September. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/ sep/06/backstop-boris-johnson-brexit-deal-changes-defence-workers-rights. Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2018). Contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours: April 2018. London: ONS. Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2019a). Labour market overview: April 2019. London: ONS. Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2019b). Gender pay gap in the UK. London: ONS. Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2019c). Families and the labour market: UK 2019. London: ONS. Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2019d). Employee earnings in the UK: 2019. London: ONS. Olsen, W., Gash, V., Kim, S., & Zhang, M. (2018). The gender pay gap in the UK: Evidence from the UKHLS. London: Government Equalities Office. Onaran, O. (2017). A Brexit deal that manages impact for working people? London: University of Greenwich. Onaran, O., Oyvat, C., & Fotopoulou, E. (2019). A policy mix for equitable sustainable development in the UK: The effects of gender equality, wages, wealth concentration and fiscal policy. London: University of Greenwich. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (2019). Net childcare costs. OECD Data. Retrieved from https://data.oecd.org/benwage/net-childcarecosts.htm Périvier, H. (2018). Recession, austerity and gender: A comparison of eight European labour markets. International Labour Review, 157(1), 1–37. Perrons, D. (2017). Gender and inequality: Austerity and alternatives. Intereconomics, 52(1), 28–33. Powell, A. (2019). Women and the economy. Briefing Paper No. CBP06838. House of Commons Library, London. Priola, V., & Brannan, M. J. (2009). Between a rock and a hard place? Exploring women’s experience of participation and progression in managerial careers. Equal Opportunities International, 28(5), 378–397. Roantree, B., & Vira, K. (2018). The rise and rise of women’s employment in the UK. Briefing Note BN234. Institute for Fiscal Studies, London. Rubery, J., & Grimshaw, D. (2011). Gender and the minimum wage. In S. Lee & D. McCann (Eds.), Regulating for decent work. New directions in labour market regulation (pp. 226–254). Geneva: ILO. Rubery, J., & Grimshaw, D. (2015). The 40-year pursuit of equal pay: A case of constantly moving goalposts. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 39(2), 319–343.
Risky Futures 139 Scottish Widows. (2018). Women and retirement report 2018. London: Scottish Widows Bank. Trades Union Congress (TUC). (2019a). Platform work in the UK. Research carried out by the University of Hertfordshire. London: TUC. Trades Union Congress (TUC). (2019b). Insecure work. Why the new PM must put decent work at the top of his list. London: TUC. Walker, S. (2018). Overconfident men brought us Brexit. It’s not too late for women to fix it. The Guardian, July 26. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/ commentisfree/2018/jul/26/brexit-womens-equality-party-eu Warren, T. (2019). The problems faced by low-income women in the labour market. Briefing paper for the Women’s Budget Group Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy. University of Nottingham, Nottingham. Women and Equalities Committee (WEC). (2016). Inquiry: Gender pay gap. London: UK Parliament. Women and Equalities Committee (WEC). (2017, February 21). Government fails to act on gender inequality. Retrieved from https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/ committees-a-z/commons-select/women-and-equalities-committee/news-parliament-2015/gender-pay-gap-government-response-published-16-17/ Women’s Budget Group (WBG). (2018). Exploring the economic impact of Brexit on women. London: WBG/Fawcett Society. Women’s Budget Group (WBG). (2019a). What does Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal mean for women? Analysis from the Women’s Budget Group – October 2019. Retrieved from https://wbg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/2019-11-22-Johnson-deal-update. pdf Women’s Budget Group (WBG). (2019b). Women, employment and earnings. Briefing from the UK Women’s Budget Group on recent changes to the labour market by gender. Retrieved from https://wbg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/EMPLOYMENT-2019.pdf Working Futures. (2018). Working futures 2016–2024. Coventry: University of Warwick.
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Towards Feminist Democracy: Populist Forces and Feminist Activism Diane Bunyan, Jackie Longworth, Su Maddock and Margaret Page Introduction Feminist local and transnational researcher/activists in Bristol and the SW of England discuss and analyse how the rise of populism locally and in Europe, and the context created by the Brexit debate, are eroding women’s rights and posing new challenges for feminist activism and women’s leadership. Drawing from their research and experience of activism and leadership to promote women’s equality in a variety of local, national and transnational sectors and institutions, they consider how the loss of legitimacy of EU mechanisms to promote and implement equality may impact on women’s rights and services locally, what alternative transnational mechanisms and resources might be drawn upon, and how feminists are engaging with challenges posed. The chapter was written collaboratively and draws from conversations between the authors during the six-month period leading to the passing in Parliament of the EU Withdrawal Act. It is written in three parts, in which we consider how democratic process within Parliament was tested during the Brexit debates, how to engage with the challenges to democratic process posed by populist political leaders, ending with a dialogue with our former MEP on post-Brexit challenges for feminist democracy. In what follows we develop the four main themes that emerged from our discussions following the referendum: (1) feminising democracy and its interaction with the Executive and the law; (2) feminist activism in the context of the rise of populism and populist narratives within Europe; (3) how women are taking up leadership in the current context; and (4) channels of transnational influence post-Brexit. Whilst the subject matter was inspired by our joint discussions, each of us has taken a lead in researching and writing a section. Their stylistic differences reflect our different voices, and the conversational piece is intended to convey the vitality of our interactions. Feminist Activists on Brexit: From the Political to the Personal, 141–159 Copyright © 2021 by Diane Bunyan, Jackie Longworth, Su Maddock and Margaret Page. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited under an exclusive licence. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved doi:10.1108/978-1-80043-420-220210013
142 Diane Bunyan et al.
Feminising Democracy and the Interaction of Democracy, Politics and Law We have had messages from judges around the world saying the case has steeled their resolve and given them confidence; it demonstrated that the rule of law cannot be bullied or diminished by the rise of dictatorial power-grabbing regimes. (Miller, 2019) Many of our discussions have centred on the absence of women’s perspectives in political debate and decision-making. It is not as though there are not plenty of women leading campaigns or speaking out, they are just not heard. Those women who are in the media in Brexit discussions tend not to be promoting a feminist or equalities agenda nor recognising the different impacts Brexit will have on women and men; recently, even these women have been subjected to macho misogyny. Historically, the result of the lack of feminist voices in politics has been that political choices are made by men, for men and with a malecentred view of the world. This refusal to listen to and hear women’s voices is rooted in a cultural patriarchy and misogyny which has been codified into our democratic system. Threaded through the Brexit debate we have had a growing concern that the governmental ‘Executive’ has sought to undermine not just women’s participation but also the delicate balance between the powers of Parliament, the Law and the Crown (as represented by Ministers). First it tried to trigger Article 50 without seeking the endorsement of Parliament, an attempt which failed when a non-party political businesswoman, Gina Miller, won her case at the Supreme Court and Ministers were forced to bring the Notification of Withdrawal Bill to Parliament, demonstrating that the courts can be used to protect Parliament’s powers (Barnard & Young, 2020). As members of Fair Play South West (FPSW), we followed this case keenly as the only way women’s perspectives were being fed into the Brexit process was through the parliamentary process; that remains the case today. Second, when Ministers presented their draft Withdrawal Bill in 2018, it was found to contain sweeping powers for Ministers to change primary legislation, including equality legislation, without requiring parliamentary scrutiny and agreement. The challenge this time came from within parliament itself, from government benches as well as the opposition, and we were vocal with other women’s organisations in supporting amendments aimed at protecting equality and human rights legislation and employment rights more generally. Following the debates and processes in parliament was a fascinating eye-opener, the amendments we supported were withdrawn when Ministers gave commitments in debates and brought forward their own amendments which gave just enough ground to ensure passage of the Bill. This somewhat arcane process led to a very unsatisfactory Act from a feminist perspective but did provide some parliamentary scrutiny of post-Brexit legislative changes. Unfortunately, it appears that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill has reversed some of these small gains and the Executive power grab continues
Towards Feminist Democracy 143 with thinly-veiled threats in the Conservative manifesto pledge to ‘review the constitution’1 (O’Grady, 2019). For feminists, the ability of MPs to scrutinise and constrain the Executive is particularly important, given that other mechanisms of direct influence no longer exist in the UK; the Coalition Government abolished the Women’s National Commission in 2010, Ministers largely ignore the results of consultations with the general public and rarely accept the recommendations of the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Select Committee. Women MPs have taken a leading role in driving cross party collaboration to achieve a feminist outcome. For example, Stella Creasy’s amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill 2019 to decriminalise abortion there was carried by 332 votes to 99, though this success has been marred by the abuse and threatening behaviour she has suffered outside parliament, largely funded by a right wing anti-abortion group from the United States. In the context of Brexit, another woman MP, Yvette Cooper, spearheaded the Bill which effectively prevented the March 2019 deadline for Brexit without a deal. The third most obvious power grab by the Executive was an attempt to get rid of Parliament just when it was needed most to scrutinise the build-up to leaving the EU with a newly negotiated agreement. This time it was two women, Gina Millar again in England and Scottish MP Joanne Cherry, who successfully persuaded the Supreme Court that such a long suspension at such a crucial time was illegal. The woman Chair of the Court, Brenda Hale, was precise and incisive in her summing up of the judgement which reinforced the supremacy of Parliament over the Executive. FPSW members cheered. We also started to discuss how this balance of powers had arisen, what it meant for women and how it might change in the future. Democracy in the UK evolved over many centuries and was hard fought and won (Maddicott, 2010). It resulted from a series of power struggles, first by regional Lords to constrain the Monarch, then by local dignitaries to constrain both the Monarch and the Lords, and later by the establishment of a franchise whereby the local representatives were elected by qualifying people. Its legal basis starts with the Magna Carta which says that the Monarch can’t raise taxes without the agreement of a Council of Lords, then an Act of Oath which sees the Monarch agree to implement the laws of Parliament; the Monarch appoints Ministers to form an Executive do this, usually who have the support of Parliament.2 1
The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto (p. 48). Retrieved from https:// assets-global.website-files.com/5da42e2cae7ebd3f8bde353c/5dda924905da587992a06 4ba_Conservative%202019%20Manifesto.pdf. Accessed on May 20, 2020. 2 This brief history was drawn from the following sources: Wikipedia. Constitution of the United Kingdom. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_ of_the_United_Kingdom. Accessed on May 20, 2020.UK Living Parliament, The Evolution of Parliament. Retrieved from https://www.parliament.uk/about/livingheritage/evolutionofparliament/; https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/ evolutionofparliament/houseofcommons/. Accessed on May 20, 2020.Birth of the English Parliament; UK Living Parliament, Living Heritage. Retrieved from https:// www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/evolutionofparliament/originsofparliament/ birthofparliament/. Accessed on May 20, 2020.
144 Diane Bunyan et al. Throughout history, until a 100 years ago, this whole balance and processes for achieving it have been done whilst excluding women. In our discussions we have considered how this absence of women has led to a system designed to continue to exclude them. We also discussed how joining the EU had little effect on this internal UK balance between the powers of the ‘Crown’, Lords, Commons and Courts. Parliament agreed to the making of a Treaty with EU countries. Parliament passed the Act which determined the process whereby Directives agreed by Ministers with other EU ministers are brought into UK law; the process requires that only Parliament can change any necessary laws. The process has worked well in the UK, particularly for women’s rights; the ‘level playing field’ of standards as between countries has also reduced inequalities as between women and men. The big destabiliser to the established democratic order came in 2016, when parliament agreed to hold a popular referendum on whether we should remain in the EU and the Prime Minister agreed to be bound by the result. The Act establishing the referendum rules did not make the result binding, nor did it specify what leaving the EU would mean in practice. However, the voters were led to believe that a simple majority vote would be binding and both the Government and Opposition declared they would respect it. Despite this, Parliament has consistently refused to agree to arrangements negotiated by successive governments which most MPs believe would damage people’s lives. The expected damage to women’s rights and participation is exemplified in our discussions in our podcast, October 2019 (Fair Play South West, 2019). Since that discussion misogyny has grown in particularly nasty ways, with verbal, physical and social media attacks on women almost becoming normalised. Female and black and minority ethnic MPs are daily targets and the toxic Brexit debate is being used as an excuse (Batchelor & Merrick, 2019). It is particularly worrying when Ministers of the Crown join in, with sexist remarks, shouting and using violent language even in parliament. Women (and supportive men) are calling this out in public and social media, but it is not surprising that women’s participation in formal democratic structures is still so low 100 years after they won the vote. Misogyny and macho politics are effectively putting both our democracy and our equal rights at risk. How did we get here?
The Rise of Populism; How Populist Leaders are Highjacking Women’s Equality and Feminist Challenge Our discussions have increasingly focussed on the current state of political discourse and how issues where we thought there had been progress are increasingly questioned. So, for example, the rise in racist attacks following the referendum in 2016 and the increasing resistance to feminist ideas and notions of equal rights. This has been linked to the theory that the EU Referendum result was in large part due to a misplaced nostalgia and an ignorance of Britain’s imperial past, encouraged rather than challenged by the educational syllabus taught in UK schools. This approach has led to an entirely unrealistic view of our ability as a country to stand alone (Dorling & Tomlinson, 2019).
Towards Feminist Democracy 145 We have also discussed the role of social media and how we increasingly only listen to views that mirror our own and what impact that is having and will have on politics. The following is illustrated in one of our doorstep conversations whilst canvassing for recent EU parliamentary elections: Scene 1: A doorstep on an outer estate during the European Parliamentary elections. I voted leave and I want to leave. Why haven’t we left yet? They’re ignoring us they think they’re better than us, but we voted to leave and we’re going to. I voted to leave for my grandson he’s 17 they were going to conscript our kids into the European army – I saw it on Facebook. So, I voted for him. Scene 2: Another doorstep on a different but similar estate during the same election. I voted to stay. I wasn’t sure but my grandson sat me down and said I had to vote Remain for him so he could work abroad and travel – have a better chance of a job. Now it’s just a mess and I can only see it getting worse. Lots round here voted to leave I don’t know what good they thought it would do but they’re getting their wish now I tell them, and we’ll see what happens. The best interests of their families motivated both of the women in the above scenarios, both trusted the sources of the information that influenced them. We don’t know the sources that the grandson in Scene 2 drew on but we know that the information on Facebook in Scene 1 was entirely false and was probably targeted via sophisticated algorithms at people who would be likely to believe that this was possible without there having been a major debate or discussion on mainstream media and herein lies the challenge of populism. The act of holding the Brexit referendum, its result and the subsequent events all reflect these key challenges. Populism both led to the result and the result has encouraged the rise of populism – all of these at the expense of women and their interests and concerns.
Populism and the Roll Back of Women’s Rights The standard definition of populism is a political approach appealing to ordinary people who feel that established elites disregard their concerns. It taps into widespread grievances, creates divisions, and ridicules, devalues and ignores opposing voices including political opponents, journalists, NGOs and judges. Thorbjorn Jagland the Secretary General Council of Europe in a 2017 report on the State of Democracy, human rights and the rule of law; Populism - how strong are Europe’s checks and balances? comments on the way in which the rise in populism in some European states is suppressing the pluralism necessary for a fully functioning democracy.
146 Diane Bunyan et al. Those who proclaim ‘the will of the people’ in order to stifle opposition and dismantle checks and balances which stand in their way, challenge constitutional constraints and disregard international obligations to uphold human rights. (Council of Europe, 2017) Increasing income inequality, austerity policies and the migrant crisis have created a perfect storm for populism to rise in the UK as elsewhere in Europe. The recently formed Group of Women Leaders for Change and Inclusion have called attention to the rise of the ‘strongman mentality’ worldwide – Presidents Trump and Putin and Prime Ministers Johnson and Orban amongst them (Whiting, 2019). They have written an open letter3 in response to what they see as the deliberate rolling back of rights gained through the sacrifice and struggles of generations of women and calling on women leaders and their supporters to reject this (Lyons, 2019). There have been some gains in this regard including the results from the recent EU elections, but those who pursue clear populist, anti-women’sequality policies continue to thrive. The re-election of Prime Minister Orban in Hungary demonstrates the power of a clear populist agenda. On the back of a deliberate racist and xenophobic policy in the face of the arrival of refugees, Orban’s party have adopted a policy of promoting a kind of racial purity by encouraging the growth of the Hungarian population which was in decline. Spending on family policy has increased by 50% including £27,000 interest free loans given to families which don’t have to be repaid if they have three or more children, women who have four or more children do not pay income tax. Such measures have been introduced by other countries including a payment of £103 per month per child to Polish families, a policy which is credited as helping the Law and Justice Party to be re-elected. These policies combined with the tightening of abortion rights are a clear attack on women’s rights. The return to the ‘old fashioned’ values of family maintain the cultural stereotypes of women as care givers and men as breadwinners in contrast to the rising numbers of women in paid employment and higher education. It also serves to keep women out of power as they not only have to combat the stereotypical assumptions about a women’s place in society but also the lack of financial independence and this makes it much more difficult for women to access the power structures within political parties that select candidates and to become known to potential electors. In some of the Eastern European countries, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Serbia, for example, there has been a rise in the influence of Christian churches with their very traditional views on the role of women. In some, there have been challenges to introducing laws to combat violence against women on the grounds that this is a private issue for the family.
Group of women leaders for change and inclusion. Open Letter. Retrieved from https:// fp.brecorder.com/2019/03/20190301450845/. Accessed on May 20, 2020.
Towards Feminist Democracy 147 The UK is not immune from similar tactics. Stephen Hilton, David Cameron’s advisor, recommended that women’s rights to maternity leave should be suspended as a contribution to addressing austerity – as if women were not doing enough to bear the burden of that. Luckily this would have needed a change in UK law but would also have contravened EU law. However, the introduction of fees for Employment Tribunals for discrimination cases solved the problem for the government by drastically reducing the number of cases taken by those discriminated against in employment including pregnant and new mothers – until this policy was overturned by the Supreme Court following a legal challenge by UNISON. It is not that women are well protected by the legislation, research suggests that 77% of women have difficulty getting their full maternity rights.4 This is an ongoing theme, even where legislation exists. The UK Equality Act 2010 Public Sector Duty requires equality impact assessments (EqIAs) to be made of all policies prior to their being implemented, but they are increasingly ignored. For example, the requirement to do an EqIA on the proposed Brexit deal negotiated by Boris Johnson in October 2019 was fulfilled in a brief and derisory statement: The Public Sector Equality Duty requires that public bodies have due regard to advancing equality. The Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration will end the Article 50 process in an orderly way, ensuring that the Government is having due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations. These provisions have no undue effect on particular racial groups, income groups, gender groups, age groups, people with disabilities, or people with particular religious views. (European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, 7:5, para 320) In contrast, it took a report from outside the UK (UN, 2019) in 2018 to alert us to how far we had come in lowered expectations for mainstreaming women’s equality into government decision-making, and how accustomed to being marginalised as gender experts within EU research. We responded to this in our first podcast: MP How fabulous that the UN rapporteur on poverty named misogyny – and actually said that if a bunch of misogynists had come together to plot how to do women in they could not have done a better job … it was like a clarion call to me … I was astonished! LR He was v clear on it … no holds barred! MP He spelt it out in economic terms…
House of Commons Library (2017, March 15). Effect of maternity discrimination. Retrieved from https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/ CDP-2017-0084. Accessed on May 20, 2020.
148 Diane Bunyan et al. SM It was the fact it was so unusual and so significant in an official report when there is an assumption that gender inequality has been solved in some way …. We talk about the impact of austerity on women and a series of cuts … on women’s lives … on work … on low pay … but as an over-arching narrative this is very weak … we are a side line at the end of discussions … but when someone in a UN report says they could not have done a better job, making it explicit that this was a series of policies impacting on women in a very dramatic way … it makes a big noise! (Fair Play South West, 2018a, 2018b).
Feminist Fightback Right wing populist parties in Europe have developed their own hitherto unseen interest in women’s rights to serve their anti-immigrant stance, for example, Marie le Pen ‘I am scared that the migrant crisis signals the beginning of the end of women’s rights’ (Chrisafis, 2017; Shevchenko, 2017). The notorious example of the attacks on women in Cologne and Hamburg during the New Year celebration in 2015 was presented as being due to immigrants when the vast majority of attacks on German women, including domestic violence are carried out by German men. In the UK since the referendum on Brexit, we have witnessed a rise in attacks on migrants, immediately after the election visibly different people, especially BAME communities were told they had to go home now. Most recently, there has been an increase in attacks and harassment of Eastern European children in schools. There are examples of groups working against populism. For example: In Switzerland Operation Libero has been winning key victories. They did this by taking on the populists at their own game by reframing the debate and using basic values, such as justice for all and the rule of law, positively against the populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) that was running a series of increasingly anti-immigrant and nationalist referenda. They use engaging and positive messaging and look at the constructive messages to tackle the problems being identified not those that are destructive. They also use identifiable, real examples to make their points. Their key message is the need to be accurate, honest and understandable and in this way they have delivered major successes against predictions. (Henley, 2019). However, this would not be easy. In a recent speech Gordon Brown spoke of ‘the unravelling of a community of mutual interests, common purposes and shared ideals’ (Brown, 2019). This may be true on a broader, national level and certainly what the populists have been working to achieve: the metropolitan elite, the ‘they’ of the first scenario, Theresa May’s citizens of nowhere against those
Towards Feminist Democracy 149 who are based firmly somewhere. This has been exploited massively in the Brexit debate. Those who have been most adversely affected by austerity have to be convinced that there are others who are doing well, not of course the bankers who were the real gainers, but immigrants, London and big cities. This is matched by a demonisation of those who were perceived to have voted to leave the EU, who are called racist, stupid and self-destructive. In May Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, gave the game away when he said without ‘Facebook and other forms of social media there is no way that Brexit or Trump or the Italian elections could ever possibly have happened’ (di Stefano, Lytvynenko, & Mack, 2018). The UK electoral law is not geared up to deal effectively with this assault on our democracy. Painstaking work by investigative journalists such as Carole Cadwalladr unearthed the way in which Facebook harvested information to target specific voters with specific messages in the Brexit Referendum (Cadwalldr, 2019). The Electoral Commission found breaches of spending in the referendum by the pro-Brexit campaign and the Information Commissioner levied fines for misuse of data but in an era of big money influencing politics this is no longer much of a deterrent. Indeed, it is now hardly ever mentioned in the discourse about the people having spoken and their views needing to be respected. Democracy will be further undermined if the proposal is passed that electors must produce photo ID in order to vote. 3.5 million citizens in England, Wales and Scotland have no photo ID and without the access to free provision which exists in Northern Ireland many, particularly the poorest, will be unable to exercise their right to vote. Increasingly, we have been coming to the view that we need a radical review of our institutions and radical democratic reform. There are many suggestions including; a constitutional convention to examine the democratic deficit between the four nations and the regions within the UK; citizens assemblies modelled on those which consider difficult issues such as abortion rights and gay marriage in the Irish Republic; more devolution of power to local level including participatory budgeting of even an element of the local budget such has been adopted in Paris; a written constitution instead of the mixture of legislation and precedent that currently exists. The Equality Act 2010, defines nine ‘protected characteristics’: Everyone in Britain is protected. This is because the Equality Act protects people against discrimination because of the protected characteristics that we all have. Under the Equality Act, there are nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation. (Equality and Human Rights Commission) The challenge for us as feminists is to make sure that whatever emerges does address women’s specific interests and experience, enables and encourages women’s participation, and addresses the intersections between the nine protected characteristics defined in the Equality Act 2010.
150 Diane Bunyan et al. But how might this be achieved – in the context of a populist UK government and the loss of a counterbalancing EU policy environment?
Doing Feminist Democracy Now: Feminist Leadership The UK has very centralised decision-making, even with the devolved powers for the Scottish Government and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies. Local government has had its power and funding repeatedly diminished. The establishment in England of Local Enterprise Partnerships with no democratic mandate and some combined authorities with elected mayors has not helped the situation; although these bodies have considerable public funding, they have little public profile or engagement. The UK never implemented the concept of subsidiarity, the general principle of European Law that social and political decisions should be taken at the most local level possible. Centralism itself is the essence of populism and leads to even more dissociation from politics. This is compounded of course by the fact that the more powerful the political body the fewer women are represented on it at decision-making level. An earlier feminist Mary Follett would have understood why Trump was elected and why the British voted for Brexit; she understood political disaffection in working class communities and believed that politics should be anchored in everyday life (Tonn, 2003). In the 1900s, she challenged representative democracy and cronyism in the United States and said that people needed to be involved in democracy, and not to be mere ‘voting fodder’. However, she was neither a populist nor naive about the difficulties involved in devolved democratic relationships, which she recognised as demanding leadership, perseverance and negotiation. Follett is relevant today not just because she was probably the first to define participative democracy but also because she outlined how it was possible to achieve it. In ‘The New State’ she wrote ‘Representative Democracy has failed … and democracy should be a genuine union of individuals … a living democracy’ (Follett, 1918, pp. 199–200). Importantly, she also believed that participation itself was motivating and that the obstacles women faced in politics were the same as the barriers to suffrage, political reform and social change, something feminists rediscovered from involvement in the 1970s women’s movement. Despite the hostility to female authority there are progressive women who have taken up leadership roles in government in public institutions and in political life that everyone can learn from (Maddock, 2009). These women are leading in new ways that reward and encourage collaboration, promote participation and are transforming services and communities through new models of enterprise investment in social infrastructure. Yet, rarely is there any acknowledgement of the role of feminists in transforming public sector management or change strategies in communities (Maddock, 1999, 2020). It is women who have most to gain from investment in social infrastructure and who feel the impact of public service cuts, endure low-paid work and care for dependents. Hardly surprising then, that women are at the forefront of leading social change, and increasingly visible in executive, community and political roles in the public sector.
Towards Feminist Democracy 151 Within the UK, Brexit has reinforced the political and economic belief that investment in physical and digital infrastructure is necessary for business, whilst investment in social infrastructure is ignored as a cost to the taxpayer and unnecessary. This belief is perpetuated by the media and is strong in the UK. Feminist researchers are playing a leading role in challenging this model. Scale matters. It is in small countries such as New Zealand, Finland and Iceland that radical and feminist leaders are elected as president, prime minister and mayor. Often women’s leadership is strongest at the very local level which is where alternative economies are emerging5 (Maddock, 2020). It is not insignificant that the most transformative mayors are women. For instance two radical women mayors in Spain, Ada Colau leader of the housing movement in Barcelona and Manuela Carmena ex-judge in Madrid, are transforming relationships between citizens and local government, revitalising local democracy by involving communities in housing and development campaigns. In the UK, there are also many women leaders such as Donna Hall in Wigan who are redefining new settlements for the people between citizens and the state and transforming local services and local government. Municipalisation is also emerging in smaller towns in the UK when groups of independent politicians are in the process of taking over Town Councils. In South Devon in 2020, there are seven local town councils led by progressive independents, many of them women. Unfortunately, feminist leadership, city transformation and small country independence is less welcome where the national government’s economic policies endorse a neo-liberal growth model at the expense of local people and business. Powerful narratives justifying the growth model remain strong in most governments and the media and also in many larger cities, companies and countries. The combination of the growth model and the current dominance of international companies and authoritarian, male leaders is toxic and is undermining democracies, exploiting countries, distorting local economies and thwarting the innovation of transformative women leaders. Fair Play SW and the Women’s Budget Group suggest that women’s transformative leadership plays a critical role in carving out a socio-economic model that values participative democracy, social infrastructure and sustainable economies. Feminist economists such as Klein (2019), and Pettifor (2019) and many others are calling for a New Green Deal to tackle the Climate Emergency and are in tune with those local leaders who are transforming the local economy with better services, community wealth and supply chains. The innovation for future governance is coming from feminist women leaders. Inspiring women are transforming communities, revitalising local democracy and increasingly visible in executive, community and political roles in the public sector.
Henley, J. (2019). Change the narrative: how a Swiss group is beating right-wing populists. The Guardian, April 7. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/ world/2019/apr/07/we-had-to-fight-operation-libero-the-swiss-youth-group-takingon-populism
152 Diane Bunyan et al.
Channels of Transnational Influence Post-Brexit Within the UK, women in parliamentary, judiciary and independent roles have taken a lead in resisting attempts to shut down parliamentary debate on leaving the EU, and in protecting equality within the withdrawal agreement. But have we over relied on EU resources, equality policy and enforcement mechanisms through the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to compensate for shortcomings and outright opposition to equality law and regulation by our own governments? Have we, we asked ourselves, become over dependent on these external mechanisms and resources and are we seeing the consequences now? What are the pathways of influence open to us in a context where we are unlikely to be seated at the table as full members of the EU, and active participants in creating a policy environment fit for women and supporting the contribution and leadership of women in our diverse communities? In conversation with Clare Moody, former MEP for the SW of England, we explored these issues and what pathways within European and transnational institutions will be open to us if we lose our membership of the EU (Fair Play South West, 2019). In the following extract from our conversation, we return to our theme of what we have gained in our EU membership and what we will miss when we leave. JL: What are the routes for women influencing policy making at the moment and what might be available in the future – if we end up leaving the EU? CM: One of the things that struck me when I went to the European Parliament when first elected was the existence of a specific committee involved in making legislation – the Gender Equality Committee (FEMM). The Committee would give a gender specific opinion on legislation, also the women on that committee could take their expertise into other committees. For example, this was how I was able to actively promote gender budgeting in the work of the EU – both through the FEMM committee but also through my membership of the Budget Committee. And one of the things we are losing is that it was the European funds that gave us that possibility. Gender budgeting is not ingrained in UK politics in the way that it is in the EU politics. What we need to do is what we have always done, raise our voices and see how the great work on gender budgeting that’s being done in the UK can achieve a similar legislative status as in EU. MP: Do you see differences in Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland in this respect? Scotland have incorporated CEDAW into their legislation and Wales are considering mechanisms for Gender Mainstreaming at governmental level. CM: Yes – all leaders of main Scottish parties are women, and in the Welsh administration representation is 50/50. And we have another
Towards Feminist Democracy 153 issue we need to resolve in England which is a lack of devolution. What is devolved is very limited and variable in different regions. Scotland and Wales are achieving and making a difference with that and England needs to try and pull its socks up! JL: Have we got lazy as EU members and become over dependent on EU for resources, mechanisms for having a voice for influence and legislation? One of the first things the UK coalition government did (2010) was to abolish the Women’s National Commission. Are we still going to be able to influence the EU, in how we are affected by trading relationships for example? MP: Can we still be members of the EWL, like Scotland? Is this a route to policy influence? CM: Yes there are organisations that are not strictly part of the EU and we can still be part of them. We can have influence through our feminist connections who then work with their MEPs and the Commission who have the ability to work on legislation etc – but this is not a formal mechanism for us to feed into. We will have to work twice as hard to deliver what we did previously as of right. We have a lot of the experience around this table, these are the things we will able to share with our sisters in the EU, it is very much about needing to reach out and into these organisations and bring something to them to them to help shape EU legislation, potentially. JL: The EU have a written constitution into which they could write equality as a value … the UK has none so we have to do it through other routes … I was interested in your saying that there is a likelihood that there may be a rethink in the constitution and that comes to the heart of our argument on feminist democracy … how can we ensure that could be in a reformed constitution? CM: If we get to a point because of the crisis in our constitution right now then we can start looking at engaging, that is the point where we have to be ready with a thought through feminist agenda as part of a reformed constitution – but not immediately. DB: Equality was a founding principle of the EU, but what’s the point of our equality legislation if it’s ignored? The Equality Act either may as well not exist, or it is used to undermine women and put obstacles in their way. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is in disarray too, its draft guidance on Sexual Harassment in the workplace do not even mention women! CM: I am deeply concerned at an attitude in the EU, that we’ve done gender, box ticked … and its concerning there are not great signs of progress. JL: Where are our efforts best placed now? My big question is, how can we make most direct impact through international routes, such as CEDAW? the G7? or should we now concentrate on direct routes and Westminster to make a more
154 Diane Bunyan et al. direct influence in the UK? What would that look like? Will there be an opportunity for feminists to build in our concerns if there is a rethink of our constitution? ‘feminist democracy’? DB: We need to use the Council of Europe because that’s open to every country in Europe. That is going to be the route to keep equality and to have a legislative view that is external to the UK for defending through the Court of Human Rights all that is going to be under threat, Gender Mainstreaming, Gender Budgeting and all the constitutional issues that are so vital to us. If we cease to be a signatory of the Human Rights Convention, we would cease to be members of the Council of Europe. Theresa May when she was Prime Minister tried to pull us out and was opposed by Members of Parliament. All of that is so vital. JL How is the Council of Europe different to the EU? DB: It was founded after the war to bring all countries of Europe together – all geographical Europe. British lawyers were instrumental in putting the Human Rights Convention together – including Winston Churchill. There is Power of Enforcement of the Human Rights Convention via the courts in the UK; The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) at Strasbourg is the final arbiter of human rights decisions, then they are delivered back to the UK. This has been important for legal cases for example on abortion in Northern Ireland, for asylum seekers, and on disability rights. CM: The ECJ was the means for huge development of women’s employment rights. I was involved in part time workers getting pension funds from which 10s of 1,000s of women who were part time workers had previously been excluded. The ECJ ruled that illegal. We won’t lose this ECJ case law as it is now case law in UK. But we will lose on any development and because of the lack of enforcement I am unsure how far we will get without the ECJ. MP: Despite a legal duty to promote women’s equality introduced in 2008, strong legislation, there has been a loss of narrative and commitment to promoting and implementing women’s equality in this country, as well as within the EU. How can we address that, without access to the EU legal frameworks and policy networks to call our government to account? CM: It was part of the privilege of having the role of MEP that I was able to have a voice and work on the issues that address gender. It’s why I am sad about not having the role and I’m very sad about what is happening in this country. It goes back to our having to work harder to push and to redefine the narrative. We are pushing against the tide now which is deeply depressing. We have to refight old battles that I thought were in the bag and we would always just reach a little further ahead and now we have to start a little further back than I hoped.
Towards Feminist Democracy 155 CM: A ray of hope is that I think the word feminism is back in fashion, something people are proudly stating again. I think having umbrella narratives like feminism, gender equality and gender mainstreaming are important but equally then taking up the individual issues as well. I think we do need to re-establish the principle of specific organisations to promote Gender Equality. We need structural mechanisms that re-establish the principle of a specific voice for women in democratic processes, so there is an official channel that individual campaigns feed into through devolution or constitutional reform, so they have an official role, not just us self-organising, then we campaign on single specific issues. JL: I did some research about what’s made a difference to women right back to suffragettes – a huge amount had to be done by disruption … grass roots uprisings – the strike actions – and more recently the success of things like the tampon tax – through disruption on social media … it’s a debate in my mind whether we as a campaigning organisation, FPSW, should focus on ‘raising the groundswell’ or influencing through structures? Should we try and do both? We have been talking a lot recently about how we can strengthen the feminist narrative, focus on how women contribute to society and what women are doing now to influence if not the country at least their local environment. We know of places where women are leading change in their localities. CM: Its of deep concern to me … the lack of women coming forward for mayoral elections for example, it has to be addressed, the system is clearly not working at the moment. DB: We’ve just been asked by a group of women in Manchester to tell them how we’ve set up Bristol Women’s Commission (https:// www.bristolwomensvoice.org.uk/bristol-womens-commission/) and how that operates in Bristol because they want something similar as they are completely lacking in any women in the Northern Powerhouse for example there … you only hear male voices. Probably a woman doing the work for them but still its good …. JL: In Bristol the establishment of Bristol Women’s Commission was almost an accident. It caught the mayor unawares! The mayor was persuaded by feminist activists to sign up to the European Charter for the Equality of Women and Men in Local Life (Council of Europe). That was hugely useful and powerful BUT it’s hard work! it’s a small number of us women volunteers commenting on strategy after strategy that always say nothing about equality or women or social issues at all – you wonder what you have to do to make it a cultural imperative that nobody in the city would think of writing a strategy that mentions that half the population is women? MP: It is just so depressing that after decades of our work as equality experts and policy advisors that this is still the case!
156 Diane Bunyan et al. CM: The business case has been made again and again. The evidence exists that return on investment on childcare is better than roads … but that needs someone to argue for that …. DB: Its back to that tension between that populist view of what can be afforded in a recession … women in the home is what we want – then we don’t have to pay for ‘their’ childcare, you push all that back onto individuals rather than it being a state thing, and that is part of the populist narrative …. I think we are at quite an important cusp economically but also socially and that we are at quite a moment in terms of which way the country goes. CM: I completely agree that we are at a balancing point right now and that’s why shaping the narrative has got to be part of the work we do.
Conclusion Putting this chapter together through collaborative discussion and writing has been an interesting and challenging process. Through it, we have attempted to take stock of what we will lose as feminist activists when we are no longer members of the EU. The EU has provided a policy environment and resources for feminists to organise, to develop policy and directives that have informed and shaped our legislation in the UK and enabled us to call our government to account. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that legislation and mechanisms cannot on their own protect women’s equality; they are empty words without the content and will to act provided by feminist leadership and activism. In our conversations and in this chapter, we have come full circle, beginning with the role of women MPs, independent activists and judges in defending democratic process in parliament, then discussing the challenges of how to campaign in the context of populist cultures. During the Brexit debate, women in leadership roles have called out misogynist attacks, abuse and physical threats, and demonstrated how toxic masculinist political cultures have undermined and devalued evidence-based knowledge as a basis for policy and governance. Internationally, feminist women and grass roots movements are challenging populist cultures, government and policy initiatives and demonstrating that direct action is effective as a way of defending democracy and countering racism and misogyny. In our discussion with our former MEP, we attempted to review the impact of our loss of direct access to formal mechanisms and structures for women to have a voice within the EU, and for gender mainstreaming. We discussed whether alternative international mechanisms might replace these and conclude that whilst there are some such as CEDAW, and the legal redress offered by the Court of Human Rights and Council of Europe, these in no way replace the direct access to policy making and resources for feminist organising and research afforded by our EU membership. Whilst the European Court of Human Rights provides an external source that can be relied upon to protect our equality legislation, this cannot replace being part of development of case law afforded by the European Court of Justice. Brexit has brought to public attention the shortcomings of how our democracy works and the structures and processes that support it. We have focussed on
Towards Feminist Democracy 157 the loss to women’s equality that Brexit will bring, and this has raised the question of our dependence on EU legal and policy mechanisms to promote our equality, resource our participation and to protect our equal rights. This loss to women’s equality has been hidden from public view, and despite our best efforts it has not been part of public debate on our EU membership. The Brexit debate has drawn attention to the differences in women’s participation in the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales and their different relationships to the EU, explored in further detail in Chapter 5. There is hope in women’s high level of participation and leadership in the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales, and the incorporation into these governments of gender mainstreaming principles. There is also hope in women’s leadership, in smaller more devolved governments, in community initiatives, social enterprises and in feminist campaigns. Brexit has brought us to a tipping point; this brings challenge, and may offer opportunity, as well as risk and danger. The challenge will be to feminise and to strengthen our internal democratic processes, and alongside this to extend and preserve our transnational feminist connections, to draw upon and to contribute to strengthening international feminism in the context of populist political cultures. The opportunity will be to strengthen our independent activist feminist roots, to assert the social and economic value of women’s contribution and leadership, to challenge head on the masculinist neoliberal narratives associated with ‘getting Brexit done’, and to reassert a notion of social democracy with feminism at its core. We conclude by returning to the need to feminise our own democracy, and to promote women’s feminist leadership and contribution to society. We are tired of the narrative of disadvantage and want to promote a narrative that recognises and values the contribution women are already making to the social economy, as leaders, activists and citizens. It will be a priority to engage with processes of constitutional reform that have been identified through the Brexit process. However, legislation and policy alone do not guarantee progress for women. We acknowledge the disturbing erosion of feminist content in government equality advisory bodies and the rise of misogyny in populist political culture. Legislation is only as good as its implementation and the resources available to women to use it. Feminist activism, leadership and organisation and willingness to ‘disrupt’ and to challenge the status quo has and will always be key to advancing and promoting women’s full and equal participation in democracy and the wellbeing of society.
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158 Diane Bunyan et al. Brown, G. (2019). Fabian Society speech: Gordon Brown on combatting the far-right. Fabian Society, June 25. Retrieved from https://fabians.org.uk/fabian-societyspeech-gordon-brown-on-combatting-the-far-right/. Accessed on May 20, 2020. Cadwalldr, C. (2019). Facebook’s role in Brexit-and the threat to democracy. TED Talk 2019. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/carole_cadwalladr_facebook_s_ role_in_brexit_and_the_threat_to_democracy?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_ medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomsh. Accessed on May 20, 2020. Chrisafis, A. (2017). Marine le Pen. ‘We feel very close to her’: Can ‘fake feminist’ Marine Le Pen win the female vote? The Guardian, March 18. Retrieved from https://www. theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/18/front-national-anger-marine-le-pen-femalesupporters. Accessed on May 20, 2020. di Stefano, M., Lytvynenko, J., & Mack, R. (2018). Nigel Farage just credited Mark Zuckerberg for Trump and Brexit. Buzzfeed News, May 22. Retrieved from https:// www.buzzfeednews.com/article/markdistefano/nigel-farage-thanked-zuckerbergfor-brexit. Accessed on September 25, 2020. Dorling, D., & Tomlinson, S. (2019). Rule Britannia: Brexit and the end of Empire. London: Biteback Publishing. Equality and Diversity Forum. (2018). EDF Briefing on the EU Withdrawal Bill. Retrieved from https://www.equallyours.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/EDF-briefingEU-Withdrawal-Bill-HoC-June2018-final.pdf. Accessed on May 20.2020. Equality and Human Rights Commission. Your rights under the Equality Act 2010. Retrieved from https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/ your-rights-under-equality-act-2010#who. Accessed on May 23, 2020. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, 7:5, para 320. Retrieved from https://assets. publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/ file/841245/EU_Withdrawal_Agreement_Bill_Impact_Assessment.pdf. Accessed on May 23, 2020. Fair Play South West. Manifesto. Retrieved from https://www.fairplaysouthwest.org.uk/ resources/59-manifesto-2019. Accessed on May 23, 2020. Fair Play South West. (2018a, April). The impact on UK women of leaving the EU: Gender equality in a Brexit environment. Briefing for the TUC South West Brexit workshop. Retrieved from https://www.fairplaysouthwest.org.uk/images/TUC_SW_Brexit_ workshop_JL.pdf. Accessed on May 20, 2020. Fair Play South West. (2018b). Misogyny says UN rapporteur on UK poverty. Fair Play South West podcast. Retrieved from https://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/ id/7762043. Accessed on May 20, 2020. Fair Play South West. (2019). Clare Moody discusses Brexit and women’s influence with Fair Play South West. Retrieved from https://www.fairplaysouthwest.org.uk/ resources/53-latest-fair-play-sw-podcast-is-published-october-2019. Accessed on May 20, 2020. Follett, M. P. (1918). The new state: Group organization, the solution of popular government. New York, NY: Longmans, Green. Klein, N. (2019). On Fire: The burning case for a green new deal. London: Allen Lane. Lyons, K. (2019). Rise of the ‘strongman’: Dozens of female world leaders warn women’s rights being eroded. The Guardian, February 28. Retrieved from https://www. theguardian.com/politics/2019/feb/28/rise-of-the-strongman-dozens-of-femaleworld-leaders-warn-womens-rights-being-eroded. Accessed on May 20, 2020. Maddicott, R. J. (2010). The origins of the English parliament (pp. 924–1327). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Maddock, S. (1999). Challenging women, gender, innovation and change. London: Sage. Maddock, S. (2009). Gender still matters and impacts on public value, innovation and the public reform process. Public Policy and Administration, 24(2), 137–148.
Towards Feminist Democracy 159 Maddock, S. (2020). Feminist leaders are forging sustainable places and economies. Compass. Retrieved from https://www.compassonline.org.uk/feminist-leaders-areforging-sustainable-places-and-economies/. Accessed on May 20, 2020. Miller, G. (2019). Gina Miller: How I won against the government-and what you can do next. The Guardian, December 7. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/ books/2019/dec/07/gina-miller-how-i-defeated-the-government-over-closingparliament. Accessed on May 20, 2020. O’Grady, S. (2019). The Tory manifesto is a sign of things to come: An elected dictator who will scrap our democracy. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/ voices/tory-manifesto-conservative-boris-johnson-dictator-general-electionbrexit-a9216861.html Pettifor, A. (2019). The case for the green new deal. London: Verso. Shevchenko, I. (2017). Marine Le Pen is a fake feminist: She exploits women’s rights to fuel her racist agenda. The International Business Times, March 30. Retrieved from https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/marine-le-pen-fake-feminist-she-exploits-womens-rightsfuel-her-racist-agenda-1610485. Accessed on May 20, 2020. The Council of Europe. (2017). State of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Retrieved from https://edoc.coe.int/en/an-overview/7345-pdf-state-of-democracyhuman-rights-and-the-rule-of-law.html. Accessed on May 20, 2020. Tonn, J. (2003). Mary P. Follett: Creating democracy, transforming management. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. UN. (2019). Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. New York, NY: UN Human Rights Council. Retrieved from https://undocs.org/A/HRC/41/39/ Adlciad.1. Accessed on May 20, 2020. Whiting, K. (2019). Female leaders warn about erosion of rights. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/02/female-leaders-warnabout-the-erosion-of-women-s-rights/. Accessed on May 20, 2020. Women’s Budget Group. (2018). Exploring the economic impact of Brexit on women. Retrieved from https://wbg.org.uk/analysis/new-report-exploring-the-economicimpact-of-brexit-on-women/. Accessed on May 20, 2020.
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Everything has Changed and Nothing has Changed: Glimpses of Utopian and Dystopian Futures Sue Cohen and Margaret Page
When we started out on this book, we were a small group of women working together in cafes and on kitchen tables, and out and about at meetings debating the potential for feminist democracy in a Brexit environment. As we end this book, we continue the debate on Zoom, social distancing in a political environment that has totally transformed. Already we, and the rest of the world are in the grip of a global crisis. A previously unknown virus named Covid-19 has catapulted all of us into lockdown, in a landscape which is unknown territory, in which we have no maps, and in which we listen to news of a daily death toll along with confusing exhortations from Westminster government first to stay indoors in order to save lives and our NHS/ and then to go back to work and ‘stay alert’. At this moment in time Covid-19 has replaced Brexit, and climate change, as the all-consuming preoccupation in social media and news reports. Yet negotiations favouring a hard Brexit continue, behind closed doors, without parliamentary scrutiny, whilst our attention is directed elsewhere. Survival of the individual, in the context of collective responsibility, the balance between care for the economy and care for health, have become all-consuming topics of discussion. This has opened up unexpected opportunities to engage in debate about the kind of world that we would like to inhabit. The world described now in social media and public discourse is painted in vivid contrasting colours. Not only is the nationalist rhetoric unleashed by Brexit, in which we were urged to ‘take back control’, off the agenda at this moment in time, but we are now encouraged to accept that the government is doing its best in an uncontrollable and uncertain future. Despite the years of austerity, justified by the spurious claim for the need to balance the books, our neo-liberal government has magically discovered Keynesian inspired sources of funding, now being dispensed on an unprecedented scale in order to protect the economy and our National Health Service.
Feminist Activists on Brexit: From the Political to the Personal, 161–170 Copyright © 2021 by Emerald Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved doi:10.1108/978-1-80043-420-220210014
162 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page In this new landscape, health and social care workers, the majority of whom are women and people from BAME communities, and who are the very people targeted by austerity and the hostile environment, are viewed as heroes and heroines, saviours to be celebrated on media and in weekly street-by-street applause. It seems that the gender-neutral discourse of Brexit has been replaced in social media by one that unmasks the unequal class, sex, race, disability and age impact of Covid-19, and have made these inequalities subjects of investigation (Badshah, 2020; Public Health England, 2020). It is as if our chapters, authored in a previous political era, have been unearthed from a place where they have been concealed, like the testimonies of key players in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian Gilead (2019). Yet in real terms everything has changed, and nothing has changed. Health and care workers remain unprotected, with inadequate equipment and unreliable testing; domestic violence during lockdown continues to rise, in this country and globally; and women and BAME communities are as ever, disproportionately impacted by day-to-day management of the home, the health crisis, loss of income, and loss of childcare (Fawcett, 2020; Women’s Budget Group, 2020). Critiques of the government’s systemic failures in controlling Covid-19 abound. Such failures do not bode well for the management of our exit from the European Union. ‘Taking back control’ is looking more than ever like Brexit bluster. It is as if the underlying dynamics of power, obscured in Brexit debates by ideologically driven rhetoric, have been unmasked and laid bare for all to see. Pre-existing dynamics of power and inequality have been amplified, just as they were as a result of Brexit, but this time in a context that we did not predict, and in which the future is uncertain. We know that government management of the crisis created by Covid-19 is exacerbating inequalities already endemic to our society, ‘posing immediate and long-term threats to women’s lives, economic security, safety and equality’ (Engender Briefing, 2020; Women’s Budget Group, 2020). At the same time, we hear of collective acts of kindness, of sacrifice, and care and of new and developing forms of mutual aid and solidarity that stand in contrast to the ever-increasing centralisation of the executive. Within this turbulent context, we are also witnessing an outpouring of hope that after the lockdown we will create a greener, equal and more caring society in which well-being for all will be core to the economy and that we will live more harmoniously in the natural world (see e.g. Klein, 2020; Lister, 2020; Pettifor, 2020; Solnit, 2020). Incongruously, it seems these visions of hope and possibility are sustained by the time it is taking to find a reliable vaccine. We are told we will need to emerge from lockdown to a ‘new normal’ as the virus will be with us for some time. But will this ‘new normal’ extend to paying health and care workers a decent wage and better working conditions? Will the ‘new normal’ welcome migrants and refugees, and enable them to participate fully in society? Will it protect women from domestic violence and sexual abuse? Will it value and resource women’s economic independence and social contribution? Will it encourage and value women’s leadership? Feminists may be positioned at a moment in history for us to seize opportunities for shaping the ‘new normal’ post-lockdown, in ways that could not be forged
Everything has Changed and Nothing has Changed 163 when leaving the European Union. How might our ‘testimony’ of living through the process of leaving the EU inform our political agency now? How can we make more visible existing initiatives by women leading change within heterogeneous movements and coalitions, and create more spaces for engagement in local diverse communities? It is our hope that you the reader will find ways to ‘translate’ learning from our contributors into this new political context.
Subverting Populism – Heterogeneous Women’s Movements The contributors to this book have in their different ways shone light on how heterogeneous women’s movements in very different settings are attempting to further women’s participation in democratic processes and actions. We see in their contributions a glimpse of the world they are striving to create, intersectionally and in different nations of the UK. In our Introduction, and in Chapters 1, 2 and 8, we situate these movements in a wider context of progressive movements contesting populism and defending the rights of women, migrants and refugees throughout Europe. Populism thrives on the emotive but not on the engagement of the heart and the head, the head and the heart, a constant flow of energy that informs emancipatory beliefs, political knowledge and actions (Cohen, 2000). Populism thrives on division and fissure, but promotes false hopes to the dispossessed on the basis of illusion and othering. The task of women’s movements is to reshape the narratives of othering, to come together, overcome divisions, share ambitions, experiences, knowledge and understandings; create time and space in the Freirean tradition (2001/1972) to reflect upon the world in order to transform it; and take action. In Chapter 3, Susanna Giullari, Moestak Hussein, Negat Hussein, Tove Samzelius and Sue Cohen reference the Single Parent Action Network (SPAN) UK, where they took collective action to fight poverty, racism and discrimination at local, national and EU levels. Rather than a scenario that began with the personal, and led to the ‘personal is political’, Brexit led them to take the journey in reverse – by examining how changes in the external political environment have reconstructed their subjectivities. Together they unravel from their personal experiences of migration, a shared sense of the fluidity of their identities, rejecting the fixed identity of ‘other’ that Brexit sought to impose on them. Single Parent Action Network could be said to have developed a form of ‘rooted cosmopolitanism’, a social movement concept that embodies ‘multiple belongings and flexible identities working within the structure of complex internationalism’, linking the domestic with the international (della Porta, 2005, p. 240). Rooted cosmopolitanism has potency in our view for transformational feminism post-Covid-19 and post-Brexit. Rather than model ways of working, the very essence of the social movements researched by della Porta, are their ‘constant becoming’ (della Porta, 2005, p. 198), heterogeneous rather than homogenous. There is a fluidity about women’s movements that can come together in common cause, whilst at the same time being separately empowered by and focussed on different communities of interest as Negat Hussein unravels in Chapter 3, referencing Refugee Women of Bristol alongside the Single Parent Action Network. The struggles of minority women can too easily be subsumed in generic women’s
164 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page movements that further marginalise the marginalised. Black and minority ethnic women are forging their own spaces, determining their own ambitions, expanding their networks, developing strategies that disrupt racialised hegemony ‘in new creative and subversive ways’ (Bassel & Emejulu, 2018, p. 121). Many of our authors speak of the rising tide of ideologically driven political aggression stoked up by nationalist, populist, misogynist and racist rhetoric (Chapters 1, 2, 4, 6, and 8). This has continued to rise whilst we have been writing this book. Nationalism and populism are eroding solidarity within the EU. Under pressure of mass migration, and the rapid escalation of Covid-19 there are signs of political fragmentation and an escalation of nationalist rhetoric. Women’s reproductive rights and sexuality continue to be a target for populist leaders, and organised violence by right wing groups against women and minority populations has become a feature of life within all EU member states. Progressive movements are aggressively opposed by hostile grass roots movements, orchestrated by populist patriarchal right wing forces who are exploiting insecurities and uncertain futures caused by economic crisis and loss of confidence in democratic institutions. Growing concerns within EU member states about citizens’ control over the state and its policies are exploited within campaigns against ‘gender ideology’ and ‘Europeanisation’ (Rawłuszko, 2019). These insecurities provide fertile ground for conservative forces intent on undermining gender equality and human rights within EU members states (European Parliament, 2018), just as they provided fertile ground for the proBrexit campaign (Chapter 1). We are seeing a struggle between progressive social movements and populist counter movements for control of the term ‘gender’ that is global in scope, (Corredor, 2019). This highlights the need for transnational alongside local and national channels of influence to defend and promote women’s intersectional equal rights, and draws attention to what we have lost now that we no longer have access to ‘EU resources and scope of influence (Chapter 8). Several authors have spoken of the noticeable absence of women in debates and negotiations on the Withdrawal Bill; the difficulties they experienced in gaining a hearing in misogynist and racist political cultures, and the toll taken on their emotional and physical safety. In their shared conversations in Chapter 8, co-authors speak of how female and BAME MPs drew parallels between the escalation of threats of violence following the MP Jo Cox’s murder, and the escalation of sexist and racist threats they had experienced following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s anti-migrant and sexist language during the Brexit campaign. The Prime Minister dismissed their claims as ‘humbug’. Feminist pro-Remain campaigners in Chapter 6 speak of the difficulty, even within pro-Remain campaigns, of gaining a hearing. They speak of the emotional impact of doing political work in this context: Clearly, there have been extreme and at times, life-changing consequences of resisting Brexit so I want to give weight here to the affective reality of doing this work. Constantly feeling attacked, anxious and on the back foot has produced different emotional responses for different women.
Everything has Changed and Nothing has Changed 165 Women’s democratic engagement demands courage and support within communities of solidarity that recognise the risks and affective realities of doing this work. It is easy to forget this, as we try to make the case for women’s equality with evidence-based, well-argued reasoned debate. In Chapter 2, we co-authors demonstrate the emotional toll of speaking out in politically controlling cultures, and of how we were sustained within communities of activism and feminist solidarity, and through the process of journaling. Art, music and poetry also nourished and held us - enabling the aesthetic unravelling of political paradoxes and personal resistance that disturb and subvert. In Chapter 4, we see how Jane Speedy combines poetry and art to such effect. Heterogeneous women’s movements are taking different forms. In chapter 1 we refer to an upsurge in feminist organising within the EU, and globally, focussed on defending sex based women’s rights, making sexual violence and abuse visible and calling to account political leaders and prominent male figures in public life. Strong local grass roots movements continue to spring up led by minority women challenging racism and discrimination in all its forms. These movements that can start off independently and then join together organically are asserting progressive values that serve to counter nationalist rhetoric promoted by populist political leadership. Perhaps one of the more hopeful shifts and changes in the post-Covid-19 crisis will be that the groundswell in support of those who care for our collective health and the day-to-day running of our transport systems, food supplies, postage and community infrastructures, lays bare the racialised divisions and populist lies furthered by the Brexit political class within working class communities; that the demographic differences that so divided the country over the Referendum have the potential to be redrawn; that the links between disenfranchised communities become more evident, locally, nationally and globally.
Spaces of Power Janet Newman (2012) developed the concept of ‘working the spaces of power’, to explore the ‘strained relationship between political activism and neo-liberal forms of rule, and how this relationship is mediated by gendered labour’ (Newman, 2012, p. 2). In conversation with four generations of feminist activists who were working to promote equality in a variety of contexts, she reflects on how far it was possible to hold true to visions of feminist equality whilst working within constraints imposed by organisational and political accountabilities. We suggest that this concept of ‘working’ spaces of power is a useful one for feminist activists post-Brexit. In putting this book together, we intended to consider what we could learn from contributors speaking from a variety of contexts about the prospects and possibilities for political agency within our current neo-liberal structures of power. Rather than one single model, as we suggest in our introduction there are and will be ‘multiple struggles and sites of resistance’ (Bryson, 1992, p. 253). Feminist democracy in a post-Brexit environment will require heterogeneous activism running alongside newly established structural mechanisms.
166 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page But where might there be leverage? Feminist engagement with the post-war UK welfare state has been based on a normative project of redistributive justice, an extended version of inclusive democracy. Women from diverse communities were to participate equally in governance and leadership and to benefit equally as employees, citizens and service users through redirection of funding and resources. This was the vision developed in the UK, in the context of some more radical labour-led local government authorities and resonating with social democratic trends in some EU arenas (Conley & Page, 2015). Since then, we have experienced a decade of austerity and decimation of public services under conservative governments. The leadership of the EU is changing, and social democratic values are increasingly challenged by neo-liberal populist leadership. However, adverse contexts do not necessarily lead to defeat. Under austerity new forms of resistance and feminist organisation have emerged, independently and within coalitions. Women are active and taking leadership roles within movements to defend reproductive rights and protest sexual violence, as well as organising within anti-populist movements that challenge class divisions, gendered and racialised inequalities and to defend migrant communities. There are challenges to maintaining a gendered focus within these movements, but their intersectional, networked and lateral forms of organisation can extend the scope of gendered political engagement and enable new forms of struggle to emerge, challenging the shape and concept of democracy (see e.g. Durbin, Page, & Walby, 2017). What scope might there be to ‘work the spaces of power’ within UK governmental political institutions in the current context of a pro-Brexit neo-liberal government that holds a large majority? What and where are the political spaces, mechanisms and instruments that hold potential for women to promote and protect our equal rights and to hold our government to account now that we are no longer able to actively participate or to have a voice in the policy environment and feminist networks within the EU? The authors of Chapters 2, 5 and 6 demonstrate how women’s movements in all of the four nations found themselves at odds with the executive in Westminster. Gina Millar, acting independently, employed legal instruments to defend democratic process (Chapters 6 and 8). Outside Westminster, women’s movements in Wales and Scotland have had greater success and opportunity to develop new instruments that call governments to account, furthering women’s equal representation within formal democratic processes. In conversation in Chapter 8, local activists Diane Bunyan, Jackie Longworth, Su Maddock and Margaret Page ask whether women’s equality activists in the UK became over reliant on the EU instruments, policy environment and resources to enable equality advocates to inform and shape our legislation. They note that there are still opportunities to draw from international protocols to support local feminist initiatives. Although the UK has left the European Union it remains a member of the Council of Europe, and a signatory of the International Charter of Human Rights. In Bristol feminist activists, for example, persuaded the City Mayor to sign the European Charter for the Equality of Women and Men in Local Life (Council of Europe), and to embed a Women’s Commission,
Everything has Changed and Nothing has Changed 167 responsible for enabling women to participate directly as advisors within the local city government.1 Activists writing in England together with Engender in Scotland and Chwarae Teg in Wales, and Women’s Budget Group Northern Ireland, advocate for structural mechanisms that re-establish the principle of a specific voice for women in democratic processes. They conclude that threats to women’s rights that are likely to follow the UK’s exit from the European Union require cross-border alliances, shared learning and collaborative strategies. In Scotland, the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has been incorporated into Scots Law (First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls, 2018a). Given that constitutional reform has been mooted in the UK, there may be scope to embed international protocol into our legislation and policy. Women’s movements need to be self-organising, but they also need recognised accredited channels locally, nationally and transnationally, to enable individual campaigns to shape and influence democratic processes. Such channels have been put in place as a result of feminist coalitions that engaged with devolution in Scotland and Wales. Constitutional reform in Westminster may offer opportunity for feminist engagement, as Chapter 8 suggests. But channels, mechanisms and processes cannot replace political agency and leadership. Without independent feminist activism and strong advocacy within the structures of power, channels and processes will atrophy.
Redefining the Economy: Towards Well-being and Care In Chapter 7, Susan Milner dissects the gendered division of labour that consigns a disproportionate number of women to part-time, low paid sectors of the economy with weak employee control over working hours, balanced alongside their unpaid caring responsibilities. Following Covid-19, the future looks even bleaker for women, widening insecurity and inequality. Brexit and Covid-19 are political projects led by politicians whose ideological preference is for the further dismantling of employment rights and the public sector. Covid-19 lays bare these disparities in our society, and the need to redefine ‘productivity’ to make women’s unpaid and underpaid work count. The left out, and the disregarded are now recognised as key workers, in the workplace and in the home. They are those carers and nursery workers, supermarket workers, cleaners, food preparers and nurturers of emotional and physical well-being in the home; those BAME workers dying on the frontline. The division of labour has consigned the majority of them to the lowest paid roles in society. When schools close and elderly parents need support, women are too often seen picking up the pieces, their role as unpaid carers barely acknowledged (Women’s Budget Group, 2020). Liberal and social democratic discourse has suggested that the division of labour in advanced capitalist societies evolved to maintain mutual interdependence and social cohesion amongst different classes, services and sectors, a legacy
Bristol Women’s Commission: https://www.bristol.gov.uk/mayor/womens-commission.
168 Sue Cohen and Margaret Page of Durkheim’s concept of ‘organic solidarity’ that has rendered women’s unpaid labour and the responsibilities of care invisible (Cohen, 2000; Giddens, 1991). Could this discourse be unravelling in the present crisis? Susan Milner references the Women’s Budget Group’s Commission for a Gender-Equal Economy that takes account of women’s unpaid labour, women’s unpaid caring roles inside and outside the home. The Commission was put together by feminist economists and developed with diverse women’s organisations and equality experts in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The crisis precipitated by Covid-19 has brought into the public arena a range of ways of redefining, and ‘feminising’ the economy that take account of the value of unpaid reproductive labour, caring, and place well-being at its centre. Integral to these visions are glimpses of a kinder, greener world and an economy no longer at odds with health, but with well-being at its centre (Lister, 2020; Raworth, 2017). Is it possible that Covid-19 has created a context where public opinion, if not government, is more receptive to redefining the economy in this way? Is it possible that, outside the discourse of Brexit, there may be opportunity to persuade government to change course? Activists in Chapter 8 suggest that there are progressive women leaders at local as well as national level who are already taking this course of action, and whose work needs to be made more visible.
Glimpses of the World We are Striving to Create: Utopian and Dystopian Futures If we can’t imagine a different way of being, if we can’t imagine a different future, how can we escape from an unbearable present? (McDermid & Sharp, 2020, p. 1) In the context in which we now find ourselves, there are signs that the experience of lockdown is prompting many to reimagine and to make changes in their lives that may prefigure the world they would like to live in. Rowbotham’s (2010) history of the women’s liberation movement demonstrates powerful parallels between the ‘optimistic imagining’ in the movement of the 1880s and prefigurative activism in the twentieth century, transforming social relations both within the domestic and private domains and in relation to the state. Poetry, drama, music and performance were important to sustain, impassion and enlighten, to critique the present and reimagine the future: they continue, transformed and transformative, into the twenty-first century. Will the upsurge in feminist organising that we see around some issues – such as women’s reproductive rights and sexual violence – extend to engagement with democratic processes? Will the self-help and solidarity networks that are springing up in the context of Covid-19 or Black Lives Matter lead to a re-engagement with ‘democratic’ institutions and in the process transform them? In the scrutiny of how the government is managing the crisis, it seems that the value of good government, of a redistributive enabling state, could rekindle a
Everything has Changed and Nothing has Changed 169 desire that had been lost, through Brexit, to reimagine a democracy in which we are fully participating. Indeed, are feminist democracy and ‘organic solidarity’ being reimagined organically as we write? Could the roots of ‘organic solidarity’ be re-conceptualised as a contentious dynamic taking new forms around the environment, women’s activism, anti-racism, anti-poverty movements and radicalised mutual aid, engendering new forms of global connections around the world? Challenging the divisions and fissures of populism. From the personal to the political, from the political to the personal, from the heart to the head, and the head to the heart. Glimpses of the world we are striving to create. History shows that feminist battles are seldom won once and for all. Gendered power and inequalities are intersectional, deeply entrenched in our institutions and political, economic, and social structures and culture, and will resurface in different forms as contexts change. These contexts are wider than our national borders. We are part of a global struggle. We can and will reclaim lost ground, whilst finding new roads to travel.
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Index Note: Page numbers followed by “n” indicate notes. Abortion Act (1967), 89 Abortion and gay marriage decriminalised in Northern Ireland, 53–54, 89, 149 Alliance for Choice, 89 Alternative futures, 120–121 (see also Utopian/dystopian futures; Prefigurative activism) Anti-migrant/immigrant (see also racism) A ‘Stranger in my own country’: Becoming ‘the Other’, 62–63 Hostile Environment and Hate Crimes, 8–9, 12, 33, 36–39, 50, 68–70, 116, 118–119, 148, 162, 164 Anti-Semitism, 8, 23, 38, 57n27 Austerity, 106, 161, 166 BAME/minority women, 137, 162 communities, 29, 33–34, 36, 70 UN report on Poverty in UK, 147–148 women, 7, 23, 57, 115, 131, 134–135, 137–138, 166 Bank of England, 134–135 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 52n20 Belfast Feminist Network, 89 Belonging, 10–13, 163 ‘Biological’ determinism, 109n5 Black Lives Matter, 168 (see also racism) Brexit, 2–3, 10, 16, 34–38, 61, 103, 107, 114 (see also European Union (EU), Post-Brexit and Resistance) affective realities, 120–121 Boris Johnson, 27, 51, 53, 59, 70, 72, 105–107, 118, 135, 147, 164
Bristol Brexit Response Group, 33 British feminism, shortcomings of progress narratives exposed, 121–123 critical Europeanism, 2, 31 Customs Union, 29 deadlock Westminster, 43–44 existential crisis, 27 gender-proofing–need for, 8 ideological politics of Brexit reinforced by racism and austerity, 11 impact on the Equalities Agenda Inquiry, 111 increasing hostile environment and hate crimes, 68–70 Jeremy Corbyn, 27–28 ‘Leave’ campaign, 24, 43, 120, 149 MPs defy party leadership, 44–46 Remain Campaign, 7, 14, 24, 26, 43, 47, 90, 94, 116, 118, 120, 164 risk intensifier, 16, 134–135 turmoil is normalized, 38 voting demographics, 33–34 Westminster conflicts: cat and mouse in parliament, 56 Withdrawal Bill, 11, 21, 40–44, 51, 55–57, 107, 135, 142, 147 women’s voluntary sector and Brexit, 111 Bristol One Parent Project, 37 Bristol Women’s Commission, 29, 33, 155 Childcare policy, 133 Chwarae Teg, Wales, 98 challenges, 102–104 constitutional questions, 102 EU funding, 99–100
172 Index uncertainty about future funding, 100–102 women’s rights and protections, 98–99 Citizenship, 22, 33, 40, 120 (see also Anti-migrant/immigrant; European Union (EU)) settlement and pre-settlement status, 61–67 Conservative Party, 54, 90, 99, 116–117, 128, 132–133, 166 manifesto pledge to review constitution, 143 Council of Europe, 145–146, 154–156, 166 Covid-19, 3, 161, 164–165, 167–168 Democracy (see also Brexit) defending parliamentary democracy, women’s role in, 143, 152–153, 156 democratic deficit in UK, 8, 149 ethnic diversity and structures of power, 15 feminizing, 10, 21–59, 141–144 feminizing democracy in devolved government, 81–105 history of parliamentary democracy in UK, 143–144 interaction of democracy, politics and law, 142–144 investment in social infrastructure, 150–151 municipalization, 151 parliament prorogued, 51–52 power grab by executive, 143 radical democratic reform, 149–151 redistributive justice, 166 Scottish independence movement, 92–94 sustainable economies, 151 Westminster and devolved nations, 13–17, 156 women’s leadership, 16, 143–147, 150–152 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), 85–86
Engender Scotland, 91–96 Equality Act (2010), 50, 92, 95, 132, 134, 147, 149, 165 ‘due regard’ principle, 99, 147 equality impact assessments (EqIAs), 147 Equality and Human Rights Commission, 92, 149, 153 European Anti-Poverty Network, 25 European Charter for the Equality of Women and Men in Local Life, 166 European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), 154, 156 European Court of Justice (ECJ), 128, 152, 154, 156 European Institute for Gender Equality, 88, 95 European Social Fund, 25 European Sociological Association, 2, 31 European TUC, 25 European Union (EU), 26, 107 citizenship, 22, 33, 40, 61–67 Delors period, 1, 39, 169 European Commission, 95, 128 funding programmes, 1–2, 24–25, 85, 92, 96, 98–102 Gender Equality Committee (FEMM), 28, 152 hegemonic controls, 1, 26 progressive internationalism, 24 Referendum, 13, 21–27, 84, 141, 144–145, 148–149 Withdrawal Bill, 21, 40–44, 51, 56–57, 107, 135, 141–142, 147, 164 women’s social initiatives, 1–2 European Women’s Lobby (EWL), 25, 88, 94, 153 #EverydaySexism movement, 119 Fabian Society, 24–25 Fair Play South West (FPSW), 16, 152 Fawcett Society, 16, 111, 134, 162 Feminist(s), 10, 162–163 (see also Democracy)
Index 173 ‘Feminist Writing’, The Power of, 47 activism, 1, 16–17, 21–59, 155–156, 165–169 attacks on feminism by populist leaders, 9, 9n4 British feminisms and Brexit, 111–123 fightback, 9n2, 9n3, 148–150 forging reflective spaces, 22, 30–32 as identity, 112 internationalism, 9, 152–157 mobilising against Brexit in Westminster, 105–123 in post socialist states, 9 prefigurative, 168 resurgence of, 14, 155 ‘For Our Future’s Sake (FFS), 113n13 Gender budgeting, 25, 152, 154 division of labour, 167–168 identity, and sex, 48, 57 ideology, 2, 8, 164 mainstreaming, 2, 8, 51, 92, 152–156 pay gaps, 128–132 policies addressing inequality in labour market, 131–134 proofing Brexit, 8 Gender Equality Duty (GED), 95 (see also Equality Act) Gender Matters Roadmap, 96 Gina Miller, 15, 51, 53, 107, 112–114, 117–120, 122, 142 ‘Girly Swots’, 52–54, 118 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, 32–33, 84–90 Homophobic, 108, 121 Human Rights, Court of, 154, 156 Human Rights Act, 24, 89n5, 99, 142, 145–146 Human Rights Consortium Scotland, 94 Human Rights Convention, 154 Human Rights NGOs and movements, 86, 89–90
International Charter of Human Rights, 166 International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), 94 Intersectional/ality, 9–10, 96, 109–110, 121–122, 163, 166, 169 Jo Cox, 26–27, 46, 46n12, 164 Labour Market Brexit as risk intensifier, 134–135 horizontal segregation, 128–131 part-time employment, 130 part-time workers directive, 99 policies addressing inequality, 131–134 vertical segregation, 128–131 women, 127–131 Labour Party, 28, 45, 46, 46n12, 56–57 Lesbian, 46, 48, 51, 106 Lexiteer, 26, 36 LGBT, 9, 31, 42 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), 25, 101 Lyra McKee, 46, 46n10, 46n11 Masculinist political cultures, 99, 110, 114, 117–118, 121, 156, 157 Maya Angelou, 112 #MeToo movement, 119 Mental health, 67, 118 (see also Affective realities) Methodology, 10 action inquiry, 11 auto-ethnography, 10, 11 ‘Café society’ discussions, 2–3 collaborative equalities practice, 1, 22 collaborative writing, 141, 156–157 embodied experience and activism, 10, 58 feminist, 108–110 feminist intersectional, 109 forging spaces for transnational activism, 1, 22
174 Index haiku, 77–79 marginality, 110 reflective journal, 11, 21, 22–58, 105–108 Misogyny, 48, 53–54, 118–119, 121, 142, 144, 147, 156–157, 164 sexist language and abuse in parliament, 144 sexual violence, rise of and protest movements, 8, 9, 9n2, 9n5, 165–166, 168 Momentum, 24 Mutual Aid, 12, 72–73, 169 National Advisory Council on Women and Girls (NACWG), 96 National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO), 96 Northern Ireland Assembly, 14, 85–86, 88–89 Northern Ireland border, 83–87 Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network (NIRWN), 87 Northern Ireland Women’s Budget Group, 88 Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform (NIWEP), 96 Offences against the Person Act (1861), 88 Organic solidarity, 167–169 ‘Othering’, 11, 13, 22, 40, 57, 58, 62–63 Our Future Our Choice (OFOC), 113n13 Patriarchy, 121, 142 absence of women’s perspectives and voices, 111, 142 rise of religious right wing patriarchal force, 2, 164 Petition of concern, 89 Political discourse, 144 Durkheim, 168 liberal and social democratic, 167 neo liberal, 2, 151, 161, 165–167 nostalgia for colonial past, 144
role of social media, 145 Populism, 8–9, 16, 144–146 anti-gender movement, 31 definition of, 145 feminism and anti-migrant policy, 144, 148 feminist fight back, 148–150 grass roots movements, 164–5 leaders, 146–148 right wing populist parties, 148 roll back of women’s equality rights, 146–148 subverting, 163–165 women’s reproductive rights and sexuality a target, 164 Post-Brexit atmosphere, 13, 16 channels of transnational influencing, 152–156 economic and political impact, 26, 29, 111, 127–136 impact on women of colour, 128 trade deals, 91–92, 128 Prefigurative activism, 168 Pregnant Worker’s Directive, 99 Productive Margins Programme, 30 Progressive internationalism, 24 Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), 95, 147 Racism (see also Anti-migrant/ immigrant) anti-racism, 1, 2, 15, 113, 163–165, 169 Brexit legitimization of, 28–30, 35, 37, 62, 68–69, 118, 124 hegemony of whiteness, 109 rhetoric, 8, 12, 117 Reclaim the Agenda, 89 Refugee Women of Bristol, 33, 67, 71, 163 Reproductive labour, 168 Reproductive rights, 88, 164, 166, 168 Resistance affect and emotion, 118, 120–121 black and minority ethnic women, 118–119, 164
Index 175 constraints on women’s voluntary sector, 111 “countering prejudice with sticks in the spokes”, 77–82 creating radical grassroots bridges, 70–73 cross-border alliances, 167 demonstrations and vases, 42–43 difficulty of involving women in Brexit campaigns, 118–120 dream of edges, 41–42 elusive hopes, 54–58 forging reflective spaces, 30–32 grass roots movements, 150 heterogeneous women’s movements, 163–165 hope sustained in times of chaos, 50–51 personal and political, 21–40, 74, 107 poetry, song and art, 13, 35, 77–79 radical internationalism, 62 reclaim political agency, 107 shared spaces for activism, 49, 50, 58 spaces for feminist voices, 11, 47–49 struggling activism, 22–38 women’s motivations for, 113–114 working spaces of power, 165–167 Rooted cosmopolitanism, 31, 163 Scottish Independence referendum, 93–94 Scottish Parliament, 92–95 Single Parent Action Network (SPAN), 12, 30, 61–62, 65–66, 71, 74, 163 Social Investment Fund (SIF), 23 Social media, 119 in Brexit campaign, 8, 149, 161 Cadwalldr, C., Facebook’s role in Brexit, 149 Social Partnership Bill, 103 Stella Creasy, 8, 53–54n24, 89 Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, 54n24, 143 Swiss People’s Party (SVP), 148 Switzerland Operation Libero, 148
Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), 24, 26 UK Joint Committee on Women, 94, 96 UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), 100 UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), 94–96 in Scotland, 152, 167 UN Global Platform for Action, 52 Utopian/dystopian futures, 168–169 Violence against women, 8, 9, 46, 105, 118–119, 162, 164–165, 168 Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Act (Wales Act), 99 Wales European Funding Office (WEFO), 101 WASPI women, 15n9, 78n1 Well-being, 162, 167–168 Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales Act), 99 Welsh Specific Equality Duties, 103 Women and Equalities Select Committee, 111, 132 ‘Women for Independence/ Independence for Women’, 93 Women for a People’s Vote, 108–109, 111, 116 Women for Europe, 112, 114 Women TalkBack, 47 Women (s) (see also Feminist(s), Democracy, Brexit) as ‘other’, 7–8, 11, 22–23, 111 for a People’s Vote, 108–109, 116 Committee in European Parliament, FEMM, 25 democratic engagement, 165 employment, 15–16, 128–131 Equality Party (WEP), 127 leadership, 152, 156–157, 166 Liberation Movement, 168
176 Index Mary Follett, 150 movements, 12, 83 programmes, EU, 98–100 rights and protections, EU, 98–99 subjectivities, 110, 119, 163 transformative leadership, 146, 150–152, 156–157, 166 voices, absence of, 7, 14, 22, 43, 116, 120, 127, 142, 155, 164 Women’s Budget Group (WBG), 7, 23, 24–25, 108–109, 111, 122, 127–128, 134–136
Women’s Budget Group Northern Ireland, 84–90 Women’s Equality Network Wales (WEN Wales), 96, 102 Women’s Equality Party, 30–31, 127 Women’s Inclusive Democracy in Europe Network (WIDEN), 2–3 Women’s National Commission, 122, 143 Women’s Sex based rights, 9, 47–49, 57, 165 Women’s Strike, 12, 37, 72–73