EU and me

So, yesterday was the anniversary that few of us in Lewisham voted for. It’s a year since the UK Government triggered Article 50 and it’s now just a short year away when according to the Leave plan, we exit the EU. It’s a day so bizarre to me it feels less likely than the idea when I was growing up, that the Berlin Wall would be breached. And yet here we are.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Tony Lloyd from Lewisham is for Europe (LIFE) asking me to contribute my personal position on #BREXIT. We were asked for 100 words and there is so much to say on this, that 100 words was rather challenging:

This is what I sent him:

“I voted Remain and I am a European by choice. I’m a linguist fluent in French and German, I’ve lived and worked in Germany, France and Turkey. I firmly believe in the cultural, environmental, economic and social justice, workers and womens’ rights benefits that membership of the EU brings. No matter what happens it is imperative we protect these rights. As the leader of a touring theatre often working in some of the UK’s most disadvantaged communities in the North East and South West I’m also aware of and troubled by the disconnect between the vote in London and other areas. I believe that we must fight to keep the best connection we can with the EU (preferably from within).”

Last week I attended the Gender 5+ report launch – Gendering Brexit – the role and concerns of feminists and women’s organisations. And yesterday I read the Women’s Budget Group report on the economic impact of Brexit. These two together spell out why women and girls in particular need to mobilise in the next year around Brexit.

It’s not just about equal rights, although without the networks in Europe that we depend on for their promotion, the women’s sector and women’s voices, will be weakened. The threat is also that where the economic impacts are likely to be felt in the UK In the coming years – guess what – they are in the precarious and low paid jobs traditionally done by women. Women’s services have suffered in the past 7 years, and the small and often invisible charities and voluntary organisations which are taking up the slack are themselves at risk as their networking power and their funds from Europe are shrinking. They report both more demand and stretched resources.

What does this mean for me and my candidacy?  It means that we have to get women’s voices into mainstream politics at every level. And not just to talk about “women’s issues” in the patronising and reductive way that the traditional parties have done. The traditional politics has failed to mainstream gender equality. It’s still seen as incidental to the big stuff and yet it affects how each of us lives.

WE say –  because it’s true –  that women’s equality is better for everyone and gender equality is not just a women’s issue. And yet, even something as important as Brexit has left women out of the conversation – look at our negotiating teams and the commentary in the run up to the referendum.

WE need women in public platforms and offices, talking about everything wrapped up in Brexit  –  yes with a focus on specific women’s needs.  In order to have any chance of an equal society whether we remain inside or are compelled to leave women must be at the centre of the conversation not pushed out to its margins.

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