If ‘Brexit means Brexit’ what will that mean for women?

Date Posted: Monday 1st August 2016

We review some of the questions that the vote to leave the EU has raised.



The people of the UK were asked whether they wanted to remain part of the European Union, but the vote to leave has raised more questions:

  • What form will Brexit take? Will we stay in the Single Market? What will our trading relationships with the rest of the world look like?
  • Women have been hit hardest by austerity policies since 2010. If there is an economic downturn because of the Brexit decision, will that lead to further austerity and will women and low income families continue to carry the heaviest burden?
  • Will the pound continue to fall, leading to an increase in the cost of imported food and other goods? What will that mean for the poorest families particularly women who are often the ‘shock absorbers of poverty’ – going without so their families can be fed and clothed.
  • The EU has lead a Europe wide push against violence against women and girls, ensured that restraining orders apply across the EU, been central to tackling cross boarder trafficking and provided funding for research into VAWG. Will violence against women continue to be a priority when we leave?
  • The poorest parts of the UK have benefitted from EU structural funds, how will this work be supported if we go?
  • The referendum debate has resulted in an increase in racist harassment and violence; hate crimes against Muslim women have increased by over 300%. As the post referendum debate continues to be dominated by discussions of immigration, will harassment and violence continue to rise?
  • What will Brexit mean for citizens of other EU countries living and working in the UK?

WBG members have been thinking and writing about some of these issues:

Throughout the campaign, the leave side diverted their discontent to a scapegoat of immigration and fuelled xenophobia. While there is consensus that the result is linked to inequality, the impact of migration on inequality is contested. Our recent Policy Brief shows that inequality in the UK increased not because of migration, i.e. the mobility of labour, but because of the increased fallback options of capital related to increased capital mobility in the form of FDI and financialisation; declining fallback options of labour related to the decline in collective bargaining power, deregulation of the labour market, zero hours contracts and false self-employed contracts, austerity, housing crisis and rising household debt, which in turn is linked to financialisation and inequality. The quick conclusions related to the impact of immigration on inequality, without adequately decomposing the impact of all other factors, misses the point that correlation is not causation. The real solution to inequality requires regulating finance and the corporate governance of corporations, taming capital mobility, increasing public investment in social infrastructure and housing, regulating the labour market and improving the legislation to increase the voice of trade unions and collective bargaining coverage.

In this Policy Brief the authors argue that while the UK economy was already projected to slow over the next five years, the vote for Brexit will likely lead to even greater economic deterioration—especially if government policies of austerity are maintained. Both investment and consumption are projected to fall significantly, dragging down economic growth with them. The country’s current account might indeed improve as the Pound plummets in value. But financing from capital inflows would also be greatly diminished. Thus, the UK’s cherished position as a major international financial centre is likely to be noticeably weakened

In her contribution to Brexit Crisis report by Verso, freelance journalist and WBG Board member, Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi reflects on issues faced by migrant women under Theresa May’s watch.

Only time will tell how dramatically Brexit will impact Britain and whether it’ll plunge the country into a protracted economic slump. But Sarah Marie Hall says we shouldn’t ignore those already living in and through austerity and consider the everyday impacts of economic and social change.

Ania Plomien explores the complexities of migration, gender and the EU. She notes that the referendum campaigns fused migration with EU membership, as if either remaining or leaving could have adequately resolved it. However, it is not just that the ‘the question of migration’ cannot be contained within ‘the question of Europe’; it is that the UK needs to confront both of these questions independently and in connection with each other. Britain must face this by working out what it really means to be ‘inclusive’, ‘tolerant’, ‘generous’, ‘progressive’ and ‘European’.


Links to all articles included below: