Women’s rights gained under EU law must not be lost in Brexit

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Sue Cohen, Research Associate in Bristol Law School

Much of the debate in the UK, pre and post the referendum, has been on the single market and freedom of movement. Gender has been all but cleansed from the Brexit political and media discourse, with barely a mention of investment in women’s equality, the social infrastructure and the institutions that might guarantee progressive gains from gender mainstreaming.

The EU Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights is a significant institution in this respect, and one we will lose upon Brexit. The Committee helps to process legislation on equal treatment adopted by EU institutions, invites transnational lobbying on women’s issues, and investigates particular issues and concerns that affect women.  It does this through commissioning research and reports that further gender mainstreaming in the funding programmes of the European Commission. (1)

Critically, the UK, has no comparable influential institution. The Women and Equalities Committee is a new select committee and its influence is not embedded in the decision-making structures and funding mechanisms across government. The Women’s Commission was closed down by the Coalition Government, whilst the influence of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been eroded over time, with significant cuts in staff and funding and thus significant limitations on its ability to deliver strategic change. Continue reading

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‘Raining Women’ & Feminising Politics

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol

At home: In Westminster, Theresa May – the UK’s second woman Prime Minister – and in Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon – Scotland’s first woman First Minister – opposed by the Tories’ Ruth Davidson, and Labour’s Kezia Dugdale.

Abroad: Angela Merkel, of course, and maybe soon President, Hilary Clinton.

The media seemingly don’t quite know what to do with ‘all’ these women in politics. Gender and politics scholars are finding themselves in great demand. There are, predictably, numerous articles in the newspapers about what the women are wearing, and how they do their hair.

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‘Solidari-tea’ with Helen from The Archers

Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow in The Centre for Gender and Violence Research, University of Bristol.

Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow in The Centre for Gender and Violence Research, University of Bristol.

Dr Emma Williamson discusses how the current storyline in The Archers raises the question of what justice means when it comes to abuse.

Social media has once again been a-twitter with discussion about The Archers.

I wrote back in April about the domestic violence and coercive control storyline and how the producers had managed to shine a light on the often hidden aspects of abuse. As the story moves this week into the Courts, the media is once again gripped by the drama, with people posting their pictures of solidari-tea with the central character, Helen. The Mail Online even ran a story with Barristers discussing the fictional case .

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Some thoughts on European and national non-discrimination law and Brexit

Dr Jule Mulder, Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

Dr Jule Mulder, Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

European non-discrimination law is a great example of how legal ideas travel around the globe and are modified and improved in the process.

As well demonstrated by Fredman[1]and Schiek,[2] non-discrimination law did not originate in Europe nor can the European influence be negated.

For example, the concept of indirect discrimination can be traced back to international law and was also pioneered in the US case of Griggs v Duke Power,[3] which challenged under the Civil Rights Act 1964 employment practices that required High School diplomas in order to access specific jobs.

This US legal development then inspired European Common Law jurisdictions—most notably the UK—to incorporate similar concepts in their national law (see e.g. Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Race Relations Act 1976), and the concept of indirect discrimination finally reached the EU in the early 1980s when the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) explicitly referred to the Griggs in its Jenkins Judgment,[4] a case which also originated in the UK.

However, this initial influence from the UK and other common law jurisdictions did not halt in this development. Rather, what started as a relatively insignificant equal pay provision in the Treaty of Rome (Article 119 EEC) and a political compromise between Germany and France,[5]has developed into a large equality framework protecting the characteristics of sex, race and ethnic origin, religion and belief, age, disability, and sexual orientation (e.g. Directives 2000/43, 2000/78 and 2006/64) and goes beyond employment discrimination by also tackling sex and race discrimination within the access to and supply of goods and services (Directives 2000/43 and 2000/113).

The 2000 directives expanding the personal scope of EU non-discrimination law were particularly affected by Anglo-Dutch intellectual thought and influence,[6] as jurisdictions that had most significant experience with non-discrimination law covering a wide number of protected characteristics. These new directives, alongside the CJEU interpretation of all the directives and equal pay provision (now Article 157 TFEU), then in turn influenced the law of the Member States including the UK legal framework.

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Abuse in Ambridge

Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow in The Centre for Gender and Violence Research, School for Policy Studies, discusses how the recent storyline in The Archers highlights the often silent issue of coercive control and its effect on victims/survivors.

I have to admit that I don’t normally listen to The Archers. And people don’t normally talk to me about the story lines. That all changed when the long running series began a story over 18 months ago which looked at the issue of domestic violence and coercive control. One of the most difficult things that victims/survivors of abuse tell us, and have consistently told us since the first women’s refuges in the 1970’s, is that it is the non-physical abuse they experience which is the most difficult to deal with [Williamson, 2000]. The bruises and other injuries victims suffer from physical abuse are visible. They are evidence to other people but also to oneself. There it is in black and blue. What is more difficult to prove and believe, is that someone who purports to love and care for you would bully, undermine, and manipulate you. The women I spoke too after the fact would either say, ‘how could someone treat me like that?’ or more often than not, ‘how could I let someone treat me like that?’ – still blaming themselves.

As the Archers storyline shows, this type of abuse is characteristic of a pattern of ‘low level’ abusive behaviours rather than the explosive incident people tend to think about when they consider ‘a domestic’. It involves small everyday things which result in people staying away, isolating victims from their family, friends, and networks of support. Recent research from Bristol has documented the massive impact of such abuse on friends and family [Gregory et al, 2016], as well as the evidence we know about the impact on victims [Mullender et al, 2005], their children [Mullender et al, 2002], and perpetrators themselves [Hester et al, 2015]. Doctors, the police, courts, social services, all tend to think of interventions in terms of those single incidents which means that the on-going manipulation of victims goes unnoticed.

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Women in Power: exploring the positive influence of women on boards of directors

Professor Sheila Ellwood, Professor of Financial Reporting at the University of Bristol, outlines her research on the influence of presence and position of women on the boards of directors of NHS Foundation Trusts.

Professor Sheila Ellwood, Professor of Financial Reporting, University of Bristol.

Across the UK and more widely, there are moves to increase the number of women on boards. Some countries have quotas, such as Norway, Spain and Iceland. Some countries require companies to “comply or explain”, as in the UK, Denmark and Sweden. Other measures are less explicit. The rationale is largely to improve female representation and increase board diversity in public and private sector corporate governance.

Along with Javier Garcia-Lacalle, a colleague from the Universidad Zaragoza in Spain, I undertook a study to look at the impact of greater female representation. We examined the influence of women on the boards of directors of NHS Foundation Trusts in England, and the resulting implications.

How does the position of women and high levels of gender diversity on boards of directors affect organisational performance when social performance is paramount?

We found that once a critical mass of women in decision-making positions on boards has been reached, there is little further effect on performance. A high female presence among executive and non-executive directorships does not result in significant differences either in financial goals or service quality. There is no effect on financial performance; positive or detrimental.

Equally, evidence suggests that female presence on boards positively affects corporate social performance[1]. Women are considered more socially oriented than men, resulting in more effective board decision-making, particularly on aspects related to social responsibility.

However, we found that in order for female presence to be effective, women need to be in the most prominent position on boards: Chief Executive or Chair. This is particularly important if boards are to achieve corporate social objectives.

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What does it take to get women at the top? Sex Balancing Party Leaderships

Meryl Kenny is Lecturer in Politics (Gender) at the University of Edinburgh

Meryl Kenny, Lecturer in Politics, University of Edinburgh

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender, University of Bristol

The new Labour leader, deputy leader, and both candidates standing for Mayor in London and Bristol: all male. And this from a party whose parliamentary benches are more than 43 percent female and, in Bristol, where all its MPs are women. The newspapers and social media, not unexpectedly, were quick to question the party’s commitment to gender equality. Whatever you think of revaluing the education and health brief (and there’s a lot to be said for it), the absence of not one woman from the traditional top offices of state invited criticism. Some of this was no doubt right-wing commentators finding yet another reason to be critical of Labour’s new leader.

But the feminist criticism was more substantive: a longstanding worry that leftist politics often has too little room for gender equality in policy and personnel terms. Against such criticism, the counter argument: given the number of women candidates standing, party members had ample opportunity to vote for a woman. In short, Corbyn was the preferred candidate, his sex notwithstanding.

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Food for thought for Father’s Day

Dr Esther Dermott, Reader in Sociology

Dr Esther Dermott, Reader in Sociology

From personalised beer to racing driver experiences – a full range of gender stereotypical presents are available branded as perfect for Father’s Day. So, it might be tempting to see the growth of Father’s Day in the UK (June 21st this year) as little more than another marketing opportunity; one that doesn’t say much about everyday fathering and certainly doesn’t give the impression that we have radically changed our ideas about fathers.

“men who are doing things differently have a higher profile”

Looking back over the last 40 years of research on fatherhood, there is evidence that things are different now. We can point out generational shifts in how men ‘do’ fatherhood; dads have substantially increased the amount of time they spend with their children and almost all now attend births and take time off work when a baby is born. It is also the case that men who are doing things differently have a higher profile, witness for example of blogs of stay-at-home dads and single fathers. And these changes are reflected (to some extent) in policy as well. In April 2015, shared parental leave was introduced in the UK, signalling the possibility of greater father involvement in the immediate post-birth period. It also ensured that fathers have the right to time off work to attend antenatal appointments.

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Men experiencing or perpetrating domestic violence linked with two to three-fold increase in mental health problems

Professor Marianne Hester, Chair in Gender, Violence & International Policy

Professor Marianne Hester, Chair in Gender, Violence & International Policy

Men visiting their GP with symptoms of anxiety or depression are more likely to have experienced or carried out some form of behaviour linked to domestic violence and abuse, according to a new University of Bristol study. Researchers say the findings highlight the need for GPs to ask male patients with mental health problems about domestic abuse.

The study, led by Professor Marianne Hester OBE, and involving Dr Emma Williamson from the School, and published in BMJ Open, aimed to find out whether there is an association between men who have experienced or carried out domestic violence and abuse with men visiting their GP with mental health problems or who are binge drinking and using cannabis.

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A ‘Gender Friendly’ Parliament after GE 2015? The Case for a Women and Equality Committee

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender

Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender

The 2015 general election portends an era of  ‘dangerous’ women having undue influence on British politics come May the 8th, if the print and social media are to be believed. Nicola Sturgeon – variously depicted as Miley Cyrus’ ‘wrecking ball’, Putinesque, the woman ‘holding all the aces’ and the ‘most dangerous woman of all’ will be pulling Ed Miliband’s strings. The women’s hug at the end of the Opposition leader’s debate epitomises an apparently ‘red sisterhood’ that will leave the Labour leader defenceless in the face of their collective seductive powers. To make matters worse, Ed’s ‘girly laugh’ (as Guido Fawkes put it) renders him insufficiently manly for the Premiership. All of this might be discounted as election banter, colourful to be sure, but nonetheless underpinned by legitimate concerns about post-election governing arrangements. Be that as it may. Such depictions also re-present Westminster politics as male, opposing and privileging the ‘male-politician-norm’ with the ‘female-politician-pretender’.

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