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Brexit Will Be A Hammer Blow For Equality Unless We Continue To Battle For It Together

10/03/2017 16:27 GMT | Updated 31/03/2017 16:44 BST
Yui Mok/PA Wire

all women everywhere

As the Women Of The World Festival takes place at London's South Bank Centre, three politicians from across the political spectrum blog on the challenges facing women in 2017. You can read former Lib Dem minister Jo Swinson on gender equality here, and Conservative MP Suella Fernandes on domestic abuse here

The decision to leave the European Union is a hammer blow for equality. Whether its economic impact, our capacity to advocate for our sisters around the world or the battles ahead for our freedoms at work and in society, much is now at stake. Yet as the Prime Minister now presses ahead with hard Brexit, the challenge for us all is to find ways not only to protect what we have achieved to date but to continue to champion the power of equality to change all our lives for the better.  

The EU has protected the rights of women even while the UK Government has sought to water them down. In particular, it helped to shape the debate around gender equality and in many cases boosted the ambition for what could be achieved. Whether ensuring the rights of pregnant workers and enshrining equal pay or offering better rights and pensions for part time workers -the majority of whom are women, being a member of the European Union has been a bulwark against Governments who don't recognise the economic and social case for equality.

Yet now this Tory government is set on driving through a Brexit deal without offering any reassurances to the 32million women in Britain as to how this will affect their lives.  We must be vigilant that we will not accept any deal in which women and minority rights are absent or traded off against each other. With many women now self employed or dependent on flexible working rights to balance caring commitments with earning a living, any new legislation on rights in the workplace and trading with the largest market on our doorstep will be key to their futures. That the Government has taken discussion of retaining some form of freedom of movement and the single market off the table before negotiations have even begun bodes ill for an economy to support such entrepreneurship and social protection. Scepticism about their commitment to doing this is rooted in recognition that the same Government which now claims it will uphold such measures in the Great Repeal Bill is the same Government of the Beecroft Report and is dominated by MPs who have spent years trying to 'cut EU red tape' meaning such rights in the first place.

Brexit also creates challenges for women beyond their employment or business prospects. It has fragmented our communities too, with a worrying increase in reports of racist incidents and hate crime since the referendum. This includes a 326% rise in anti-Muslim hate attacks over the last year, of whom 61% of the victims were women. We also have to act to retain our ability to support equality abroad too. Being part of Europe was crucial to amplifying our influence in the world- whether helping to lead action on international development or climate change. In its time the EU has also been a powerful champion of combating trafficking and sexual exploitation through cooperation across the continent and internationally and a world leader in fighting female genital mutilation (FGM). Just last week European Countries came together to challenge the impact of Trumps global gag rule on funding for women's reproductive health services- Britain's refusal to join in suggests this Government wants to isolate itself from such leadership rather than support it.

In the months and years ahead it is crucial we do not lose this capacity to collaborate with other countries on these issues or allow our communities to be divided, but instead forge new partnerships for social progress. No matter how hard this may seem we cannot sit back in despair, we must stand up and be heard - whether you voted to leave or remain.

To help facilitate this work organisation is key. The women's marches that took place across the world were the start of the conversation, not the end, of how to work together for common cause. It also requires action - The Feminist Action Network is a platform to promote the simple actions all of us can take to help support equality- campaigns that may get more attention on International Women's Day, but are worth supporting every day of the year. Above all we must tap into the hope and determination not to give up - whether in fighting to ensure the Brexit deal is not defined by Theresa May's hard Brexit or to keep the battle for equality at the top of everyone's agenda.

Stella Creasy is the Labour MP for Walthamstow. To join the Feminist Action Network, email stella@workingforwalthamstow.org.uk

The Women Of The World Festival takes place at London's Southbank Centre from 10-12 March. For more information, visit the WOW Festival website

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today

Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com