By Cariad Ingles.
A year has passed since the EU Referendum result, and despite negotiations not being scheduled to end until 2019, the UK will be leaving the European Union. This has triggered worries for some, who understand the threat to the more deprived areas of the UK that depend on economic aid from the EU the most, and prompts the need for questions as to why the top five EU funded areas of the UK all voted to leave. For perspective, Ebbw Vale, a small town in heart of the valleys, has received more aid from the EU than possibly any other small UK town, including a 350 million pound EU funded regeneration project. This town also voted leave with a 62% majority.
49% of women also opted to vote leave, and it’s the portion of these women from the top EU aided areas that the Women’s Equality Network Wales stresses the importance of bearing in mind. The equality body warns that without critical funding, there could be an end put to the schemes aimed at improving workplace equality. One such scheme, called Agile Nation 2, offers support to 500 Welsh businesses and helps 2,750 develop their careers, free of charge. Without this, there is a real concern that Wales could regress in terms of its forward-thinking attitude to gender equality.
Women’s Equality Network Wales Director Catherine Fookes went on to explain about the fragility of the economy in Wales, claiming “we have lower productivity- and women tend to be working in low-paid jobs, in part time jobs, on zero hours contracts”, and this makes them more vulnerable in a post-Brexit landscape. She fears that these jobs could be put at risk by a potentially floundering economy, which is particularly worrying when statistics show that part time work makes up 42% of female employment in Wales, compared to just 12% for men. As the least favoured area in terms of EU status for most of Wales, Fookes expresses fears for women who could be pushed into poverty, depending on the use of resources such as food banks to stay alive.
These views, however, are contradicted by the chief executive of Brexit campaign group Leave.EU, Liz Bilney, who believes that Brexit could potentially be an exciting time for the women of Wales, one that could yield an increased amount of higher quality employment. She explains, “I think there are lots of opportunities from Brexit all round”, and that, as a country, “we always lead when it comes to women’ rights and equality. She makes the suggestion that rather than stopping the schemes aimed at promoting equality, we could actually inject more money into them when we do not have to channel the money through the EU first. Bilney also believes that after people return to non-EU countries, there will be a wealth of jobs left behind by them for the women of Wales. Only time will tell which of these women has made the correct predictions.