Even for those of us who do not call ourselves Euro sceptics, the EU is hard to love – there is no doubt about that. It’s a bit like maths or entomology. We know it’s there, and it’s probably serving a vaguely useful function, but apart from a narrow proportion of geeks, experts and fanatics among us, in everyday life we rarely find ourselves enthusing about quadratic equations, critters or Directives.
Europe’s decision-making bodies sit far away, with their unfamiliar bureaucrats, strange rituals and opaque processes.
Our apathetic (or downright hostile) media has given up on reporting how and why decisions are being taken in Brussels by our Ministers and our MEPs working with their counterparts from other countries. This has allowed successive UK Governments to blame ‘Brussels’ for tough decisions and to take the whole credit for successful EU initiatives.
I don’t entirely blame editors having to make tough choices in these cash-strapped times: covering the EU story costs money; repeating lazy misconceptions and firing off indignant editorials is far cheaper.
But don’t let them fool you into thinking the coming European Parliament election doesn’t matter, or that a UKIP triumph is inevitable or indeed that it might be a desirable outcome, to shake things up or send some sort of message to complacent Westminster elites. A decisive UKIP win would do nothing to help the UK lead on reforms in Europe, but spell disaster for the cause of gender equality at UK and EU level.
The European Union has been promoting equality between men and women since its inception, enshrining the goal of equal pay for men and women in the 1957 Treaty of Rome. A Directive on Equal Pay was finally passed in 1975 to be followed by dozens of other pieces of EU legislation – against discrimination at work or in accessing services, combating violence, sexual harassment and people trafficking, establishing maternity rights and parental leave.
The EU funds national campaigns against gender-based violence and, in the last 7 years, has spent some €3.2 bn in Structural Funds to provide childcare and promote women’s participation in the labour market in Europe’s most economically depressed areas. The EU further promotes gender equality all over the wold with its humanitarian actions and through its trade agreements.
Now contrast this with UKIP’s view of women and their programme.
Their attitude towards women is often described as reminiscent of the 1950s, although my conservative grandfather would have been horrified by their language and sentiments. Women are sluts, who should be seen (cleaning) and not heard; mothers are worthless to employers. And these are not just retired colonels, old fashioned fogeys – the Twitter trolls who tried to silence Women Against UKIP all last week are the party’s tech-savvy young guns, UKIP’s bullish, bullying future.
But worse than their attitudes is their programme, insofar as they can articulate one. Make no mistake: the biggest advantage Nigel Farage sees in the UK withdrawing from Europe is that it would be able to return to the 1950s, not just culturally but also in the law: no maternity leave or labour protection of any kind for the most vulnerable workers, who are often women; a bonfire of health and safety and anti-harassment legislations. This might resonate with chain-smoking pub landlords, (freedom of smoking is championed, by the way; freedom of movement less so), but it sure scares the hell out of me.
Since the 2009 European Election UKIP’s only two female MEPs, Nikki Sinclaire and Marta Andreasen, have both left the party. Andreason said Farage: “doesn’t try to involve intelligent professional women in positions of responsibility in the party. He thinks women should be in the kitchen or in the bedroom”. Nikki Sinclaire won an Employment Tribunal claim for sex discrimination against the party.
Last week we finally saw UKIP’s leader drop the genial ‘chap down the pub’ act when being questioned about his use of EU expenses. Chummy Nigel turned into Snarling Nigel, railing against the media that so far has idolised him for having the cheek of asking him to account for his actions, like any other politician.
Farage’s confusion about EU money not being, somehow, taxpayers’ money tells a bigger story about what you get when you vote for a UKIP candidate to represent you in Europe. Their goal is to destroy Europe, not reform it or make it work in Britain’s favour.
In practice this means that after 22 May, unless we feminists use our vote, even more UKIP MEPs will be flocking to the European Parliament to get their nose in every possible money trough, whilst disrupting sessions with their cheap stunts and insulting speeches, clogging committees, (including the Gender Equality Committee, where so much of the above legislation is dealt with), not voting, not amending, not doing anything at all, and all at our expense, for the next five years.
I happen to believe in the EU project. But even if I didn’t, as a woman and a feminist I can think of few worse fates than having Farage and his braying chums in charge of or able to influence any policies at all, at home or internationally, as my chances of becoming a chain-smoking pub landlord, unconcerned with maternity leave, anti-trafficking laws and all that – what do they call it? red tape – are vanishingly small.
Paola Buonadonna is Media Director for the pro-EU membership campaign British Influence.
Graphic: Sarah Spickernell is a freelance journalist and Interactive Journalism MA student at City University London. She has written for the Financial Times and The Sunday Times, and has a particular interest in women’s rights in the Middle East. Follow her @Sspickernell
Main Image: Rock Cohen
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