Where are the Women in European Referendum Campaign?

It’s less than a month until the European Referendum. This is surely not something that has escaped anyone’s notice, since both the IN and the OUT campaigns are relentless in telling us that there will be a referendum, if neglecting to give us substantial information to justify their views. We know the date, June 23rd, and the names and egos leading each side, names which are mostly male and mostly talking to other men.

There are more than one million women's votes to play for in June, a number which constitutes a large and important voting group, yet they are being ignored. The Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights, found that neither campaign struck a chord with women, due, partly, to the fact both campaigns could be marked for their significant lack of female representation.

This week, Britain Elects tweeted findings that women accounted for just 16% of all television coverage, whereas men accounted for 84%. With Boris Johnson and David Cameron leading the campaigns this is not surprising, but women are being left out of the content and the campaign in general.

Ignoring women could prove costly: research by the thinktank British Future found that 20-25% of women are currently undecided; this is double the rate of men which stands at around 10-15%. 

Employment Minister, Priti Patel commented that the reason for many women being undecided is that they are more "risk averse, they’ve been put off by the campaigning that we’ve seen thus far, because of the scare stories that we’ve particularly seen and heard.” Arguments have been targeted to the male audience, and have failed to address the issues that affect women. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan stated, in a Britain Stronger in Europe video, "from safeguarding parental leave to tackling discrimination in the workplace and bringing an end to violence against women and girls, our EU membership is critical in helping protect and further the rights of women around Britain. A vote to leave would put all of this at risk." While the Remain campaign asserts that maintaining the status quo is best for women, pro-Brexit Patel has compared female Leave campaigners to suffragettes. At the March launch of pro-EU exit group, Women for Britain, Patel said that those campaigning to quit the EU were fighting the "same cause" as suffragettes, to protect "our democratic freedom". Patel sought to convince women that they should be concerned about the way the EU impacts their lives. In doing this she sparked controversy: Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, said the comparison was "unacceptable," adding, "I believe that my great grandmother would have been the first to champion what the EU has meant for women - including equal pay and anti discrimination laws."

The lack of female voices from the campaigns led the Fawcett Society to host its own debate. Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society said, "there is a huge risk that the campaigns will fail to engage the majority of the electorate ... Both sides in the EU referendum debate need to address issues of concern to women and proactively engage them."

Engage women is exactly what the Fawcett event did in presenting both sides of the debate, as well as perspectives from the Women’s Equality Party and Britain Thinks on the voting habits of women and what we can do to engage women more.

You can watch the first, and only debate so far, talking about women, to women and led by women here.

Make your voice heard on June 23rd in the EU Referendum vote. 

NEXT: “The Personal is Political” »

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Photo Credit: Andrew Linscott