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Politics & Law Series: Expert Comment

Brexit will likely lead to an increase of violence against women, report says

A new report from City, University of London argues that the consequential changes of Brexit will likely lead to an increase of violence against women in the UK.

by Matthew Little (Communications Officer)

The paper, Gender, Violence and Brexit, published in Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly and authored by Professor Sylvia Walby OBE, analyses the possible changes to governance of gender-based violence in the UK after Brexit.

In her analysis, Professor Walby, Director of City’s Violence and Society Centre, compares the European Union (EU) and UK strategies to gender violence.

Hypothesising four potential outcomes of changes to gender violence/security in the UK after Brexit, Professor Walby finds the event with the most extreme changes to be the most likely.

“The EU is a significant source of governance in gendered violence and that exit will remove this influence,” said Professor Walby.

“There is likely to be a major change because the UK governance of gendered violence would lose its anchor to laws and policies embedded in EU Treaties and implemented in institutions developed for its economic and security strategies.”

Professor Sylvia Walby

The report highlights that the EU has a ‘softer’ strategy to gender violence through policies which attempt to reduce the social inequalities that can create violence, compared to the UK’s ‘harder’ response by increasing security powers and criminal justice practices.

“The extent of violence in a country varies not only with the nature of the strategy and capacity of its national state, but also with the extent of inequality and poverty,” said Professor Walby.

“The analysis of potential changes in gender-based violence against women, consequent on Brexit needs to include not only policies directly focused on violence against women but also policies towards gender equality including in the economic and political domains,” she continued.

Professor Walby analyses gender relations within areas of violence, economy, polities and civil society. Her comparison of UK and EU gender equality policy finds the EU often in advance over the UK.

Professor Walby said: “The loss of gender equality regulations would increase gendered economic inequalities which would be likely to increase violence against women.

“Brexit is likely to diminish laws and policies that promote gender equality, equality in the economy more generally, and to harden the UK’s violence and security strategy.

“The consequence of these changes is likely to lead to an increase in gendered violence.”

New trade deals could increase gender violence

Despite the UK exiting the EU on 31st January 2020 and the transitional period set to run until 31st December 2020, many issues concerning the UK and EU’s relationship have not yet been settled.

“Brexit has the potential to rupture the internal relations between the nations and devolved administrations of the UK, including that concerning Northern Ireland, and to change their capacities to govern violent crime and security,”

Professor Sylvia Walby

In the event of a ‘hard or no deal Brexit’, the UK will seek trade deals with other forces such as the United States and China.

However, Professor Walby warns that “these forces generate higher levels of inequality and violence,” often implementing harder strategies to gender violence/security than both the EU and UK.

“The EU has greater capacity to withstand the pressures of these forces than the UK because of its scale and capabilities,” said Professor Walby.

“The loss of the EU anchor is likely to increase inequality and violence in the UK,” she concluded.


Read the paper, Gender, Violence and Brexit, published in Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly.

For more information see the Violence and Society Centre.

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