May and the future of women’s rights

With a dual commitment to advance women's rights and scrap the European Human Rights Act, it is unclear how May will protect women's rights.


May’s mixed record on women’s rights has sparked the future of this issue under our new Prime Minister.

Many were impressed with May’s appointment of Amber Rudd as Home Secretary, Justine Greening as Education Secretary and Liz Truss as Justice Secretary, showing she means business when promoting women in the Cabinet.

However, her dual commitments to feminism and conservatism throw into question how she intends to carry on advancing women’s rights and scrap Britain’s commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights in particular.

May’s record as Home Secretary needs to be examined if we are to address this question successfully. It is clear May is not only an opponent of violence towards women, but has done something about it in the past too. After the 2010 General Election, May implemented the first government strategy to end violence against women and girls, which was named ‘a call to end violence against women and girls (VAWG)’ in 2011.

May talked to many women’s organisations, listening to their anxieties about domestic and sexual violence, forced marriage and female genital mutation (FGM).

Her list of achievements in advancing women’s rights are impressive. May introduced protection orders for women at risk of domestic violence and FGM as well as a new criminal offence of coercive and controlling behaviour.

In 2014, May was heavily involved in the first UK Girl Summit and managed to persuade David Cameron to support her programme to crack down on FGM. May was then able to pledge £1.4 million to help end FGM.

In April 2015, May supported the shared parental leave ruling and spoke of the need to ensure that women are in work.

Before her promotion as Prime Minister, May committed the Home Office to a budget of £80 million over the next four years on support services for victims, such as rape crisis centres.

Based on her record on women and immigration, it is clear she will take this issue seriously, much to the delight of Leave supporters. During her time as Home Secretary, May refused to end the detention of vulnerable asylum seekers, including victims of sexual violence and pregnant women, at Yarl’s Wood. 

With her lack of warmth towards immigrants in the past, there is no doubt May is serious when she wants to control immigration after we pull out of the EU, considering she knew the EU prevented her from fulfilling a manifesto pledge to bring immigration down to the tens of thousands.

It is unclear how replacing the European Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights would impact upon women’s rights, but May made clear in her campaign to become Prime Minister that she will not pursue scrapping this legislation due to a lack of majority support in Parliament.

But do not question May’s commitment to one day repeal this legislation. In a 2011 speech, May insisted that this legislation ‘needs to go.’ Liz Truss has said that the Government will continue with its plans to scrap the European Human Rights Act in the near future. This will more than likely happen after the 2020 General Election, assuming the Government wins a bigger majority.

It is fair to say that based on her past record, May will continue to support women’s rights and that the future of women’s rights remains secure for now. But May is also a Conservative who is serious about controlling immigration and one day scrapping the European Human Rights Act. It is certain these Tory instincts will guide her more than a commitment to women’s rights when drafting legislation where the three issues of women’s rights, immigration and human rights may collide.



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