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The World’s Most Powerful Women: April 4

It’s Equal Pay Day in the U.S., but where I live in the U.K. (which marks the occasion around November 10) the biggest story remains—you guessed it—Brexit.

The two topics are connected since EU directives dictate equal pay, and the U.K. is leaving the bloc, which has prompted fears that Britain’s equal pay measures may be in danger.

Labour MP Jess Phillips flagged the possibility that Brexit could mean the end of equal pay in the U.K. during a hearing in September: “If we were to leave [the EU] tomorrow—if you were to accidentally trip over something and trigger Article 50 while you are here—what would that mean for equalities in this country?”

The short answer is that Brexit won’t erase Britain’s equal pay protections immediately, but it could eventually demolish what’s been a reliable legal backstop.

The U.K. actually adopted its own Equal Pay Act in 1970 before joining the EU in 1973. “We were ahead of game,” Catherine Barnard, a law professor at the University of Cambridge, told me. But the EU has dramatically shaped equal pay in the U.K. by adding teeth to the initial law Britain had in place, she says. For instance, the EU prompted the U.K. to add an amendment in 1983 to incorporate the concept of equal pay for work of equal value—jobs that aren’t identical but require similar skills and responsibilities. The U.K. Equality Act that became law in 2010 provided even more protections.

When Brexit is complete some two years from now, it will not immediately affect these laws because Parliament—the body that passed them—would have to act to roll them back.

But the very possibility of repealing equal pay laws—or other worker rights, for that matter—is the one big change Brexit could usher in. The U.K.’s EU membership has guaranteed that Britain maintain at least the minimum protections set forth by the bloc. If the deal extracting Britain from the EU fails to implement the bloc’s social laws in some form, that floor could drop out from under Brits once the U.K. finalizes its split.

For her part, PM Theresa May has vowed to “ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained.”

But if the economy crumbles post-Brexit, it’s possible that political priorities could shift toward sparking growth—leading regulations like equal pay laws to be seen as restrictive red tape.




Tampon tax tiffBritish MPs and activists are calling for changes to how the government dispenses proceeds from a 5% tampon tax after news surfaced that an anti-abortion group received a £250,000 grant derived from the proceeds. The government promised to donate revenue from the tax to women’s charities after thousands signed a petition last year calling for the tax to be eliminated. Labour MP Paula Sherriff said it was “bitterly ironic” for women to be taxed for their biology “only for the government to hand over that money to organizations that don’t even believe we should have control over our own bodies.”BBC


Trail of trafficking
Teenage girls from Benin City in southern Nigeria make up an overwhelming majority of women who set out on the harrowing journey to Europe. The New Yorker’s Ben Taub chronicles one young girl’s journey from the city as she is trafficked to Europe, following a path trodden by hundreds of women from her hometown who are often forced into becoming sex workers in cities like London, Paris, Madrid, Athens, and Rome. “The city is filled with women and girls who have come back, but some who can’t find work end up making the journey again,” Taub reports.
New Yorker

Not a dirty word
Jordan has an impressive history of women’s rights activism, but even some of the most vocal advocates hesitate to call themselves feminists for fear the moniker will mark them as radicals. Yet things are slowly beginning to change: “While feminism may be variously viewed as a joke, a threat, a western import or the prerogative of the elite, more and more Jordanian women are taking it seriously by educating themselves and others about their rights,” Olivia Cuthbert reports.
Open Democracy

By example
Theresa May will visit Saudi Arabia today on a Gulf tour to boost post-Brexit ties in the region. The PM says she hopes she can set an example of female power in the country where women are still barred from driving and are subject to male guardianship laws. But she stopped short of openly criticizing the country’s approach to equal rights. “I’ve talked to the Saudis on a number of occasions now and I raise issues of this sort. I think we have already seen some changes,” she said.


Nikki’s next in line
When President Donald Trump first met former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in November, he offered her the job of secretary of state. Haley turned him down, saying she did not have enough foreign policy experience for the job. Her impressive performance as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations—“Haley has seemingly gone out of her way to make a splash,” Politico observes—has many thinking that she’ll inherit the State Department in two years’ time.

Jenna leaves J.Crew
Jenna Lyons, president and creative director of clothing brand J.Crew, is leaving the company after 26 years and a recent dramatic decline in sales. J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler said he and Lyons came to a mutual agreement that it was time for her to move on. “She has made many significant contributions to J.Crew and has built an incredibly talented team,” he said. Somsack Sikhounmuong, head of women’s design, will take over as chief design officer.

Oprah’s absence
Oprah Winfrey is the best paid, most absentee Weight Watchers board member, according to the company’s recent regulatory filing. Winfrey, who bought 10% of the company in 2015 for about $43.2 million, was the only board member to attend fewer than 75% of board meetings in 2016. There’s little chance her absenteeism will cost her the seat; Winfrey has helped stabilize Weight Watchers stock by discussing how she uses the program to lose weight on social media and in advertisements.



Vote of confidence
Myanmar state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won nine of 19 available seats in regional and national parliaments in a by-election on Sunday, a show of support for her policies in the first vote since she came to power a year ago. The Nobel Peace Prize winner’s administration has been hampered by slowed economic growth and increased fighting among ethnic armed groups.
Bangkok Post

Taking Uber to task
Women make up 37% of tech jobs at Chinese ride-hailing startup Didi, which has 400 million users across 400 Chinese cities. Didi President Jean Liu, 39, is a former Goldman Sachs banker who joined the firm in 2014. Her company released the statistic in response to rival Uber’s first diversity report, which revealed that women occupy only 15% of tech-oriented positions overall; women make up 42.5% of Uber’s workforce in Asia.
Tech in Asia

Competitive advantage
A survey of 664 Australian companies, representing 65% of the country’s economy, found that revenue growth, profitability, and shareholder returns improve with increased gender diversity in the boardroom. Just 21 companies in the ASX 300+ survey group had female CEOs, yet the study found they delivered “a 9% increase in revenue in 2016, compared to the group-wide average of 0.5%.”
Sydney Morning Herald

News summaries by Linda Kinstler @lindakinstler


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“I don’t care how old you are, honey, you just need to know how to smize.”
--Tyra Banks, announcing that her TV show 'America's Next Top Model' is removing its age limit.