New passport checks for families are a sexist, backward step | Hannah Peaker

Mothers who have a different surname to their child will be penalised by the system – especially after Brexit

I’ve never put much store in a surname. My siblings always had different names, because we have different dads, and it made no difference to how much we loved or annoyed each other. As we got older it seemed to matter even less: one has taken her husband’s name and another has double-barrelled with his wife (Scottish first, then English). But as my partner and I start thinking about having our own kids, our surnames have taken on new meaning.

We are unmarried lesbians, against my partner’s wishes. She proposed to me on a bridge in Venice and I cried because I didn’t want to get married – quite the spectacle for the American tourists queuing for their Romeo and Juliet day trip. In the end I agreed on the basis that it matters to her and I would do just about anything for her. But our notice of marriage has still not been posted at the town hall.

Matrimony is about patriarchy and property, even if gay people are now allowed to do it. By positioning it as the most fundamental human right, the LGBT movement completely ignored the significance of marriage within male supremacy, and its relationship with violence such as honour-based killings. It has less to do with love and more and more to do with consumerism, which should be warning enough to women. As with any structural inequality, you don’t solve it by grasping at notions of individual choice, joint stag dos or even by keeping your name. Or as June Eric Udorie put it: “By all means, get a boob job, but don’t try and justify it with feminism.”

Now I happen to agree with my mum that double surnames set children up to fail at the very first task of spelling their name. An alternative would be to combine them into one super name. This would be an option if it wasn’t the case that my surname, Peaker, together with my partner’s surname spells “weaker” (now there’s an argument for keeping your own name if ever I heard one). So the question is, whose surname should our children take?

Surely this doesn’t matter in 2018? Cohabiting families are the fastest-growing family type in the UK and, despite the billion-pound industry that pushes blissful matrimony, divorce rates are increasing. A lot of children have one parent’s name and not the other. So I was surprised last week when the Home Office decreed that families travelling under different names will be required to find other ways to demonstrate kinship at passport control.

More than 100,000 women each year are put through this ordeal at UK border controls (yes, women – 96% of children are given their father’s surname). Now we all know how embarrassing it is when your credit card is declined, even if it is the fault of the machine. Imagine having to persuade an official that an uncooperative teenager or frightened toddler belongs to you. In both cases, the humiliation is proportionate to your inability to prove a positive.

The Home Office claims that the extra questions, detentions and missed flights are necessary to “safeguard children and to prevent people trafficking, child sexual exploitation and other crimes against children” – all priorities for the Women’s Equality party. But here’s the thing: trafficking and child sexual exploitation are overwhelmingly carried out by men and the victims are overwhelmingly women and girls. In cases where women are involved in grooming or transporting, they are likely to be victims or slaves themselves. And if this genuinely is the concern of the Home Office, then there is a straightforward solution to identifying parents: make sure the lauded blue passports include their names.

Or could there be another motive behind this? When the Home Office talks about “other crimes against children” in the context of borders, they are probably referring to cross-border abductions. These are growing in number and likely to be exacerbated by Brexit, as well as becoming harder to resolve. This type of abduction is also more likely to be carried out by women (many of whom are fleeing abusive relationships or have lost their right to remain), which might explain the Home Office’s desperate profiling techniques. Yep, you got it: in the end, everything is about Brexit.

In 2015, two-thirds of newborns in London had at least one parent who was born outside the UK. If their marriage breaks down and one person’s right to remain relies on the other parent’s nationality or visa, then there is a real risk they could never see their children again. As it stands, EU citizens who can demonstrate five years residency will qualify for settled status even if they divorce. But after the cutoff date, those protections will vanish into thin air, and many more women will be tethered to their husband’s visas (women are less likely to qualify for independent visas because of the minimum income threshold and global gender pay gap), potentially making cross-border abductions more likely.

The Home Office knows that even if the UK remains part of the Hague abduction convention, the country’s ability to negotiate with foreign courts, agree return proceedings for children, introduce provisions for domestic violence and prevent unaffordable court fees for parents is fundamentally undermined by Brexit. In its 2016 inquiry on the implications of Brexit for criminal and civil justice, the House of Commons justice committee warned that continued cooperation with the EU on child abductions was vital. But as the government tumbles towards a no-deal Brexit, it is increasingly hard to see how it is possible.

If this is the real reason that women are being asked to prove their kinship, then the Home Office needs to do a hell of a lot better than parent-profiling. Because having a different surname doesn’t make you more likely to abduct your children. But moving towards a post-Brexit immigration system that, just as with marriage, reinforces women’s dependency on their husbands, does.

• Hannah Peaker is chief of staff for the Women’s Equality party


Hannah Peaker

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Overconfident men brought us Brexit. It’s not too late for women to fix it | Sophie Walker
The effects of leaving the EU will be particularly disastrous for women and the worse-off. WE has a different vision, says leader of the Women’s Equality party Sophie Walker

Sophie Walker

26, Jul, 2018 @2:46 PM

Article image
The passport farce shows Brexit is really an Ealing comedy | Stefan Stern
Outrage over foreigners making the new British passports would be funny – if only there was a happy ending in sight, writes Stefan Stern, director of the High Pay Centre and co-author of Myths of Management

Stefan Stern

23, Mar, 2018 @3:16 PM

Article image
Why did Tulip Siddiq have to vote in person? Cold Conservative calculation | Elizabeth Nelson
A proxy voting system would have helped the heavily pregnant Labour MP, says feminist campaigner Elizabeth Nelson

Elizabeth Nelson

17, Jan, 2019 @2:22 PM

Article image
Think Boris Johnson is toxic to voters? Don’t be so sure | Gaby Hinsliff
We can’t be certain that a tide of progressive votes will wash away the prime minister’s chances of winning an election, says Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff

Gaby Hinsliff

07, Sep, 2019 @5:00 AM

Article image
Discriminating against pregnant women is not just wrong, it’s foolish | Rowan Davies
Women are still hit by the motherhood penalty at work, with lower wages and stalled careers. If men did more childcare this would change, says Rowan Davies, head of policy at Mumsnet

Rowan Davies

20, Feb, 2018 @2:04 PM

Article image
Smaller parties have a surprisingly big impact on British politics | Hannah Peaker
By influencing the policies of Labour and the Tories, my party effects change, whatever the result, says Hannah Peaker of the Women’s Equality Party

Hannah Peaker

22, Apr, 2019 @10:13 AM

Article image
How can young people start families when their lives are so insecure? | Gaby Hinsliff
Women choosing late childbirth are assumed to ‘want it all’. But is the millennial housing crisis to blame, asks the Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff

Gaby Hinsliff

30, Mar, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
As the lockdown bites, it's women who are taking the strain | Gaby Hinsliff
The economics of coronavirus and the logistics of home-working are playing into some old gender inequalities, says Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff

Gaby Hinsliff

17, Apr, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
The gender pay gap isn't the half of it: our economy runs on women's unpaid work | Sandi Toksvig
It’s time to recognise the caring, support and childcare women do without seeing a penny, says broadcaster Sandi Toksvig

Sandi Toksvig

09, Apr, 2018 @6:59 AM

Article image
Improve train travel for all: bring in separate carriages for families | Lucy Jones
Our European colleagues have cottoned on to this transport no-brainer. I call on our rail minister, Paul Maynard, to follow suit, says author and freelance journalist Lucy Jones

Lucy Jones

30, Mar, 2018 @12:56 PM