Sex matters in a sexist society

Here is the text of a letter I’ve sent to my MP, Caroline Lucas, following the government’s leaked announcement that they do not intend to amend the Gender Recognition Act. 

Dear Caroline,

I was pleased to see reports in last weekend’s Sunday Times that the government is intending to abandon its proposed reforms of the Gender Recognition Act.

The proposals arising from the 2015 Women and Equalities Select Committee Transgender Equality Inquiry were ill-considered and developed following a flawed process in which women’s organisations were not invited to participate as witnesses.

After the government indicated its intention to implement these proposals, including changes that would have made single-sex services illegal, several grassroots womens campaigns were launched, to defend the existing provisions in the Equality Act. As a result of this campaigning, the government was forced to back down on this intention in 2018, when the consultation on GRA reforms was finally announced.

Nevertheless, many statutory institutions, companies and voluntary sector organisations had meanwhile adopted policies which made it extremely difficult for women to access single-sex provision of services. This is a real setback for women and girls who need female-only space in which to recover from, reflect on and resist the impact of living in a sexist society. As a result of organisations adopting self-id policies:

Liz Truss’s statement to the Women and Equalities Select Committee in April included a welcome commitment to protecting single-sex spaces. This echoes a similar commitment in the 2019 Labour Party manifesto, and I am pleased to see this cross-party support for the existing legal framework set out in the Equality Act. I hope you will issue a statement adding your voice to this consensus.

Sex is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act, because discrimination, harassment and abuse on the basis of sex continue to blight the lives of women and girls in the UK and around the world. It is horrifying that women who have stated this fact, such as Maya Forstater, Kathleen Stock and most recently JK Rowling, are denounced and slandered by people presenting themselves as progressive.

The government’s decision to focus on a symbolic legislative change – introducing a self-declaration basis to the GRC process – rather than any of the material issues raised during the inquiry, was unwise and divisive. Taking a step back in order to proceed in a way that upholds the rights and freedoms of women and trans people is the right thing to do.

Please convey my views to Liz Truss. I would – as ever – be pleased to discuss these issues with you in person, and look forward to receiving your response.

3 Comments on “Sex matters in a sexist society”

  1. E R Kendrich says:

    Did you get a response?

    • Dani says:

      Yes, she said:
      “Dear Dani,

      Thank you for writing to me about recent reports, originating from the Sunday Times, that the Government is planning to drop some of the planned reforms to the Gender Recognition Act. It’s really useful to know what you think and that this matters to you.

      I’ve spoken with and met a number of women who have expressed similar points of concern and I continue to listen carefully. In particular, I understand that some people feel Trans rights are coming at the expense of women’s rights. My hope is that rather than allowing complex human rights issues to be treated as a competition between two groups, we can find ways to protect everyone’s fundamental rights.

      We are yet to hear formally from the Government, but I want to our laws to ensure that all women are protected. I am a proud and active feminist and I know that we still have far to go in the campaign for true equality and an end to the patriarchy. My view remains that standing up for Trans rights is a fundamental part of that campaign, and that we have more to gain by working together to challenge the prejudice, discrimination and exclusion all women and girls and all Trans men, women and children continue to face. I was therefore concerned to read the Sunday Times report.

      To explain this in a bit more detail – I have been deeply saddened by the violence and abuse that has been a feature of discussion about changes to the Gender Recognition Act, from those across a range of perspectives. I know that some people have felt unable to express their views on this issue. I feel strongly that we will survive not by turning on one another but by defending the right to free speech, protecting against hate crimes, finding a way through the current debate about Trans rights that’s respectful of one another and the facts, and refusing to engage in violence and abuse.

      I agreed to meet with the organisation Women’s Place UK to listen to their concerns in September 2018. I met for nearly two hours with their representatives and also with Fair Play for Women. The topics covered included the potential impact of self-identification on the current provisions in the Equalities Act 2010, and specifically on safe spaces; Trans people in prison; the effects of blocking software being employed on social media; hate crime; whether parents have the right to know if their child is e.g. on an overnight trip with a trans child; and sex education.

      We discussed protecting and maintaining sex based exemptions in the Equality Act and agreed this was an important shared principle. And to respond directly to your question, I do support retaining the exemptions in the Equality Act which allow for sex based discrimination, if the circumstances demand it.

      It was useful to learn more about the serious concerns some women are expressing about things like access to safe spaces for survivors of domestic or sexual violence. I’ve met with a number of constituents who have similar concerns and have contacted local refuges and women’s services to hear their perspective too – so far they have assured me that they are not anticipating any problems and have stressed that they want to support Trans women. If an individual poses a threat, these services feel they have the legal backing to exclude them from safe spaces and to date I have not heard from local services that the changes that had been proposed to the GRA would affect this.

      I have a long standing and active commitment to ending violence against women and girls and to ending the objectification and marginalisation of women and girls. Most recently, I have been working very closely with the charity RISE backing their campaign on guaranteeing press anonymity for survivors of domestic abuse. I am working cross party to amend current legislation to help better keep survivors safe and increase reporting rates.

      I am firmly of the view that it is vital to listen to and understand some of the fears that have been raised about, for example, how women feel about undressing in front of someone they perceive to be a threat. These are fears that might be experienced by all women. For Trans women there’s the additional fear of things like being shouted at and attacked in a changing room for being non-gender conforming. My aim is for all women to feel safe and to support one another. That’s going to take time and ultimately some women may never feel safe unless they have access to private changing facilities. I support continuing to meet this demand wherever possible, at the same time as providing gender neutral facilities.

      I absolutely support a woman’s right to see a woman GP. The changes that had been proposed to the Gender Recognition Act would not have affected someone’s right to be accompanied by a chaperone when they see a medical professional, for example, as often happens already. Nor would they make the system either more or less open to abuse by eg men wanting to commit crimes. I want women to feel safe and have campaigned tirelessly to this end. I don’t believe it’s acceptable to imply that trans women are a threat to other women or to deny them their rights in order to protect us all from individual men intent on abuse.

      For me this is about solidarity and standing with people who have both been previously denied a voice and who have routinely suffered severe discrimination. We know, for example, that women are far more likely to experience sexual violence, objectification or financial exclusion than men. We know too that Trans people are far more likely to experience hate crime or be subject to sexual abuse than to be the perpetrator – despite the impression that some high profile cases give, thanks to extensive media coverage. What feels crucial is that we don’t allow these cases to dictate policy and that we check whether the systems and processes we have in place are robust, are being followed, and any changes are proportionate.

      I remain of the view that it is both necessary and possible to promote and protect improved Trans people’s rights, whilst at the same time defending and advancing hard won women’s rights. We are living through a time of great cultural change when it comes to gender and nobody has all the answers yet.

      I apologise for the length of this reply but I hope it demonstrates that I understand that some women are frightened and worried – and that women’s only spaces really matter.

      Thank you again for writing to me and I hope you and yours stay well.

      Best wishes, Caroline”

  2. E R Kendrich says:

    Thank you for sharing the letter. It’s a very full response but I still fear whether the debate, considerations and safeguards will be robust, especially as there seems to be ideological capture in our organisations and institutions. Where she says, ‘I do support retaining the exemptions in the Equality Act which allow for sex based discrimination, if the circumstances demand it.’ – I wonder what this actually means and how it would be decided. Finally, how can we ensure fairness to all, if organisations such as Stonewall insist on no debate?

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