Sex matters in a sexist societyPosted: June 18, 2020
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.
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:
- Women in Brighton have no access to female-only support and counselling when they have been subjected to sexual assault and rape
- Girls in Brighton schools are routinely expected to share changing rooms with male pupils, and official guidance suggests that any objection to this is contrary to human rights practice
- When a woman in Brighton requested that her preference for female clinicians (resulting from her experience of being raped) be recorded in her medical notes, her request was presented as an example of transphobia in staff training materials
- Anti-feminist and unscientific concepts such as innate gender identity and sex as a spectrum are being presented as settled fact in official local authority guidance for schools
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.