Gender law goes under the lens

WOMEN discussed proposed changes to law concerning gender identity yesterday in Brighton at a meeting titled What is gender?

Radical lesbian feminist Julia Long counter-posed views of gender as an innate quality with an analysis that views it as a social and political construct which allocates prescribed roles to men and women in a patriarchal society.

Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 individuals may change their legal sex but require approval from the medical profession, a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and to live as a member of the opposite sex for two years, she explained.

Recommendations from Parliament’s women and equalities select committee are that this be replaced with a self-declaration and that current exemptions under the Equality Act 2010 allowing certain services and spaces to be reserved for biologically female individuals be removed.

One speaker said the assault on a 60-year-old woman by transgender activists at Speaker’s Corner on September 13 for trying to attend a discussion on the nature of gender was a “watershed moment.”

Socialist Feminist Network co-convener Ruth Serwotka described the online bullying and abuse directed at women who raise these issues, quoting threats and endorsements of violence against women by activists who support the changes.

And Transgender Trend’s Stephanie Davies-Arai expressed fears that advice preventing professionals such as teachers or clinicians from questioning a child’s declared gender could harm children as a large majority of kids with identity queries end up identifying with their birth sex, but there are moves to accelerate the prescription of puberty blockers which can result in sterility and arrested development.

This article was originally published in the Morning Star on 28th September 2017.

A Woman’s Place Campaign Launched

Socialist Feminist Network supports the Woman’s Place UK campaign to protect and assert women’s rights and separate space, following is the launch statement, which was first published on Google Drive as a PDF, the campaign can be followed via the website, on Twitter and on Facebook and can be contacted by email at

A Woman’s Place

Who are we?

We are a group of people from a range of backgrounds including trade unions, women’s organisations, academia and the NHS. We are united by our belief that women’s hard won rights must be defended.

What are we for?

We are against all forms of discrimination. We believe in the right of everyone to live their lives free from discrimination and harassment. Women face both endemic structural and personal inequality. This is reflected, for example, in the high levels of sexual harassment, violence against women and girls; the gender pay gap; discrimination at work. This is why sex is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act (2010) which we believe must be defended.

We are calling for:

  1. Respectful and evidence based discussion about the impact of the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act to be allowed to take place and for women’s voices to be heard. Too often women are silenced, threatened, trolled, harassed and even physically assaulted for daring to engage in a discussion about the possible consequences of a legislative change. The accusation of “transphobia” should not be used to shut down women’s voices.
  2. The principle of women only spaces to be upheld — and where necessary extended. In subsequent briefings we will set out the reasons why these spaces are needed.
  3. A review of how the exemptions in the Equality Act which allow for single sex services or requirements that only a woman can apply for a job (such as in a domestic violence refuge) are being applied in practice. We believe that the Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry and its recommendations have had a chilling effect on many service providers and employers who are now not sure if it is lawful to apply these exemptions.
  4. Government to consult with women’s organisations on how self-declaration would impact on women only services and spaces.
  5. Government to consult on how self-declaration will impact upon data gathering — such as crime, employment, pay, and health statistics — and monitoring of sex-based discrimination such as the gender pay gap.

Why now?

The Government Equalities Office has committed to consult on changes to the existing Gender Recognition Act.

The current process requires that you are over 18; have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria (defined by the NHS as a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because they believe there to be a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity); that you’ve lived in your acquired gender for at least 2 years and that you intend to live in your acquired gender for the rest of your life. You must also have an original or certified copy of your birth certificate and copies of any official documents that show your birth name has changed to your current name; proof you’ve lived in your acquired gender for the required time (2 years for standard route, 6 years for alternative route); any medical reports and proof you’re living in your acquired gender (passport, driving licence, payslips or benefit documents, utility bills or other documents of an official nature)

The proposed change to the law would simplify the process to gain a GRC with the likely introduction of a simple statement of intent as in Ireland:

“I do solemnly and sincerely declare that I:

  1. have a settled and solemn intention to live in the preferred gender for the rest of my life,
  2. understand the consequences of the application,
  3. make this application of my own free will.”

Gender Recognition Act, Ireland, 2015

The Equality Act 2010 allows for those with a gender recognition certificate to be exempt from some services, occupations or spaces where there is a “proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim”. These exceptions are not general but must be justified on a case by case basis:

“A service provider may have a policy about providing its service to transsexual users, but this policy must still be applied on a

case-by-case basis. It is necessary to balance the needs of the transsexual person for the service, and the disadvantage to them if they are refused access to it, against the needs of other users, and any disadvantage to them, if the transsexual person is allowed access. To do this may require discussion with service users (maintaining confidentiality for the transsexual service user). Care should be taken in each case to avoid a decision based on ignorance or prejudice.”
Equality and Human Rights Commission Guidance on the Equality Act

Transgender people should have the same rights as anyone else to be free from discrimination, to access the services that they need and to be treated with dignity and respect.

However, moving to a process of self-declaration risks unintended consequences for the safety and wellbeing of women and girls. If the government were to go ahead with the proposed simplification of the gender recognition process, and move towards a self-declaration system, it would mean that violent male offenders could demand access to women only spaces and services such as refuges, sexual violence centres/services and prisons simply by claiming to identify as a woman, whether or not this was the case. There is already evidence that this is happening in the prison service in the UK. There is evidence from both the UK and internationally of people who were born male entering women only spaces dressed as women and going on to assault women.

Whether or not these offenders are transgender is irrelevant since the recommendations in the report would facilitate this type of offending by making access to women only spaces dependent on an individual’s declaration that they identify as a woman with no need for any process of social or medical transition.

Trans people have the right to access the services that they need and there are real concerns about the safety of tran

swomen, in particular if they are housed in the mainstream prison population in line with their biological sex. However, the Committee’s recommendations in these areas are not the best way to address these issues and threaten the safety and wellbeing of women and girls.

How can you get involved?

  • Join our campaign
  • Read and share our briefings
  • Discuss the proposals with other people
  • Write to your MP

There are lots more resources from Woman’s Place UK on the website, including all their published documents, films of speakers, upcoming meetings and more.

Violence has no place in transgender debate

The following letter was originally published in The Guardian.

Speakers’ Corner in London was where suffragettes met to debate the laws and rights of the day. This was the intention for women who congregated there on 13 September to be directed to a meeting to discuss the impact of proposed legislation on gender identity.

The venue could not be advertised because the original one, a community meeting space, had been intimidated into cancelling the booking. Transgender activists who opposed the debate taking place instigated a campaign to shut it down, which led to the attack on 60-year-old Maria MacLachlan by multiple assailants. Her camera was smashed, her hand cut, and her face and neck bruised.

Attempts to minimise or justify this violence from those who sympathise with the cause these protestors claimed to support are deeply worrying. Some members of the trans community have expressed their revulsion at the actions of this violent vanguard. Others, perhaps intimidated from speaking out for fear of being ostracised, must find their voice if there is to be reasoned discussion of legislation that affects us all.

Women have a right to free association and assembly. Politically motivated violence aimed at silencing women and shutting us out of political discussion will not succeed.

Linda Bellos
Lucy Masoud FBU LGBT London secretary
Prof Deborah Cameron University of Oxford
Helen Steel
Karen Ingala Smith Chief executive officer, NIA
Gemma Aitchison Founder, YES Matters
Bea Campbell
Naomi Fearon Deputy general secretary, Socialist Educational Association
Rahila Gupta
Ellenor Hutson
Rebecca Lush
Rachel Moran Founder, SPACE international
Margaret Prosser Labour, House of Lords
Yasmin Rehman
Judith Jones
Ruth Serwotka Convenor, Socialist Feminist Network
Sam Smethers Chief executive, Fawcett Society
Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson Co-director, Women’s Budget Group
Dr Eva Neitzert Co-director, Women’s Budget Group
Kiri Tunks Convenor, Socialist Feminist Network
Dr Jennifer Wilkes
Harriet Wistrich Founder, Centre for Women’s Justice
Victoria Brittain

In a sexist society, the body’s sex is not a redundant category: a response to Bridget Chapman and Kirstie Paton

The following article, by Judith Green, was originally published in Labour Briefing in response to Gender recognition – support change by Bridget Chapman and Kirstie Paton.

I am a midwife and trade unionist. I never assign sex and find parents are quite capable of identifying their baby’s sex. My job includes documenting sex in the health record and sex is recorded in birth registration. Sex is only ‘assigned’ to babies when this is not obvious at birth – a rare occurrence. Recording of the sex of male and female newborns is important. There are health issues for newborn boys (such as undescended gonads) that do not exist for newborn girls (for whom internal gonads are healthy) and vice versa. Recording sex at birth, and various life junctures, is vital to the social and political health of us all. Every single claim that feminists and socialists have ever made about the representation and treatment of women is dependent upon this data. This includes that 100 million women were missing due to sex-selective abortion, infanticide and unequal treatment of girls first published in 1990. [1] Our efforts for a more just, equal and peaceful world starts with being able to accurately identify inequality, injustice and violence. Without recording sex we would not know that even more women (estimated 117 million) are missing today.[2]

Bridget Chapman and Kirstie Paton write that self-declaration will not render meaningless sex discrimination legislation or the category of woman. Yet, Stephen Whittle, a key activist for the Gender Recognition Act described how in that legislation

“gender identity transforms legal sex…there is no recourse to the sexed body which suggests that the body’s sex as a taxonomical tool has in some way become redundant… Changing sex for the purposes of legal recognition then, is … about changing how sex is legally defined.” [3]

The Equality Act placed limits on this disregard for the sexed body, setting out exceptions in Schedule 3, Paragraph 28. [4] These allow the provision of single-sex services provided they are a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. The passing of a self-declaration law together with a removal of these exceptions would see the current delicate balance of rights between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ in the Equality Act overturned.

Socialists who want ‘the body’s sex as a taxonomical tool’ made redundant should reflect on the violent exploitation of female bodies. Women have won services and organisations that meet our needs for safety, dignity, privacy and healing at times when our bodies and psyches are vulnerable.

Those confident that new legislation will not impact women’s rights should not fear full discussion of the proposals. The left must consider the impact of further changing how sex is defined.

Judith Green