Socialist Feminist Network Statement

Statement of Socialist Feminist Network on women’s rights and gender identity law

Despite some legal and social reform, British society remains scarred by inequalities, prejudice, bigotry and oppressions of all kinds. Unity and collective effort to create a fair and equal society for all lie at the heart of the labour movement.

Austerity has had a hugely detrimental impact upon working class women. LINK to TUC. We believe that it is imperative to retain women as part of our movement, to ensure the movement represents their interests and allows them freedom of speech. We do not think this contradicts the rights of any other minority group but in fact enhances the unity of our movement. We draw upon the work of feminists in our understanding of gender as a social construct which coercively imposes a hierarchy between the sexes.

Transgender people have the right to live their life free from persecution, harassment or discrimination in any form. We note that under the umbrella of “transgender” there are many different and variant gender expressions. We believe that individuals should be free to express themselves without diluting the rights and dignity of others.

The 2010 Equality Act is the cornerstone of hard won rights for those facing discrimination and protecting oppressed groups. We believe any suggested legislation that could impact upon existing provision within the Equality Act should be fairly scrutinised for the potential to dilute the rights of others or for unintended consequences leading to possible reversals in legal protections. We request the government undertakes an equality impact assessment on its proposals to introduce gender identity legislation.

The 2010 Equality Act enshrines rights for women and girls to be free from discrimination including sexual harassment and to have sex specific protections in law. These include the right for certain occupational roles to be legitimately categorised as female only in order to protect the privacy and dignity of women. Such roles include rape crisis counsellors or are in occupations with access to female intimate spaces. We believe these sex based protections are invaluable.

Tory proposals in the Maria Miller Report suggest no less than a re-categorisation of sex based classification to that of gender identity. This is a change to the legal basis of our common understanding of man and woman. As such this is a legitimate and proper discussion about balancing rights and thinking through consequences. We do not accept that raising legitimate questions about balancing rights amounts to transphobic or hate speech and we are in favour of free speech.

We want the labour movement to organise a far reaching consultation process in LP branches and across Trade Unions to consider the impact of the Maria Miller proposals on women and girls sex based protections: Access to the consultation arrangements should be assured for both to women and LGBT members.

The consultation should in particular consider:

  • Sex categorisation of statistics so that we can meaningfully continue to monitor equal pay, representation of women in public life on company boars etc. and that the recording of male violence is not eroded.
  • An agreed process for categorisation of national statistics on Transgender trends.
  • Female only spaces including in schools and sports facilities and public venues and workplaces.
  • Facilities for the most vulnerable women in society such as prisons and shelters.
  • Sports arrangements and protecting the integrity of competition for women and girls.
  • Free speech and any conflict arising from creating gender identity as a protected characteristic.
  • Sex discrimination law and the potential loss of meaningful sex based comparitors.

Further consultation should take place with teacher trade unions and those unions representing members providing services to young people on the impact of gender stereotyping on their lives with a view to finding appropriate materials and support. We also want the involvement of trade union members providing services to vulnerable women.

Such a wide ranging consultation on these matters will bring about meaningful protections and a balance of rights that might result in agreed changes to existing equality law. Such an approach will sit within the labour movements collective values. We also believe this approach will win wide support across all sections of society.

9th August 2017.