Govt commitment to women’s sex-based rights welcomed

Labour women say Government move supports proposal in Labour Manifesto – and urge Labour leadership to listen to women before responding. Full statement below…

The Labour Women’s Declaration Working Group, on behalf of our nearly-5,000 signatories, welcomes the trailed forthcoming announcement of the Conservative government to abandon plans for new gender recognition legislation (as reported in the Sunday Times 14th June 2020). The proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) would have enabled people to change their legal sex without any of the current safeguarding, such as diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’ and two years of living in their preferred rôle.

In parallel, the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 will be strengthened to ensure single-sex spaces in such contexts as domestic abuse refuges and NHS wards, and with national guidance on lavatory provision, which is expected to mean that the ‘free-for-all’ with local councils and venues creating ‘gender neutral’ lavatories will cease. The Labour manifesto for the December 2019 election stated an intention to ensure that the single-sex provisions of the Equality Act were understood and enforced in appropriate services, and this intention from the Tories would appear to go some way towards that.

We are, of course, aware that there are serious splits in the Labour Party concerning the provisions of the Gender Recognition Act, and that many MPs (including in the shadow cabinet) and councillors have signed pledges committing to enabling ‘self-identification’ as a woman (or man) and even expelling from the Party those who are seriously concerned about the erosion of women’s rights inherent in such a move. However, thousands of members, including MSPs and councillors, have signed our Declaration supporting sex-based rights and free speech. We hope that Labour Party members at all levels will now recognise the importance of protecting women’s rights in the way that it appears the Conservative Party are intending – which in large part borrows from our own manifesto.

We urge Keir Starmer to engage with the proposals and give the details his full consideration. Women’s movements on the left across Europe are gathering pace in their defence of sex-based rights. Now that the Conservative party are backtracking from their former position, he should consult with us (as we have repeatedly requested) and hear our concerns about the specific points that we might want to challenge about the Conservative approach.

We also welcome the intention to outlaw gay conversion therapy – which is already forbidden in the regulations governing many of those who provide psychological support. We are concerned however that the Counsellors and Psychotherapists (Regulation) and Conversion Therapy Bill 2017-19, introduced by Conservative MP Geraint Davies and which was abandoned when it failed to clear all readings before the 2019 General Election, could be brought back. This specifically includes ‘gender identity’ in its wording, and inclusion of this in the clauses of any new Bill might make it much harder for good psychological support to be provided to those considering ‘transition’.

One of the issues that will arise from the decision to abandon changes to the GRA and strengthen the single-sex provisions of the Equality Act 2010 is the fact that the Scottish government has been going along a rather different route and has recently introduced self-identity within an Act concerning balanced representation of men and women on public boards. The Scottish government’s approach continues to be of profound concern for women in Scotland. Scottish GRA reform is pending, with analysis of the Scottish Government’s 2020 consultation put on hold during the current crisis. Hate crime legislation is also being considered, and is a matter of considerable unease given the breadth of interpretation which might be used.

After such a long wait since the closure of the consultation period on changes to the Gender Recognition Act, it is with great relief that we welcome the decision of the Westminster government to strengthen single-sex provision and ensure proper safeguards on legally-recognised changes to an individual’s status – safeguards which help to provide effective support to those undertaking transition.

We also welcome the response from David Lammy MP on the Andrew Marr television programme today that ‘Labour will have to look carefully at any legislation that is brought forward’ and from Scottish Labour in its manifesto that it will ‘listen carefully to the submissions and debate as the legislation progresses.’

Labour’s engagement in listening to women during this process is of vital importance, and we look forward to contributing.

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