Labour activists launch declaration on women’s sex-based rights

Labour activists launch declaration on women’s sex-based rights

This article originally appeared in The Morning Star on 11th November 2019

Three hundred Labour party activists and supporters including three MSPs and 24 Labour councillors have launched a declaration on women’s sex-based rights – and are calling for more signatories.

The declaration, which is being made in the form of a petition, is in response to moves which many fear threaten to erode and water down rights that women campaigned long and hard to achieve.

Concerns arose after Labour made commitments in its 2017 general election manifesto to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). Many believe the proposals would have a detrimental effect on women’s sex-based rights – particularly the right to single-sex facilities such as hospital wards, toilets and changing rooms and also services for survivors of domestic violence and rape.

“All proposals should be audited for their effect on women and girls – but this one hasn’t been. In fact, there has been very little open discussion in any of the political parties or trade unions. Few conversations have been held at branch and constituency level. Where they have, such as in Tottenham and Totnes CLPs, members have voted to support women’s sex based rights,” said Paula Boulton, a spokeswoman for the team behind the declaration.

She added: “We are passionate Labour supporters, including MSPs, councillors, constituency and branch chairs, women’s officers and secretaries and many of us are activists working flat out for a Labour victory in the December general election to end the cruel policies of this Tory government which are causing so much pain and hardship.

However – this issue requires an evidence-based approach and wide discussion before any specific proposals for GRA reform are made.”

Concerns have also been raised about accusations of bigotry and hate crime directed at those trying to respectfully raise the issue and defend women’s sex-based rights.

Paula Boulton added: ”Women have a right to respond to these proposals, and anything that affects us, without censure. We’d like to reframe the conversation to ensure that women’s sex-based rights are protected and given due consideration when formulating future Labour policy, particularly with respect to any reform of the GRA or the Equality Act.”

Tottenham Constituency Labour Party chair Nick Rogers said: “It is important that both men and women in the labour movement make clear their support for women’s sex-based rights and the right of women to self-organise by signing the declaration. We will only advance the interests of the working class as a whole – and succeed in moving towards a socialist society – when we stand in solidarity with all oppressed groups, including the female half of the population.

“This declaration makes a start in promoting the kind of discussion we need on this issue to allow the labour movement to play its proper role in giving voice to all those fighting for a better future.”

The group behind the declaration acknowledges the status of women’s sex-based rights is a cross-party issue – as evidenced by the recent SNP women’s pledge.

In Scotland the SNP government has said it will push through reforms as quickly as possible, although the party is not in full agreement on this and there has been no proper equality impact assessment.

Former Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, MSP for Glasgow said: “I have fought all my life along with my sisters in the Labour and trade union movement to ensure that women’s voices are heard, that our needs and rights are addressed, to end the inequality women face and to change women’s lives. The progress made by women has come from women organising together and refusing to be silenced. That is as necessary now as it ever was.”

MSP for Central Scotland Elaine Smith said: “It is important to ensure that debate and different views are not silenced in the Labour Party and the wider labour movement. Women and girls deserve the best we can do, investing in services, tackling violence against women and girls, challenging harassment and discrimination on the grounds of sex. Good laws require thorough scrutiny, and as a Member of the Scottish Parliament I will continue to ask questions and listen to women’s concerns.”

The group say the declaration is their attempt to progress the conversation within the Labour movement.

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