The Labour Representation Committee (LRC) claims to be “preparing the labour movement for power”. We are only too desperate to have a potential government that could make a real difference to the lives of all those so badly hurt by the policies of the Conservatives. It was therefore surprising to find that LRC’s latest target is the Labour Women’s Declaration (LWD), a set of seven points that build on the past commitment of the Labour Party to opposing discrimination of all sorts, including against women, and promoting women’s rights in work and public life. We echo the commitment in Labour’s own manifesto that “the single-sex exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2010 are understood and fully enforced in service provision.”
It is worth noting that the LRC’s article begins by claiming that the LWD developed in the run-up to the recent Labour Women’s Conference. The writer has clearly failed to check for any facts, since LWD was launched in November 2019 with 300 founder signatories (including many elected party officers and politicians), rapidly gained thousands more and is now approaching 7,000 signatures – people who have been committed to helping Labour into government, but are now disillusioned and distressed about how regressive attitudes to women, spreading throughout society, are embedding within the Labour Party we have supported and want to support.
The statement that LWD “counterpose[s] what they call ‘sex based rights’ to rights for all women including trans women” makes immediately clear that this is written by people who subscribe to the belief that sex no longer matters (often expressed as the mantra “trans women are women”), and who are unaware that the Equality Act 2010 refers to sex and the rights of those who come under that protected characteristic which, it makes clear, is biological. Both gender reassignment and sex are protected in law. LWD was established to defend and promote women’s sex-based rights; other groups exist to champion the rights of trans people.
They claim that the oppression of women derives not from biology but “from (anti-)social factors”. How the writer(s) imagine women experience ourselves within these anti-social factors remains a mystery, but clearly they are unaware of the research on how babies are treated differently according to whether they are male or female, and the experience of girls and women from those early days through to old age seems to be irrelevant to them. Is it not biology that leads to the harassment of girls as they enter puberty? Do LRC really believe that sex-selective abortion and FGM are nothing to do with biology? The later reference to ‘gender-based’ violence once again makes the key factor of biological sex invisible.
Like all decent socialists, we support the rights of people with DSDs (‘intersex’ conditions) and people who describe themselves as trans or non-binary, to live free from discrimination and harassment. But our declaration addresses women’s sex-based rights. One might have hoped that LRC would recognise the “appalling violence at home and on the streets and discrimination at work” suffered by women, rather than suggesting that it is trans-identified people who are the sole targets.
There was a crashing sound of jaws hitting the ground when people read that the Labour movement has a ‘proud history’ of ‘enabling members to self-identify whether that is being black, disabled, LGBT+ or women’. Of course, if LRC really is happy for everyone to be able to demand that they be treated according to whatever ‘identity’ they decide to present, there would be little point in any of the anti-discrimination legislation that Labour has previously worked so hard to establish.
As for the statement of support for challenging “repressive gender stereotypes”, we can only wish the LRC had some awareness of the fact that actual feminists have, since the 1970s, put the work of dismantling gender stereotypes at the centre of our politics. The notion that this depends on a “social, rather than a medical, model of gender recognition” is ludicrous.
The Equality Act 2010 recognises that there can be conflicts of rights , even though LRC apparently believes there are none. It is not a case of not wanting “to encounter trans people in my designated space” but of recognising the needs of women that are clearly outlined in the EA. The failure, at the very least, to recognise the need for trauma-informed services – such as domestic abuse refuges being women-only – indicates an ill-informed approach. We see no evidence that the LRC have engaged with actual examples and evidence relating to conflicts of rights in the places where sex, and single-sex provision, matters: in prisons, in refuges, in sports, in intimate healthcare, in sleeping and changing accommodation, and in the collection of unambiguous data, for instance. Simply asserting that “there is no contradiction” is polarising this discussion: to move on, we need a sensible, evidence-based and respectful examination of the evidence and arguments, so that we can address them and reach resolutions which protect everyone.
To claim that the LWD is ‘out of step’ and that our seven principles fail to “combat all forms of oppression and fight for a society for the Many not the Few” means that the writers of the LRC statement really know remarkably little about women’s oppression in society, the issues that the Declaration attempts to address – or that women are, in fact, the Many.
However, we must thank LRC for one thing – they have made more people aware of LWD and signature numbers are growing.
TLDR? See our tweet response to the LRC statement, and note the ratios.