What is a Woman? Our commentary on the Labour Party’s current dilemmas

What is a woman? Do only women have cervixes?

Over the past six months, Labour politicians have stumbled in answering questions like these.

Labour’s current policy contradiction in relation to sex and gender identity is an electoral car crash. Unless this changes Labour has no credible answer to match Johnson’s at PMQs on 23rd March.**

The twin track Labour policy of promotion of sex self-ID and support for the single-sex exceptions is unworkable and indefensible.  If ‘transwomen are women’ (TWAW) then they cannot be excluded from single-sex spaces when that is required for dignity, safety or privacy. It’s not complicated but it does need some level of knowledge to understand what is a confusing legal situation, and an ability to move beyond years of erroneous advice from Stonewall and others.

Keir Starmer needs to press pause, initiate a party-wide conversation, and submit self-ID to an assessment of its equality impact on other protected characteristics including sex, disability, sexual orientation and belief.

Because the party has so long been in thrall to Stonewall’s “no debate” mantra, most UK Labour politicians and many members are way behind the curve in understanding the conflicts of rights. They have never had a robust conversation about it and also incorrectly equate today’s transactivism with the fights against Section 28, entirely missing the fact that it is us socialist women, lesbians and gay men from that fight, who are now opposing self-ID. This silencing of women, and especially lesbians, in the party has been remarkably effective, via ongoing and unchecked abuse and discriminatory disciplinary investigations for alleged hostility to “gender identity” – a concept which is not defined and has entered party policies without any open discussion or evaluation.

Today’s #LabourLosingWomen mess was entirely predictable. The party’s leaders, first Corbyn then Starmer, have sleepwalked their way into it, refusing for years to listen to our evidence or read our briefings. The fallout from this lack of engagement was the Cervixgate Brighton conference, with Starmer, Reeves and Lammy all tripping over the definition of a woman. To that can be added the recent shambles of the Leader stating that TWAW is UK law, Anneliese Dodds being perceived to hesitate on Woman’s Hour, and Yvette Cooper trying to dodge the question.

While the policies remain contradictory, and politicians remain resistant to thinking about them, they are all going to stumble in explaining them.  As exposed during Maya Forstater’s Employment Tribunal recently, the professed belief of many people in gender identity ideology crumbles under actual scrutiny & questioning.

Lia Thomas’s win in women’s swimming in the US, and a similar disaster brewing in British Cycling, are alerting millions to the problems of Self-ID. This means that MP Charlotte Nichols’ ill-judged tweet backing Thomas, and MP James Murray struggling on LBC, meet a much better informed public, with predicable results.

The Tories spotted Labour’s dilemma, and Johnson’s words on sex and gender identity at PMQs on 23rd March were perfectly pitched to expose it, to their clear electoral advantage.

Is there any hope of a sensible way forward for Labour?

LWD has the growing support of thousands of Labour voters and members from across all wings of the party. At the recent online national women’s conference, delegate speaker after speaker was clear in her support for sex-based rights, same-sex attraction, accurate language, against the erasure of lesbians and for all existing rights of people with transgender identities to be protected. LWD’s videos of some of these speeches are the Top Tweets using the official conference hashtag.

And it is good to see that the shadow front bench commitment, (led on this issue by Anneliese Dodds), remains, as in the last manifesto, that the single-sex exceptions in the Equality Act must be protected. Anneliese also stated on Woman’s Hour her commitment to their application where needed, for example, in women’s sport.

We believe there may be a slight movement at last towards opening up the conversation in the party. Front-bench Westminster politicians, faced with these media stumbles, have called for a ‘respectful conversation’ and MPs and MSPs are meeting with us in private in Westminster and Holyrood. (Sadly, the Welsh Labour government seems entirely ‘captured’, and LWD Cymru have not yet been able to secure any proper dialogue).

Respectful evidence-based conversations.

We know that many people, including politicians, don’t agree with us, and some genuinely believe that transwomen are literally women, that people can be born in the wrong body and that sex is assigned at birth.  We believe they have a right to hold such beliefs, but we point out that they are contested beliefs, which we do not share, and that it should be possible to discuss these beliefs freely with each other. 

We look forward to a date for the meeting, which General Secretary David Evans offered us in September 2020 then postponed, to discuss our growing records of evidence of silencing and discrimination.

We have applied for an exhibition stand and fringe meeting at the next Conference, co-hosted with gender critical Labour Peers and MPs.

As part of our cross-party partnership with our sister pledge groups, Conservatives for Women and Liberal Voice for Women, we host monthly cross-party private parliamentary briefings on sex and gender in policy and law, which Labour politicians have attended.

We welcome invitations to talk with local parties, women’s branches and trade union groups.

We deplore the intimidation which socialist women can be subjected to when we meet to discuss sex-based rights, for example our own LWD rally in London in March 2020, our meeting during the 2021 Brighton conference, and most recently, the Woman’s Place UK meeting in Manchester on 24th March 2022.  We call on Labour politicians to unite in their condemnation of such threats and intimidation.

Is this an electoral issue?

We desperately need a Labour government. But there’s no chance of one with the party’s current contradictory policies on sex and gender identity and with the climate of fear which prevents our supporters in the Party from discussing them. Indeed, many activist women are feeling so alienated that they are unwilling or at least hesitant to get out campaigning for the May council elections.  Voters across the UK are also planning their searching questions about sex and gender when campaigners from all parties knock on their doors.

We hope that at least some Labour candidates and politicians are ready with some credible answers.

**On 23rd March 2022 Boris Johnson made this response at PMQs in relation to a question about his party’s view on sex and gender.

“This is one of those issues which requires extreme sensitivity, tact, love and care. When people want to make a transition in their lives, they should be treated with maximum generosity and respect. We have systems in this country that allow that and we should be very proud of that. But I do want to say in addition….when it comes to distinguishing between a man and a woman the basic facts of biology remain overwhelmingly important.”

 

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