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Women’s rights in the Labour Party

Women’s rights in the Labour Party: more light, less heat on sex and gender

Briefing document from Labour Women’s Declaration Working Group 12/07/2022
The crux of the controversy is over women’s rights: who should hold them,
and on what basis. This makes it imperative that women are heard. Yet
women’s views have been censored and subject to attack. This has raised the
temperature and created a climate in which the respectful, evidence-based
dialogue we need to have has been impossible.
It is important that Labour leadership clearly condemns all bullying
and intimidation of women and those who would enter the debate
and discussions around sex and gender.
We need an unequivocal statement from party leadership affirming
the party’s ongoing determination to:
defend and expand women’s rights
ensure women can contribute to discussion and debate on
ensure members are fairly considered for officer and political
roles without discrimination and harassment on the basis of
legitimate opinions regarding women’s rights and the nature of
sex oppression
1 Sex and Gender: Key Points
Sex is fixed and dimorphic: male and female are biological sexes
determined at conception and recorded at birth: it is not possible to
change sex, though cosmetic surgery and hormone treatment may help
an individual to resemble the opposite sex
Gender is the set of social and cultural norms and stereotypes about
how women and men ‘should’ behave: it is socially constructed,
coercively imposed, changes over time, and differs between societies
Gender identity, which has no legal definition and is undefined in the
Labour Party rulebook, is an innate sense of maleness or femaleness (or
both or neither) that some individuals experience: individuals are
entitled to believe in gender identity but it is unfalsifiable (unscientific)
and at odds with what feminists have argued for decades, that gender
roles are not innate but are socially and coercively imposed
Women are a sex class: born female, with sexed bodies that have
implications for how we live our lives, and also raised female, as the
subordinated group in a sexist society: being a woman is about both
biology and social experience
Because sex, gender and gender identity are different, we need clear
language to talk about women’s sex-based rights: we need to collect
data on the basis of sex in order to identify the extent of sex-based
oppression and differentials, to identify and implement measures to
address sexism, and to calibrate the success or otherwise of those
‘Self-identification’ (self-ID) of sex is based on the sex-denialist belief
that sex is no longer politically relevant, that gender identity overrides
sex in categorising an individual as a man, woman or something else,
and that women’s rights, protections and provisions should be
extended to any man who feels, believes or says he is a woman
2 The Conflict of Rights: Key Points
Women’s rights, and the rights of transgender-identifying people, are
not always or invariably in conflict: in many places, sex does not matter
The Equality Act provides single-sex exceptions for providers of
services where sex matters (e.g. hospitals, prisons, domestic violence
refuges, hostels, changing and toilet accommodation): these exceptions
are on the basis of sex, not gender identity
Self-ID makes enforcing the single-sex exceptions
impracticable: providers cannot distinguish between visibly
male people who identify as transgender and those who do not:
a space provided on the basis of self-declared gender identity
is not single-sex
Self-ID also means that resources intended to help women
redress the sexism they have experienced since birth cannot be
reserved for them: extending measures (e.g. all-women shortlists) on
the basis of gender identity means that those for whom the measures
were intended (women who have been disadvantaged from birth)
become less likely to receive them
Data collection that conflates sex, gender, and gender identity creates
confusion (e.g. in the criminal justice system) that skews statistics
Losing the word ‘woman’ to describe women as a sex class makes it
impossible to discuss the particularities of women’s experiences: it has
led to de-humanising of women as (e.g.) ‘birthing people’, ‘cervix-
havers’, ‘menstruators’
Conflicts of rights are not new and the Equality Act recognises they can
arise: where they do, respectful, evidence-based discussion involving
all groups concerned is needed to explore and address them, and find
policy solutions
3 Creating a Climate Conducive to Discussion: Key Points
Sex and gender are confused and conflated in Party governance at all
Women who seek to discuss or defend our sex-based rights are subject
to knee-jerk accusations of transphobia and bigotry, and told we have
no right to participate in discussion
Women have been victimised in the Labour Party for defending
women’s rights on the basis of sex: we have an extensive dossier of
women denied Party membership, removed from candidate panels,
disinvited as speakers at meetings, disciplined etc.
Lesbians have found it especially hard to be heard: the acronym
‘LGBTQ+’ tends to obscure the specific experiences of lesbians, and
those women who consider themselves same-sex (not same-gender-
identity)-attracted are targeted rather than represented by the Labour
LGBTQ+ ‘community’
Labour’s policy to support self-ID has not been properly discussed or
formally decided anywhere in the Party, and its potential impact on
other protected characteristics, including sex, religion and belief, has
not been assessed
Labour’s partnerships with discredited corporate lobby groups
Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence, which promote sex denialism and
a policy of ‘no-debate’, means that members, staff and politicians have
been trained to believe that women’s rights must be held on the basis
of gender identity, and that any discussion of the continued relevance
of sex is trans-exclusionary
Beyond the Labour Party, public understanding of sex and gender, and of the
implications of self-ID for women’s rights, is growing. As the Common Ground
report showed, the UK public is supportive of trans-identifying people being
able to live with dignity and without harassment, and wants conflicts of rights
to be addressed and resolved. Current Labour policies, including on
conversion practices and non-binary identities, are behind the curve, stuck in
the era and language of ‘no-debate’. We will only move forward, as a party,
when genuine evidence-based dialogue, in language everyone can
understand, becomes possible. We can help with this.
Resetting the dial on no-debate will take commitment and a clear steer from
the top. Without clear leadership, the party will continue to lose ground on
women’s rights – ground that should belong to Labour but is daily being
ceded to the Conservatives. This needs to be reversed.
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