We welcome the opportunity to contribute to Scottish Labour’s policy forum consultation.
Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) is a grassroots feminist campaign which was formed by a group of women in the labour and trade union movement to uphold women’s sex-based rights and protections in the UK. Since September 2017, we have held 23 public meetings across the UK which have been attended by over 3,500 people.
Initially, our aim was to enable a diverse range of women’s voices to be heard on the UK and Scottish Government’s proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. However, we are increasingly concerned with upholding and advancing women’s sex-based rights. We have recently published a manifesto for women.
As architects of landmark UK legislation on sex discrimination, previous Labour governments can lay claim to a strong track record on tackling the structural inequalities faced by women. We would like to see Labour acting as a catalyst to reinvigorate debate and discussion about how to uphold and advance women’s sex-based rights.
We particularly welcomed the commitment in Scottish Labour’s 2016 manifesto to introduce legislation that would require gender mainstreaming and a statutory requirement for gender budgeting across all policy areas.
A decade of Tory-led austerity has hollowed out our public services and women, in particular working-class women, have borne the brunt of this. Women are over-represented in public sector employment, which has been subject to year-on-year budget cuts. More women are engaged in precarious forms of employment. Funding for services that they rely upon – such as Sure Start and domestic violence refuges – has been subjected to annual local authority budget cuts. And it is women who so often plug the care gap when these services are diminished or disappear altogether.
We are concerned about the absence of any class-based analysis in the public debate about persistent discrimination faced by women on the ground of their sex. It is impossible to assess and tackle the structural inequalities suffered by women if we cannot recognise women as the oppressed sex. It is against this backdrop that we wish to raise a number of concerns about the challenges facing women in our communities.
Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act (EA) 2010 is the legal cornerstone of women’s existing rights to fair treatment, and to privacy and dignity in services provided to them. Passed by a Labour government, the foremother of the EA was the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) 1975. The Act defined a woman as a female of any age, a definition carried forward to the Equality Act 2010. The fundamental belief underlying the SDA was that the physical and social consequences of being born and living with a female body are so significant that women deserve specific protections in law, including the right in certain circumstances to single-sex services and spaces. The SDA stated clearly that it was concerned with discrimination against a woman “on the ground of her sex”.
However, in recent years, the exemptions provided for under the EA 2010 – and indeed the very definition of what it means to be a woman – have come under pressure. Governments and public authorities are increasingly shifting their focus to capturing data and planning services on the basis of ‘gender identity’ rather than sex. We believe that this shift, left unchecked, will have grave consequences for women’s sex-based rights as enshrined, primarily, in the Equality Act. Below we consider the implications of this conceptual shift on women in our communities.
Schools guidance for transgender pupils
WPUK is concerned that schools guidance for transgender pupils has failed to take account of the impact on female pupils. Guidance produced by LGBT Youth Scotland – and funded by the Scottish Government – has been adopted by 17 of the 32 local authorities in Scotland. We note that no public sector organisation that has either endorsed or adopted the guidance subjected it to an equality impact assessment.
A comprehensive Children’s Rights Impact Assessment undertaken by Women and Girls Scotland concluded that the guidance breached a number of Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.
We were pleased to note that the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People Shirley Anne Somerville MSP announced on 20 June 2019 that the guidance would be replaced by guidance from the Scottish Government given concerns that the LGBT Youth Scotland guidance “risks potentially excluding other girls from female-only spaces”. We understand that the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland is also currently drafting its own schools guidance for transgender pupils. We hope and expect that, in both cases, the guidance will be drafted following a full and comprehensive consultation with parents of school aged children, teachers and women’s groups.
WPUK manifesto demands on education:
- Statutory provision of fully-funded and properly resourced inclusive Relationships & Sex Education taught by trained education staff.
- An end to the provision of education by lobby groups and untrained or unregulated providers in all state schools and colleges. All external providers should conform to a statutory code of conduct and comply with the law including the Public Sector Equality Duty.
- Introduce a duty on schools and colleges to challenge harmful gender, sex and other stereotypes.
- Include women’s history and women role models as part of the statutory curriculum.
- Address barriers to, and encourage representation of, women and girls in STEM and other male-dominated subjects.
- Restore funding for adult education, Further Education, English as a Second Language, Higher Education, recognising the disproportionate impact these cuts have had on women.
- Robust defence of the human right to freedom of speech in academia.
- Take action to end sexualised violence against girls and women in education, and train teachers to tackle VAWG in schools, colleges and universities.
Woman’s Place UK
We believe that it is important to share a range of viewpoints on women’s rights and advancement from different perspectives. WPUK does not necessarily agree or endorse all the views that we share.