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WPUK response to Liz Truss statement to Women & Equalities Committee

We welcome the statement made by Liz Truss MP, the Minister for Women and Equalities, earlier this week in which she set out the priorities for the Government Equalities Office to the Women & Equalities Select Committee. We think the statement indicates a willingness to listen and respond to women’s concerns. We look forward to engaging with her, the Government Equalities Office and the Women & Equalities Select Committee to ensure that women’s voices are heard.

Here is our initial response.

Gender Recognition Act

Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) was formed to ensure that women’s opinions and experiences were fully considered in the public consultation on proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). Over 100,000 responses were submitted to the Government’s consultation reflecting the very high level of interest and concern from a range of parties.

Such a response is good for democracy.

We were pleased to have the opportunity to meet twice with officials in the Government Equalities Office (GEO) where we raised our concerns about the Government’s proposed reforms of the GRA. These meetings were roundtable discussions with several organisations.

We had very strong criticisms of the way the consultation was framed and carried out and we sincerely hope that lessons have been learned for future consultations.

Single-Sex Exemptions

… on the issue of the Gender Recognition Act…there are three very important principles that I will be putting place.

“First of all, the protection of single-sex spaces, which is extremely important.”

We are pleased to see the commitment by the Minister to the protection of single-sex spaces which is one of two key pillars of our campaign:

  • Ensuring women’s voices are heard
  • Defending and upholding the single-sex exemptions in the Equality Act 2010

Women and girls face endemic structural inequality throughout their lives. This is reflected, for example, in the high levels of sexual harassment and violence against women and girls; the pay gap and discrimination at work. This is why sex is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act (2010) and why single-sex exemptions must be upheld.

We welcome the clear commitment by the Government to uphold all these existing rights and ensure they are properly understood by service providers and users.

Work is now needed to ensure that any policy changes by councils, public services, other organisations and businesses which have leapt ahead of the law are revisited and, where necessary, revised so the right to single-sex provisions is properly respected and applied. It is also vital that women are properly represented and consulted in any policy making or changes to the law.

We also call on political and civil society to support the following five principles to ensure women’s full participation and representation in society:

  • Women have a right to self-organise
  • The law must work for women
  • An end to violence against women
  • Nothing about us without us
  • Sex matters

You can read more about these principles here.

Transgender rights

“Secondly making sure that transgender adults are free to live their lives as they wish without fear of persecution, whilst maintaining the proper checks and balances in the system.”

We applaud the commitment to ensuring that transgender people are able to live free from persecution. This is something that we have been clear about since our inception:

“We are against all forms of discrimination. We believe in the right of everyone to live their lives free from discrimination and harassment.”

We believe that all policies and laws must be rigorous and fair and we are pleased to see a commitment to proper process by way of ‘proper checks and balances in the system’. We believe this is imperative in ensuring that everyone’s rights are upheld and that the system is fair, democratic and accountable.

Young People

“Finally, which is not a direct issue concerning the Gender Recognition Act, but is relevant, making sure that the under 18s are protected from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in the future. I believe strongly that adults should have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit, but I think it’s very important that while people are still developing their decision-making capabilities that we protect them from making those irreversible decisions.”

We are pleased to see the Government recognise the very serious concerns regarding young people suffering from gender dysphoria. In particular, we have highlighted the huge increase in young women being referred to specialist gender identity services.We would like to see appropriate support from trained professionals for young people with gender dysphoria as they move into adulthood.

The principle of Gillick competence established that parents have no right to veto medical treatment to which a minor, fully understanding what is proposed, consents. The statement by Liz Truss has no bearing on this principle. Having the maturity and understanding to consent relates to:

“the complexity and importance of the decision to be made. A young person who has the capacity to consent to straightforward, relatively risk-free treatment may not necessarily have the capacity to consent to complex treatment involving high risks or serious consequences.” (GMC, 0–18 years: guidance for all doctors).

As a feminist organisation we fully support the Gillick test of competence, as well as the Fraser Guidelines which specifically relate only to the issue of giving contraceptive advice and treatment to those under 16 without parental consent.

Race, disabiliy and economic status

We are pleased to see the Minister declare her intention to tackle discrimination and disadvantage on many fronts.

“And I would like to see us working more closely on issues like geography, so where are communities being held back, and also on issues on background, income, as well as issues of gender, race and disability too.”

We expect future statements to say much more about race and disability and the particular impacts on women. We know that Black and Minority Ethnic women and women with disabilities suffer disproportionate levels of oppression, discrimination and harassment and the Government must be challenged to show what it is doing to address these inequalities.

We are pleased to see a commitment to improving the economic situation of women but are concerned at the specific focus on encouraging women entrepreneurs. The economic disadvantage of women in our society is not based on a lack of ‘get up and go’. Rather it is because of the undervaluing, underrepresentation and underpayment of women in the work that they do. This is something that is being thrown into sharp relief by the Coronavirus crisis which is exposing a whole range of areas in which women are poorly served by our economic and political system.

For a decade we have seen the government redirect resources away from the wider women’s sector – for example, the abolition of the Women’s National Council – towards the Women’s Business Council and other organisations focused on women entrepreneurs. Only around 5% of working age women are engaged in entrepreneurial activity, many of whom live hand to mouth on a precarious income with no job security. The pay gap for self-employed women stands at over 50%. The disastrous impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the incomes of the self employed and small business owners is a timely reminder of the need for more high quality, secure, and fairly paid jobs in the public sector.

If this Government is serious about addressing the obstacles that women face, it will need to do more than offer women business grants.

What next?

We are a campaign that believes in collective action. We know that many women survive only through the support of, and co-operation with, other women and that Government often lets us down

We want women to thrive, not just survive.

This statement by Liz Truss is a welcome expression of intent and we look forward to hearing more from her and the GEO on the details of their plans. We expect any proposals to be shared in a way that is open and ensures democratic engagement and response.

The manifesto we published in 2019 still stands.

We have already sent Liz Truss our 17 Coronavirus Actions on Domestic and Sexual Violence.

We will be contacting her again soon to press for the real changes needed to transform women’s lives.

Woman’s Place UK

24th April 2020

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