WPUK submission Scottish Labour Policy Forum Consultation: Communities

We welcome the opportunity to contribute to Scottish Labour’s policy forum consultation.

About us

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[1] 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.

Background

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.

Gender based violence

It is critical that actions to address sexual and domestic violence, including prostitution, remain addressed within a strategy to end men’s violence against women and girls recognising that women and girls are disproportionately the victims of these crimes. Men’s violence against women and girls is both a cause and consequence of sex inequality. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) General Recommendation 19[2] highlights that violence against women “is a form of discrimination that seriously inhibits women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men.” And that gender-based violence, which impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of human rights and fundamental freedoms under general international law or under human rights conventions, is discrimination.

 Independent, specialist services for women who have been subjected to domestic and sexual violence are not resourced to levels sufficient to meet demand, many have suffered under annual local authority budget cuts and the failure of local authorities to recognise the importance of specialist independent survives to victim-survivors.

  • Rape Crisis England and Wales specialist services[3] were accessed by 78,461 individuals in 2017-18 – an increase of 17% from 2016-17. 93% of service users were female.
  • The number of refuge bed spaces[4] in England falls short of the minimum number recommended by the Council of Europe by 1,715 bed spaces.
  • 31% of services responding to Women’s Aid’s annual survey[5] in 2018 reported that since 2014 they have had to reduce the amount of support (in terms of staff time) they are able to give to each service user due to funding.

The single sex exceptions under the Equality Act 2010 enable the provision of women-only services. However, evidence[6][7] to the Women and Equalities Committee’s current inquiry Enforcing the Equality Act: the law and the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) suggested that there is a lack of awareness amongst service providers about the circumstances in which they can use these single sex exceptions. During an oral evidence session on 20 May 2019, it became clear that umbrella body Women’s Aid (England) had not produced guidance for its members on the operation of the single sex exceptions since the Equality Act 2010 came into force.

Guidance[8] produced by Scottish Women’s Aid with a number of other voluntary sector organisations suggests that any women who objected to sharing a service with a transwoman should be “educated…much in the same way that we would if we received comments regarding other service user’s ethnicity, religious affiliation or sexual orientation”.

We would like to see all service providers working in this area issued with clear guidance on how and when they can invoke the single sex exceptions.

Female prison population

WPUK’s manifesto calls for a reduction in the size of the female prison population. Across the UK, the female prison population has grown substantially over the past two decades. According to Women in Prison, 84% of women entering prison in 2017 committed a non-violent offence. The majority of women in prison are the victims of male violence and have been experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse during childhood.

These issues were highlighted in a report by Labour peer Baroness Jean Corston[9], published in 2007. The report made a series of wide-ranging recommendations with the aim of reducing the number of women in prison. Five years later, Dame Elish Angiolini published the report[10] of the Commission on Women Offenders in Scotland, which made similar recommendations. Both reports recommended increased use of community sentences for women and sustainable funding for community-based services for women.

Unfortunately, the female prison population has not declined in any significant way since and women in prison remain one of the most vulnerable groups in society.

In recent years, both the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) have introduced policies that enable prisoners to request to be accommodated on the basis of their ‘gender identity’ not their sex. A number of male prisoners who identify as women have been placed in the female prison estate. One prisoner, Karen White[11] – a convicted rapist – was housed in a female prison in Yorkshire, where they sexually assaulted female prisoners.

Last year, campaign group Fair Play for Women[12] established that up to half of male-born trans prisoners are likely to be sex offenders or violent criminals. It also emerged that the Equality Impact Assessment undertaken by the SPS did not consider the impact[13] of the policy on female prisoners or prison officers.

Women in prison are an exceptionally vulnerable group. Most have been the victims of male violence. Ensuring their physical and psychological safety as well as their privacy and dignity and up must be paramount. This can best be achieved by maintaining single sex prisons and we hope that any future review of current policies in force in the UK will take account of this.

 Other relevant WPUK manifesto demands

  • Sustainable investment from national government, proportionate to demand, to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG), including single-sex support services, and specialist independent services run by and for women, BME women, migrant women, disabled women, lesbians, and services tackling FGM and other harmful practices.
  • Highlight and tackle the harms of pornography including the exploitation of women in its production and the hostile culture it creates for all women and girls in society.
  • Legislate to protect women and girls from the impact of porn culture on their lives, including clear penalties for image-based sexual abuse.
  • Government inquiry into media reporting of VAWG.
  • Enforce Public Sector Equality Duty and Equality Act, including duty on government and local authorities to carry out equality impact assessments of all new legislation/policies.
  • Ensure equal access to the social security and criminal justice system for all women who have experienced domestic abuse, including migrant women, regardless of their immigration status.
  • Better treatment by police and criminal justice system of women survivors of male violence and harassment as well as improved access to justice.
  • Overhaul aggressive immigration laws and end the hostile environment policy
  • Ensure equal access to the social security and criminal justice system for all women who have experienced domestic abuse, including migrant women, regardless of their immigration status.
  • End the practice by the criminal justice system of allowing offenders to self-identify their sex – particularly in relation to violent and sexual offences.
  • End the detention of children and pregnant asylum seekers.
  • Provide adequate levels of legal aid for criminal cases, restore civil legal aid as well as aid for all immigration and asylum cases.
  • Restore the link between Local Housing Allowance and average rents.
  • Increase representation of women (especially black and minority ethnic, working class, disabled, older, younger and lesbian women) in all walks of public life, including political activities and the labour movement.
  • Defend the use of sex-based mechanisms such as all-women shortlists.
  • Action to end sexist, demeaning, objectifying, stereotypical images of women and girls throughout society and in particular in media, arts, advertising and the political sphere.
  • Proactively encourage women to participate in sports, leisure and the arts. Women’s and girls’ sport should be funded to the same level as men’s and boys’ from school to elite sports.
  • Support for sex-segregated sports, promoting a level playing field for competitions and encouraging and recognising the excellence of female competitors.
  • Women should be supported to pursue their right to freedom of association, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Woman’s Place UK

August 2019

[1] https://womansplaceuk.org/wpuk-manifesto-2019/

 

[2]  https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/recommendations/recomm.htm?fbclid=IwAR3lQYxyXUHbVdk5i4lhxAIEPZTVdozLZ-yRO8aCu7nsMnJ5NZJjzHJLu3w

[3] https://rapecrisis.org.uk/get-informed/rcew-statistics/

[4] https://www.womensaid.org.uk/routes-to-support/

[5] https://www.womensaid.org.uk/womens-aid-annual-survey-reports/

[6] http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/women-and-equalities-committee/enforcing-the-equality-act-the-law-and-the-role-of-the-equality-and-human-rights-commission/oral/92165.pdf

[7] http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/women-and-equalities-committee/enforcing-the-equality-act-the-law-and-the-role-of-the-equality-and-human-rights-commission/oral/102570.html?fbclid=IwAR11FNyNIoLMRSTP1f2txrnM-NXuJDQIoRol-I3aOo_epk9h9VtQvs9Q2Gc

[8] https://mbmpolicy.wordpress.com/2019/02/22/the-case-for-due-diligence-assessing-and-owning-policy-and-practice/

[9] https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130206102659/http:/www.justice.gov.uk/publications/docs/corston-report-march-2007.pdf

[10] https://www2.gov.scot/Resource/0039/00391588.pdf

[11] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-45825838

[12] https://fairplayforwomen.com/prisons/

[13] https://www.euppublishing.com/doi/full/10.3366/scot.2019.0284

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