Emily Carver: It’s ridiculous that so many politicians can’t answer the question ‘What is a woman?’

30 Mar

Emily Carver is Media Manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

It came as a pleasant surprise last week to hear the Prime Minister acknowledge that the ‘basic facts of biology remain overwhelmingly important’ when it comes to distinguishing between a man and a woman.

Amid the political row over transgender rights, what should be an unremarkable statement instantly made headlines.

As the country faces the worst cost-of-living squeeze in recent history, and war in Europe rages, it is an utterly ludicrous state of affairs that our politicians are rendered tongue-tied when asked the simple question: what is a woman?

In a recent radio interview, even the Chancellor was made to look foolish when he refused to provide a definition for the word ‘woman’, instead referring to the Prime Minister’s recent comments in Parliament.

Failing to either repeat Boris Johnson’s words or give his own answer, Rishi Sunak’s equivocation came across to many observers as an attempt to dodge the question.

Of course, he is just the latest in a litany of high-profile politicians either outright to refuse to define what a woman is or to obfuscate for so long that he or she ends up failing to answer the question altogether.

Sir Keir Starmer refused to answer whether a woman can have male genitalia whilst Anneliese Dodds, shadow minister for women and equalities, failed to define a woman, instead suggesting that it depends on the ‘context’. And Yvette Cooper declined to go down that ‘rabbit hole’. Across the pound, the situation is even more dire.

It’s shameful that we’ve got to the stage as a society, where such a question can now be used to entrap interviewees of all political stripes. This serves no one; not those women who are concerned that their sex-based rights are being undermined, nor transwomen, the majority of whom I suspect would prefer to live their lives without this debate dominating the headlines and airwaves.

But this is what happens when our political class fail for so long to address the clear conflicts that have arisen between transgender rights and women’s rights, conflicts which are in large part down to the incoherence of the legislation we have in place.

It’s also what happens when people feel pressured to deny reality in favour of dogma.

When Starmer equivocated over the definition of a woman, and said ‘transwomen are women’, he was legally correct – the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004 does allow for transgender women to be legally recognised as female, even without having undergone ‘sex reassignment surgery’. At the same time, the Equality Act 2010 sets out legal provisions to restrict access to women-only spaces based on biological sex, rather than gender identity.

It’s easy to see how confusion arises, and why Dodds said ‘context’ matters when it comes to defining what a woman is. Legally, it does. And the parameters for when biological sex overrides gender identity are unclear.

The consequences of this messy legislation – and the dogma that accompanies it – have long been flagged by women’s rights groups. But their concerns have too often been shunned or called out as ‘transphobic’.

We’ve all seen the public treatment of high-profile women who have raised legitimate concerns over sex-based rights, particularly in Scotland, where the Scottish Government plans to reform the GRA to allow for self-ID, which would allow people to change their legal gender without the approval of doctors and officials.

In our universities, bullying tactics have inhibited rational debate. Academics have been labelled TERFs and subjected to student-led smear campaigns and demands for their resignation. Women such as Maya Forstater have lost their jobs for their gender-critical views.

It’s clear that the confusion is manifesting itself in our public institutions. We’ve seen the NHS invite “all women and people with a cervix” to have a smear test; NHS trusts have adopted “gender inclusive language” for their maternity services, replacing breast-feeding with “chest feeding” and “mother” with “birthing parent”.

Further, it was reported this week that some are even asking male cancer patients if they are pregnant before undergoing scans, after the Government removed the word “female” from the law governing medical procedures and replaced it with “individuals”.

Corporates have demonstrated their diversity and inclusion credentials by using the term “people who menstruate”. Some schools have even introduced unisex toilets for ‘inclusivity’, which understandably female students have found intolerable.

And the use of the term ‘cisgender’ to describe biological women is now embedded in common parlance. The BBC has failed numerous times to report gender identity accurately, even for crimes of a sexual nature.

Taken together, many women understandably perceive these developments as an affront to women’s rights and an erosion or dilution of what it means to be a woman.

It’s depressing that it’s taken the clear injustice of American transgender swimmer Lia Thomas’ victory at the NCAA to bring the issue firmly to the fore of public debate. Some may wish to dismiss concerns as ‘hysteria’, but this line of attack increasingly smacks of misogyny. It is no exaggeration that the integrity of women’s sports is at severe risk. Women’s sports which are, by definition, exclusive to females, are no longer so.

Transgender cyclist Emily Bridges is set to compete in the National Omnium Championships alongside Dame Laura Kenny, the five-time Olympic champion. Having previously set a junior men’s record, Emily will compete against biological women. If she storms to victory as Lia Thomas did, it will be hard to argue that inclusion has not trumped fairness in women’s sports.

It’s clear that in key areas, women’s and transgender rights are in conflict. It’s time that the Government stop denying biology, admit these problems exist, and commit to resolving them – it may well prove a vote-winner.

Fletcher and Doctor Who: a serious point about the importance of male role models needs to be made carefully

26 Nov

Poor Nick Fletcher. There is probably a worthwhile point to be made about the importance of positive male role-models to young men. It doesn’t look much like the (inadvertent) suggestion that casting an actress to play the leading role in Doctor Who drives crime.

Clarification on that point came too late for Twitter, of course, which has had great fun with the idea.

It is also unfortunately true that the question of recasting male roles with female leads has been the subject of a fair amount of hysterical behaviour from a subset of male fans who maintain that, for example, an all-women remake of Ghostbusters is retroactively ruining their childhoods. (Just watch the original, guys, it hasn’t gone anywhere.) Thus the subject is more of a minefield for the Very Online than Fletcher might have realised.

The furore is especially unfortunate because his broader point is a much more interesting one. In his letter clarifying his position, Fletcher writes about “teachers, parents, and carers”, and schools are probably a much more important area when it comes to a lack of good male role models than television screens. Apparently only just over a third of secondary school teachers are male, and in primary schools that figure drops to just 15 per cent.

Given how much time young people spend in school (hopefully more than in front of the TV!), this is a serious shortfall. It also has implications for boys’ academic performance: is it a surprise that they are falling behind girls, especially in recent years when the pandemic has forced schools to fall back on teachers’ subjective assessments, when such a majority of their teachers will likely have a much stronger intuitive grasp on how girls learn?

This is a serious issue, to which the Government could usefully apply itself. Wading into fairly marginal question of whether this or that high-profile role is played by a woman or not, on the other hand, probably isn’t worth it.

Mark Jenkinson: I never thought that saying there are two biological sexes would cause such a stir

22 Nov

Mark Jenkinson is MP for Workington.

“Transwomen are women”: it sounds innocuous enough, why wouldn’t you say it? Most of us never set out to hurt anyone intentionally if we can avoid it, and it’s an inclusive statement. If that’s what it takes to make someone feel accepted, then what’s the harm?

It’s only when you scratch the surface that you start to see how much harm those innocuous three words can do – that the people we harm when we set out to erase the notion of biological sex are the most vulnerable, the LGB community and women.

So why, then, is a white, heterosexual male writing about transgender issues?

Because last week I was thrust into a Twitterstorm for saying that I would stand up for the hard-won rights of women and the LGB community – for saying that it isn’t people like me who are impacted by the erasure of biological sex, but women – who are then expected to share their safe-spaces with male-bodied people, and those who are same-sex attracted.

After all, if there is no such thing as biological sex and only our chosen gender identity, there is no valid reason for a lesbian to refuse to sleep with a male-bodied woman. That leaves only bigotry as her excuse.

It was after this statement that Britain’s first transgender newsreader said she’d stand against me in Workington in the next election. I welcome the challenge, and I wish more of my detractors would put a ballot paper where their mouths are, but she went on to block me without any further discussion. A bad start, I fear.

I never considered that making a statement of indisputable scientific fact – that there are only two biological sexes, each with their own set of immutable characteristics – would cause such a stir. And then I see the Labour Party eating themselves alive over it, trying hard to lose the votes of the 51 per cent of the electorate that are female.

There is no doubt that gender dysphoria exists, but no-one is born in the wrong body – your body is exactly as nature intended. For some people, there is a definite disconnect between their brain and their body and, for a much smaller number, the only thing that will allow a full and happy life is cross-sex hormones or surgery. Those people need our support.

I am concerned that the upcoming Gender Conversion Therapy Bill will criminalise practitioners and parents that don’t simply affirm their child’s chosen gender. Data tells us that the majority of gender-dysphoric children desist into adulthood. We must stop prescribing irreversible puberty blockers to children – which not only have a significant impact on their lives if they desist, but which create further problems should they go on to have surgery to complete their transition.

I am an instinctive libertarian. Everyone should be free to live their lives, as fully as possible and in a way that makes them happy. Free to live with, sleep with and love whomever they wish. Neither the state or I have any business intervening, other than to stop serious harms. But when I see the direction we’re sleepwalking in, I can no longer stay quiet.

Between 2012 and 2018, 436 women were charged with rape. OK, you say: there were over 29,000 people charged with rape in that period, of course some of those are going to be women. And then I tell you that rape in the UK can only be committed with a penis. Those 436 women had penises.

Which prison are they going to go in – we can’t put male-bodied rapists in female prisons can we?

The answer is yes. And not only that: we don’t track the majority at all. If a man obtains a Gender Recognition Certificate, even without having had any surgery, he is treated as a woman in all instances, including that there is no risk-assessment for those with previous sexual offences (unlike the 11 male-bodied prisoners in the female estate that don’t even have a GRC, who are ‘risk-assessed’).

As it is only this year that we’ll start to track prisoners with GRCs, we don’t know how many male-bodies there are in the female prison estate, where some of our most vulnerable women are housed.

We do know that at the latest datapoint in 2019, there were 129 males who identified as transgender held in the male estate, and that 57 per cent of them had at least one previous conviction for sexual offences, compared to 17 per cent of men and two per cent of women convicted of the same.

Despite exemptions for single sex spaces in the equality act, the NHS allows access to same-sex wards depending on how you present not your biological sex. Despite exemptions for necessarily same-sex services, hospital trusts are referring to ‘birthing people’ and ‘cervix havers’ – while also referring to only men having prostates.

The Scottish Government is set to introduce gender self-identification, significantly speeding up legal recognition of gender in all spheres while reducing to the age requirement to 16 – meaning those transgender prisoners can move more easily to the female estate.

Meanwhile, the UK government is toughening up on the recording of statistics around sex and gender, but is also seeking to ban conversion therapy, on the back of an unprecedentedly-short six week consultation.

As Conservatives, it’s time we stopped staying silent because it’s the nice thing to do: emotion cannot trump biological reality.

Emily Carver: The individual no longer seems to count in our identity-obsessed society

10 Nov

Emily Carver is Media Manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

New research from the Nuffield Trust, an independent health think tank, has claimed that inequality among NHS staff members of different races and religions “is getting worse”. 

Its study Attracting, Supporting and Retaining a Diverse NHS Workforce, commissioned by NHS Employers, part of the NHS Confederation, highlights statistical disparities in the experiences and professional outcomes of staff by group, including along the lines of gender, religion, and ethnicity. 

According to data from last year’s NHS staff survey, Muslim staff are more than twice as likely to report experiencing discrimination than staff of no religion, and those who prefer to self-describe their gender are twice as likely to report experiencing discrimination as male or female staff. 

In terms of professional advancement, male nurses were found to be twice as likely to progress up two pay bands than female nurses; ethnic minority staff 27 per cent less likely than white staff to be “very senior managers”; and candidates with Bangladeshi ethnicity were found, on average, to be half as likely to be appointed from an NHS shortlist than a white British person. Where there has been an increase in representation of a minority group, this is described as an “improvement”.  

Of course, discrimination and bullying in the workplace should be seriously investigated, addressed, and dealt with swiftly. But what’s troubling is the implication that runs through the report that diversity is an end goal in and of itself, and that any discrepancy is likely a result of discrimination, bias or a lack of commitment to diversity and inclusion. Its authors claim that “despite considerable effort and countless initiatives, inequality between NHS staff groups is persisting or even getting worse ­– and the health service does not have the tools to address this”.

In the same way that much of the analysis on gender pay gap reporting blames sexism for any discrepancies in earnings between men and women, the Nuffield Trust’s report assumes that any disparity between identity groups is down to discrimination – or at least provides little acknowledgement that there may be other factors at play. 

The reader is clearly meant to believe that any disparities between groups, be it in terms of progressing up pay bands, or gaining a position in senior management, must be due to discrimination.  

What’s concerning is how this translates into action. Commenting on the report, Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive of NHS Employers said, “there’s an absolute commitment from our members to finally address the inequities in our workplaces”, and that the report “reminds us that far more urgency and impact is needed in every part of the NHS”. 

Pat Cullen, The Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive, responded by saying that the NHS leadership has “no alternative but to act on the findings” of the report, and that lack of inclusion and diversity can’t be pushed down the list of priorities any longer. This is ironic, considering the recent exposure of just how much we’re spending on NHS Diversity and Inclusion officers every year.

Mortimer says that we must address inequities. But what does this actually mean? What actions are they advocating to ensure there are no such inequities? Does this mean that unless there is parity between groups, that the NHS has failed? And why is this even desirable? Should equality of outcome among staff now be the priority, in an organisation that is creaking at the seams? Surely, the last thing we need is more of our money spent on diversity and inclusion managers. 

But judging by the proposals made by the Nuffield Trust, this is exactly what its authors want. The report recommends that NHS England regularly provides information to employers on their ‘relative and absolute performance’ on equality and diversity. This means continuous data gathering on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, as well as socioeconomic status, national origin and carer status. All to be supported by “continuous training” for NHS ‘diversity leads’.

Applying to jobs in the public sector and parts of the private sector has become a diversity and inclusion minefield. Demands to fill in your ethnicity, gender, even sexuality are commonplace, while in parts of the civil service they no longer want to see your academic background. Increasingly, it feels as though job ads may as well just put at the top of the job ad notice: “white, heterosexual, able-bodied men need not apply”. 

Diversity and inclusion may be dressed up in the language of equality, progress and advancement but it leads to quite the reverse. It’s lunacy that it has to be said but individuals should be judged as just that, individuals, not by their group identity or by their supposed ‘privileges’.

An institution like the NHS should focus on meritocracy, rather than engaging in pursuits that look suspiciously like social engineering. Come down hard on genuine accusations of discrimination, but whether a nurse is black or white should be of little consequence. 

Jo Bartosch: The BBC’s trans propaganda is alienating licence fee payers

14 Aug

Jo Bartosch is a journalist and campaigner for the rights of women.

If you knew that a teenager was buying potentially dangerous drugs online would you send in a film crew or call social services? The BBC have made their stance clear; vulnerable kids injecting themselves with hormones is televisual content to educate, entertain and inform the nation.

Aired earlier this month, a programme called Transitioning Teens, presented by young “trans activist and influencer” Charlie Craggs, set out to meet “young trans people” who have taken the “dangerous route of using unregulated medications and starting their transitions themselves.” Earlier this year, a suspiciously similar programme entitled DIY Trans Kids, also presented by Craggs was due to be broadcast; it was pulled following backlash on social media from those concerned that the programme’s synopsis glamourised harmful practices.

Undoubtedly, the colossal rise in children and young people identifying as trans is a newsworthy topic. Rates of referral to gender identity services (GIDS) have soared over the past decade; from 138 children and teenagers in 2010/11 to 2,383 from 2020/2021. But rather than a careful examination of what might be termed a social contagion, 23-year-old Craggs makes the case for quicker access to puberty blockers, potentially sterilising cross-sex hormones, and cosmetic surgeries.

There is a passing nod to impartiality. A ‘detransitioned’ young woman is interviewed, though the meeting is prefaced with a warning from Craggs that “destransitioners are used as a stick to beat trans people with”. The case of Keira Bell is also briefly referenced: Bell has been at the centre of a legal battle about children’s ability to consent to beginning the process of sex reassignment. Bell’s ordeal included the removal of her healthy breasts and possible sterility due to the administration of puberty blockers followed by testosterone.

But the suffering of destransitioners is glossed over, presented as collateral damage, an exception to the rule that ‘teens know best.’

The BBC’s transgender activist agenda extends beyond programming. It’s on social media where the gulf between Aunty Beeb and her reluctant licence-paying nephews and nieces is most apparent.

Earlier this week, BBC Sport tweeted to its 9.3m followers that they would block those who “bring hate” to its social media pages, encouraging other users to report offending comments the “relevant authorities”.

It seems the ‘hate’ they were referring to was from people who objected to fawning coverage of Olympic weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. Touted as the “first openly transgender athlete” the BBC championed the achievements of the 43-year-old, using female pronouns throughout articles. Those who dared to suggest Hubbard’s participation in the women’s category was unfair were branded ‘hateful’ and accordingly blocked.

Whilst the observation that Hubbard is a male might lead to dropped macchiatos in BBC editorial meetings, to the wider world it is simply a statement of fact.

Not to be outdone, on Tuesday, BBC Woman’s Hour tweeted asking listeners: “What’s the best way to inform teenagers about porn? Should there be age-appropriate porn as has been suggested so they can learn about consent and what’s respectful and what’s not?”

Whilst the programme itself was relatively sober, this clickbait tweet was the final straw for many listeners who expressed their anger online.

Tanya Carter, spokeswoman for the safeguarding group Safe Schools Alliance UK, said she was “disturbed the BBC’s lack of understanding of safeguarding.” She added:

“This has been a bad week for the BBC, from their bizarre tweets about ‘age-appropriate’ porn (making no mention of the fact that showing under 18’s porn is in fact child sexual abuse), their censorship of pro-women comments on Laurel Hubbard stories to their sanitising of the sexual abuse of children by describing it as ‘having sex. We expect better from our public broadcaster.”

Having once led the world with impartial, brave public broadcasting, the BBC is now shedding support. The bludgeoning of licence fee payers with the block button, and crass attempts to re-educate a sceptical public through trans propaganda, risk turning this once respected organisation into an irrelevant laughingstock.

Victoria Hewson: The NHS single sex accommodation policy is a dire reflection on how far gender ideology has travelled

13 Aug

Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and co-founder of Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate. She and Rebecca Lowe, her co-founder, alternate authorship of this column on trans, sex and gender issues.

It has been heartening to see some positive developments in the sex and gender debate recently. Prominent and respected individuals like Baroness Jenkin and Nimko Ali have made considered comments questioning gender ideology.

While the inclusion of Laurel Hubbard in the women’s weightlifting competition at the Olympics was regrettable (not least for the young woman whose place at the games was taken by Hubbard) it has prompted a more informed consideration of trans participation in sports by governing bodies and in the media. 

But a quick scan of relevant stories from the past couple of weeks shows that troubling policies and lobbying are still widespread. 

The Telegraph reported that hospitals across England accommodate patients on wards on the basis of gender (including self-identified gender) rather than sex. This has led to males, including sex offenders, being treated on women-only wards 

Looking back at the origin of the legally binding commitment to single sex wards, it is clear that Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary at the time, was unequivocal that patients would be separated based on biological sex, for reasons of privacy and dignity, as well as safety.

This seems obvious when one considers the vulnerable state of many people being treated in hospital, including the elderly and those who are in mental health wards, who often unable to leave.

The applicable NHS guidance on meeting the commitment is indeed unequivocal on single sex sleeping, bathing and toilet facilities. Until it comes to the Annex on trans patients and gender-variant children. Which undermines the entire policy by mandating that ‘Trans people should be accommodated according to their presentation: the way they dress, and the name and pronouns they currently use’ – even if they have not legally changed their name or gender and even if their transition is only temporary.

Moreover, ‘Non-binary individuals, who do not identify as being male or female, should also be asked discreetly about their preferences, and allocated to the male or female ward according to their choice.’ Transgender-identifying children are also to be accommodated in line with their gender identity, even if the parents disagree: ‘the child’s preference should prevail even if the child is not Gillick competent.’ 

The guidance claims that the NHS is required to manage wards in this way, and can only carry out risk assessments to exclude transwomen from female wards on a case by case basis. This is, of course, the preferred interpretation of the Equality Act put forward by Stonewall and other activists, and it fundamentally undermines the premise of single sex wards when any man can simply assert that they identify as a woman and must be taken at their word.

Carrying out individual risk assessments on trans patients would entail a significant burden on clinical staff and ward managers, and it is unclear what risks are to be assessed, if fears and threats to the personal dignity of fellow patients who do not wish to sleep and undergo medical and care procedures alongside members of the opposite sex are effectively excluded as a consideration. As with the case of prisons, if this is truly what the Equality Act requires, it is surely time for the law to be changed. 

We have written in this column before about the disproportionate influence that LGBT charity Stonewall seems to exert, in both public and private sectors. The deference to its legal advice and guidance was criticised by barrister Akua Reindorf in her report to the University of Essex on the ‘no platforming’ of certain speakers at the university.

A number of organisations have subsequently distanced themselves from the charity. Now research by the Taxpayers’ Alliance has revealed that over just a three year period, Stonewall received at least £3,105,877 from 327 public sector organisations for its Diversity Champions scheme, conferences, events and training programmes. This included almost half a million pounds from the NHS.

The TPA has rightly noted that Stonewall’s privileged (and well-funded) position has allowed it to lobby and campaign at the taxpayers’ expense. The TPA has called for this taxpayer-funded lobbying to come to an end so that public money is not being used to distort political decision making and to advance policy positions which many taxpayers may seriously disagree with. 

The vision of gender identity activists has been allowed to infiltrate public life for a generation, either because politicians and activists did not understand the implications of phasing out references to ‘sex’ to replace them with ‘gender’, or because they thought it was the right thing to do to support transgender people. In either case, the practical consequences for women and girls and for fairness and accountability in public services have not been properly considered.

Unwinding these consequences seems likely to be the work of a generation too, and greater transparency about the relevant policies in bodies like the NHS and the pernicious influence of Stonewall is essential for that purpose. We await with interest the outcome of current Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s review of the NHS single sex accommodation policy. 

Liz Sugg and Ritah Anindo Obonyo: At this week’s Global Education Summit, we need to talk about sex

29 Jul

Baroness Liz Sugg CBE is a Conservative peer and Ritah Anindo Obonyo is a member SheDecides Kenya.

When Boris Johnson co-hosts the Global Partnership for Education summit this week, we want him to talk about sex.

Why? Because comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is absolutely vital to realising the UK’s commitment to ensuring 12 years of quality education for young people everywhere.

The Global Partnership for Education provides a vital opportunity for Boris Johnson and other world-leaders to commit funding to transforming education systems in the world’s poorest countries. That transformation must have CSE at its heart.

For girls in particular, access to comprehensive sexuality education gives them the tools and knowledge they need to understand their rights and to make decisions about their own bodies. Whether in Kent or Kenya, it helps to prevent gender-based violence and sexual exploitation. In fact, it is key to women’s and girls’ economic empowerment later on in life.

The benefits of CSE cannot be ignored. Girls who don’t receive sex education are more likely to drop out of school due to early marriage and pregnancy. In sub-Saharan Africa, four million girls leave school before finishing due to early pregnancy.

In contrast, when we provide CSE and information on reproductive choices, we can help girls stay in school. We know that girls who complete secondary education are five times more likely to be educated on HIV/AIDS, keeping them safer and giving them the tools they need to make decisions about their bodies.

Growing up in the Korogocho Slum in Kenya, I, Ritah Anindo Obonyo had no sex education. My two friends and I used to talk about what was happening to our bodies – both friends then dropped out of school as a result of early pregnancy.

Without sex education, young people access information from unreliable sources. They have poor reproductive health outcomes. They are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS – in Sub-Saharan Africa six out of seven new HIV infections occur in young women aged 15-24. All of these issues have a profound effect on women’s life chances and equality and have been exacerbated by Covid-19.

We know that women’s economic and social equality is impossible to achieve when women don’t have ownership of their own bodies. Sex education is therefore key to sustainable development.

For many years now, the UK Government championed our belief that CSE is crucial to girls’ empowerment. The UK taxpayer should be proud that, via the international aid budget, we have collectively helped empower vulnerable women and girls around the world.

But when I, Baroness Sugg, resigned as Minister for Sustainable Development and Special Envoy on Girls’ Education last year, I did so because the progress we have made on supporting women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health faced a grave threat with a budget cut that broke both the Conservative Party manifesto promise and international commitments.

Two weeks before the launch of the Global Partnership for Education Summit the UK Parliament approved the fiscal circumstances needed before we return to spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on international development.. This will unequivocally damage the rights of girls and risks rolling back decades of progress.

The cuts will force the closure of sexual and reproductive health services in some of the world’s poorest countries. It will lead to more women and girls being forced to access unsafe abortion. It risks more women dying in childbirth.

Simon Cooke, the Director of MSI Reproductive Choices and also a SheDecides Champion, has warned the cuts will “do more damage … than the global gag rule” – a US policy that denied federal funding to NGOs that offered abortion services or advice that resulted in 20,000 unnecessary maternal deaths and 1.8 million unsafe abortions between 2017 and 2000.

What will the UK Government’s record be?

The cut to international aid will end life-changing and life-saving programmes that deliver information and advice on sexual and reproductive health. We are deeply concerned about the long-term impact a lack of education about sex, respect, consent and bodies will have on girls in the Global South, particularly as they deal with the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Of course, we cannot change the past. But we can look to the future. As ministers prepare for this week’s Global Education summit, we ask them: are we going to leave women and girls behind as the world builds back better from Covid-19? Or are we ready to ensure girls’ rights are protected by investing in CSE?

The Chancellor has promised to work with parliamentarians to ensure the UK’s overseas development aid budget is spent in a way that has maximum impact. We know that ensuring every child has access to CSE will have a huge impact in the years and decades to come. It will create healthier and more equal communities. It will boost women’s economic empowerment. It will reduce maternal deaths, unsafe abortions, and rates of child marriage.

This week’s summit provides the UK with an important opportunity to raise its hand and recommit to quality education. We need to hear from the Prime Minister that he commits to funding education systems to include CSE, for every child in the world, no matter where they live.

So, Prime Minister, are you ready to talk about sex?

Radical: Women are the casualties when judges capitulate to gender ideology

16 Jul

Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. Together they founded Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate.

No doubt you sometimes think the things we write about in this column are esoteric — debates about pronoun policies seem far removed from real life. But sadly, quite frequently, there’s a development in the sex/gender debate that brings it to life in an immediate and visceral way. The story of Keira Bell, the young woman whose judicial review centred on the puberty blockers she’d been prescribed, and surgery she’d undergone to try and transition her to the male gender, was one such case.

And now we have the story of “FDJ” — a woman (whose anonymity is protected by the courts) who was held in a women’s prison alongside male prisoners. FDJ sought a judicial review of the Prison Service policy that allows co-habitation to happen. Earlier this month, we learned that she‘d been unsuccessful, and the policy was found to be lawful.

We wrote recently about the Care and Management of Transgender Individuals policy, set by the Prison Service and the Ministry of Justice. This policy provides, broadly, that transwomen prisoners with a gender recognition certificate (GRC) will be housed automatically in the women’s prison estate (irrespective of any physical transition), unless risk assessment shows that the risk to women is “particularly high” (note that this accepts some risk is to be tolerated). Male prisoners who self-identify as women but do not have a GRC may be moved to a women’s prison after assessment by a specialist board.

FDJ’s legal action revealed that:

  • There are 34 transwomen prisoners without GRCs in women’s prisons. It’s unknown how many transprisoners with GRCs are in women’s prisons.
  • Many of these transwomen prisoners are sex offenders, convicted of assaulting women and children. It seems transwomen prisoners are more likely to be sex offenders than the male prison population as a whole, but again, prison service and MoJ data is incomplete and opaque.
  • There’ve been a number of sexual assaults on women prisoners by transwomen prisoners, but, yes, data on this is unclear, too — not least because the Prison Service doesn’t generally appear to record transwomen with a GRC as trans.
  • This situation causes many women prisoners (who’ve often had hard lives outside of prison, and been victims of sexual and domestic abuse by men) great anxiety and fear.

The court found, however, that the policy that led to this situation is lawful: the infringement of the rights of women prisoners can be justified by the “balance of rights” that favours respecting the gender identity of the transwomen prisoners. The provision of the Equality Act that allows trans people to be excluded from single sex spaces is permissive, not obligatory, so minsters are not required to apply it. Even if they did, excluding transwomen from women’s prisons might not be proportionate and legitimate: by existing case law, it is “impermissible” to exclude all transgender women prisoners from women’s prisons.

So, what can we draw from this case? First, it is striking that from the opening paragraph of the judgment, the judges use the contested and politicised terminology of gender-identity activists. Lord Justice Holroyde described the case as relating to “persons who identify as the opposite gender from that which was assigned to them at birth”. The outcome of the case will have come as no surprise, therefore, to any reader familiar with the capture of institutions by gender ideology.

Second, the haphazard data collection on transgender prisoners is troubling, and the court considered it “unsatisfactory”. This failing seems to stem in large part from the assumption that transgender prisoners with a GRC must automatically, and in all cases, be treated as biological women, and therefore they do not generally have data recorded about them in their capacity as trans.

Third, the judges considered that risk assessment and management is enough to safeguard women prisoners from the risks presented to them by the presence of males imprisoned alongside them.

In reality, the assumption that a “Complex Case Board” will always be able to weed out individual prisoners who are not sincere in their gender expression seems naïve. Evidence from Scotland shows that transwoman prisoners have reverted to their male identity as soon as they were released from women’s prisons, to the distress of the women prisoners who had been held alongside them. It would be interesting to know how many prisoners who claim to be transgender but do not possess a GRC are found by these boards not to be “sincere”, or to be too dangerous to be moved to the women’s estate.

The judges were satisfied that these processes of risk assessment and management are enough to discharge the duties of the Secretary of State in respect of the human rights of the women prisoners, even if it leaves them feeling distressed and afraid, and places them at increased risk of violence or sexual assault. The judges accepted all of these adverse consequences for women. And under the current legislative framework and case law, this may well be the legally “correct” conclusion. But this does not, of course, make it the right thing morally; the law can, and often has been wrong. And it is hard to think of a better example of UK law being blatantly wrong than this.

Beyond moral outrage over inevitable outcomes, there are concerning inconsistencies in the current policy. If risk assessment and management is thought to be enough to protect women from male violence, surely the same could be applied to the protection of transgender prisoners on the male estate? The sad truth is that the first “headline requirement” of the policy — “All individuals in our care must be supported to express the gender with which they identify” — leads to a burden of risk being placed on some of the most vulnerable women in our society.

This burden is not aimed at protecting transgender prisoners from violence, but at supporting them in expressing their gender identity. The cost to women, whether in physical attacks or simply in fear and distress is, by the formulation accepted by the judges, and by judges in cases before them brought by trans prisoners seeking relocation to the women’s estate, simply part of the “balance of rights” that has been deemed appropriate. Even within the constraints of the law as currently understood, though, it must be possible to frame a policy more respectful of the rights and interests of women prisoners.

Kate Coleman, director of Keep Prisons Single Sex, who supported this judicial review, emphasised to us that:

“This judgement is not the end of the matter. Our group of supportive and active MPs and Peers is growing and this week we have emailed out 30 PQs to be asked across both Houses. Going forward, Parliament will be a focal point for our efforts: if it is lawful to house a male prisoner convicted of rape alongside female prisoners who have been the victims of sexual assault, then the law needs to change.”

You can contribute to the KPSS crowdfunder here.

Caroline Nokes, Chair of the Women and Equalities select committee, once flippantly remarked that concerns about transgender prisoners were an overblown reaction to one high profile case. We hope, in light of the case bravely pursued by FDJ, that Nokes and her committee will take urgent renewed interest in the rights and wellbeing of women prisoners.

Maya Forstater: One’s sex can’t change. The story of my fight to ensure this view is judged “worthy of respect”.

14 Jun

Radical is a civil-rights campaign for truth and freedom on matters of sex and gender, committed to free expression and equal respect, founded by Rebecca Lowe and Victoria Hewson. This Radical piece is written by Maya Forstater, an independent researcher, writer and adviser.

Last week, I won a landmark Employment Tribunal case where my belief that sex is real, immutable and important was found to be “worthy of respect in a democratic society”.

The case concerned freedom of speech and belief, and how far employers can constrain these rights when it comes to talking about sex and gender.

The test of being “worthy of respect in a democratic society” is meant to be a low bar, ruling out only the extremist views of literal nazis and violent revolutionaries. The first tribunal found that my belief fell into this category. The appeal judge disagreed.

The judgment states clearly that no one has the right to harass others at work and, importantly, protects everyone from discrimination based on their belief or lack of belief. This means it protects people like me who think that the words “male” and “female” relate to sperm and eggs and the bodies built to deliver them. It also protects those who believe in innate-but-fluid gendered identities, and who prioritise  “gender expression” over anatomy.

The judgment sets a precedent that should encourage Liz Truss and Boris Johnson to stop the practice of Whitehall Departments and other public bodies bending the knee to the gender lobby by pledging their allegiance to Stonewall.

My story starts in 2018. While working for an international development think tank, I had begun tweeting and writing, in my own time, about sex and gender, during the government’s consultation on reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

Some staff at the headquarters in Washington, D.C. took exception and this set off an escalating process. The organisation panicked, my tweets were compiled, diversity and inclusion consultants were drafted in to assess them, and even though I was not found to have broken any rules or policies, the senior leadership conceded to the will of the offended that I should be cast out. Ultimately, I lost my job.

My belief that sex is real should be utterly unremarkable. This is what the law says, after all.

But it has taken me over two years and £120,000 in crowd-funded legal fees to get this far. I still need to return to the Employment Tribunal for it to decide whether I was discriminated against in practice.

Despite telling my employer that I would use any preferred pronouns that people wanted and would always act with usual professional politeness, I have been put through a two-year nightmare, had my career destroyed and been painted as an extremist “transphobe”  too dangerous to associate with.

Along the way, I have also been investigated by the Scout Association (where I was a Cub Scout Leader) after a bearded man I had never met reported my use of the pronoun “he” instead of “they” for that person  on Twitter. The Scout Association dragged me through a complaint process over 18 months. I was told to apologise to the man who had called me “transphobic”, a “TERF” and “scum”, and who had said that I would leave young people dead and was unfit to be a Scout leader.

Indeed, the Scout Association partially agreed. The fact that I had taken my employer to tribunal, and judgment of the first judge, were taken as evidence that I might not be fit to be a Scout Leader.

Another set of doors that were slammed in my face were legal. My employment tribunal case was turned away by two law firms (one that dropped it just a few days before I was due to launch the crowdfunding campaign). The Solicitors Regulation Authority responded to my complaint by saying that it did not breach its code “if a firm declined to act because the client’s views conflicted with its own principles and values, as long as these were not discriminatory”.

I have been turned down for jobs at other think tanks and universities, and all but erased from history in the sector where I worked. This has happened even as my inbox fills up with messages from former colleagues, professional networks and eminent professors saying that they agree with me but cannot say so publicly for fear for their own careers.

It is not that I have said anything extreme to warrant this, or that I have been a uniquely unlucky target.  The new organisation I have co-founded, Sex Matters, has heard from dozens of people, in a wide variety of sectors, who have been investigated and subject to workplace discipline for such crimes as liking tweets, defending J.K. Rowling or questioning workplace policies. Meanwhile, thousands  more people are afraid to speak up.

The Kafkaesque nightmare we find ourselves in reflects the capture of the levers of policy- and decision-making by a small but influential group of LGBT+ lobbying organisations.

This is institutionalised through the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme. It covers 25 per cent of the UK workforce  and includes  organisations ranging from the Government Legal Department, the Ministry of Justice and the Solicitors Regulation Authority to the BBC and Ofcom, as well as almost all universities, major private sector employers and voluntary organisations from Citizen’s Advice to Save the Children. Stonewall’s prescriptions are delivered by a churning cast of “account managers”: young men and women fresh out of university in shiny suits and directional haircuts assess the policies of major organisations, and tell them what to do and say when employees dissent.

Every day we receive emails from people within Stonewalled organisations who say they fear for their jobs.  They talk of the  “Stonewall Stasi”: internal “LGBTQI+ Allies” groups who are empowered to thought-police their colleagues. As part of the Stonewall scheme the groups undertake “reverse mentoring”, where a young cadre-member will re-educate senior management. They write policies on micro-aggressions and pronouns (which of course it would be a micro-aggression to question) and set up ever more intricate tripwires of language with which to set off new rounds of complaints.

Straight “allies” often outnumber homosexuals and transsexuals in these groups. Many of those who write to us and say they are afraid are gays and lesbians who have found themselves on the wrong side of Stonewall’s new sexless world.

My win is a step towards stopping this madness. It clarifies that there is legal  protection against discrimination and harassment for people who do not subscribe to the dogma that “trans women are women; trans men are men”, that “demisexual” is a sexual orientation, or that men can be lesbians. It protects those who refuse to call themselves “cis”, do not feel the need to put pronouns in their email signature or wear a rainbow lanyard.

It also provides protection for those who aren’t involved in political debates on sex and gender at all, but who know that sometimes sex matters. This includes elderly women on hospital wards, religious women asking for a female health-care professional and children in school who don’t want a gender-confused teenager of the opposite sex in their showers.

None of this justifies or requires hostility or harassment of people with a transgender identity. But we do not have to remake all of reality for them, and nor should complaints processes be used to harass, bully and victimise others.

No one else should have to go through the nightmare I and my family have been put through. The government should withdraw all government departments from the Stonewall Scheme, and produce simple, straightforward guidance on single-sex services, and on freedom of belief as provided for by law.

Radical: As the EHRC leaves Stonewall’s diversity scheme, how many other organisations will follow?

26 May

Radical is a civil-rights campaign for truth and freedom on matters of sex and ‘gender’, committed to free expression and equal respect, founded by Rebecca Lowe and Victoria Hewson. This Radical piece is written by Rebecca, the former director of FREER.

There are some organisations that are typically presumed irreproachable: “You can’t criticise x… it’s a national treasure!”. Certain famous charities, and the NHS, come to mind. Yet to think that any person or group is beyond criticism is unhelpful — not least to them. Fair criticism helps us all.

For organisations, however, accountability is often more than a matter of improvement. Accountability keeps organisations focused on the good, and is a prerequisite for many. Any organisation taking taxpayer money, providing core services, dispensing important public information, working with children, and so on, must be formally held to account.

Doing so isn’t to show bad will towards them; it’s required. This isn’t just a matter of improving outcomes, in other words. Being accountable is an essential part of state (and various related kinds of public) behaviour, deriving from obligations to do with respect and transparency, correlative to basic rights.

Nonetheless, it’s easy to revert to assuming the best, particularly about organisations with laudable aims. This kind of thinking is bad enough on an individual level, but devastation can ensue when it’s embedded into the structures that are supposed to ensure accountability. Think of Kids Company. And the Oxfam Haiti scandal. Not only did individuals working within these charities do serious wrong, so did the people charged with holding them to account. Helping others comes with important obligations, not a free pass on how you behave.

With this in mind, let’s turn to the big “sex and gender” news of the week. Regular readers will be aware of our longstanding concerns about institutional capture. We’ve written again and again about how the UK’s core institutions — schools, universities, police forces, healthcare services, prisons — have been ruthlessly captured by a set of “charitable” organisations pressing the ideology of “gender identity”.

This involves not only denying the importance of biological truth, and putting women and children at risk of serious consequent harms, it also often involves the purposeful misrepresentation of law. This has been revealed many times. It’s been revealed by groups such as Fair Play for Women and Sex Matters. It’s been revealed in the fallout of judicial reviews. And none of it is surprising: it’s all there in the policy documents of your local core service providers. Just run a search for tell-tale words — “assigned at birth”, for instance — and you’ll find the evidence, no problem.

On one hand, therefore, it’s great news that the Equality and Human Rights Commission isn’t going to renew its membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme. As the leading employment and discrimination lawyer Naomi Cunningham has neatly and extensively catalogued, “submitting to Stonewall” is not only extremely expensive and time-consuming for organisations, it also also puts them at serious risk of moral and legal wrongdoing:

“If you are a public body, it will distort your policies and decision-making in ways that will expose you to judicial review, and embarrassing and expensive climb-downs of the kind already performed by Oxfordshire County Council, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Office for National Statistics. But worst of all, depending on the nature of your functions, it may cause you to infringe liberties, mis-state the law, commit or condone criminal offences, and put children and vulnerable adults at risk of serious harm”.

But you have to ask (yet again) why organisations like the EHRC didn’t realise this for themselves, sooner. You don’t have to be a brilliant lawyer to recognise, for instance, that, as Cunningham points out, Stonewall’s standard presentation of the law regarding self-identification and single-sex spaces is severely lacking:

“Stonewall constantly pushes the idea that self-identification already has legal consequences, and self-identifying trans women (without a GRC) are automatically entitled to access women-only spaces. Employers that accept this and permit self-identifying trans women to use women’s toilets, locker rooms, or changing or washing facilities, etc may face indirect discrimination claims. This is a provision, criterion or practice that is applied to the whole workforce, but which is likely to put women at a particular disadvantage compared to men: the employer will be required to show that it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. If women suffer sexual harassment as a result of these policies, employers are likely to be vicariously liable for that.” 

This should be obvious to anyone who’s read the Equality Act. Yet many of the Stonewall “Champion” organisations will not only have access to top lawyers, they’ll also have their own legal and specialist HR departments! After all, these organisations (the names of which are now hidden behind a membership paywall on the Stonewall website) include government departments, local authorities, and some of the most successful UK companies. The Times reported late last year that they included:

“Thirty police forces, 57 local authorities and 50 NHS organisations […] along with John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, the Post Office and dozens of universities [and that the] Cabinet Office, Foreign Office, Department for Education and Crown Prosecution Service are also signed up”. 

It’s not only the EHRC that’s currently reassessing membership, however. Last week, Essex University published the Reindorf Review — barrister Akua Reindorf’s inquiry into two serious “no-platforming events” that happened at the university.

Among the review’s 28 comprehensive, and often effectively damning recommendations, are the following: a) that the “University’s equality, diversity and inclusion policy documents, Charter and Strategic Plan should be standardised so that they all accurately describe the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010”; b) that the “Supporting Trans and Non Binary Staff policy and Harassment and Bullying Zero Tolerance policy should be amended to accurately state the law, in particular with a view to ensuring that they are an authoritative source of information for the purposes of the external speaker review process”; and c) that the “Supporting Trans and Non Binary Staff policy should be reviewed by a specialist lawyer and if necessary amended to ensure that it offers adequate protection and is lawful”.

The review’s final recommendation focuses on Essex’s relationship with Stonewall, suggesting the university should “give careful and thorough consideration to the relative benefits and disbenefits of its relationship with Stonewall, bearing in mind the issues raised in this report”.

This is noted particularly regarding how “this relationship appears to have given University members the impression that gender critical academics can legitimately be excluded from the institution”. But it’s clear the review’s findings reflect generally on the legal advice regarding sex and gender that Stonewall has presumably persistently provided to Essex as a member of the Champions programme. As yet, Essex hasn’t renounced its membership — but surely this will come soon.

Not soon enough, however. And that stands for the vast number of public organisations that have also been blindly following Stonewall’s guide. It’s not only matters of law on which the public has been misled, after all. Just think about Stonewall’s general unconditional evangelism of “gender-identity” ideology.

The way in which this ideology has taken hold has not only put some of the most vulnerable children in our society on a medical pathway towards to infertility and long-term health risks, but also to the homophobic assertion that it’s wrong for a gay woman to refuse to have sex with a male-bodied transwoman. Yet Stonewall still claims to be a leading gay-rights charity — as, of course, it once was.

It’s devastating that a charity that has done so much good has fallen so far. But it’s not unthinkable. It never is. Whenever we assume that charities are beyond reproach, we leave unprotected those people they claim to protect, and are at risk of violating basic rights.