I have always been a feminist. I have always admired - no loved - women.
From a very early age, I always knew that my gender - my personal belief to my rightful sex was a woman.
When I transitioned, I had a bucket list of things to do. One was to join a womens choir - because of covid I am not quite there yet, but I will get there soon. The other was to join a feminist organisation and fight for womens rights.
I have always detested patriarchy.
As a "man"- (I was never a "man" but let's not go there) - it was apparent that women were oppressed, seen by men as second class citizens. I hated to be part of it and worked with women nearly all of my working life, enjoyed the company of women, shared and helped with their problems as best as I could.
The question was which feminist organisation to join?
As a trans woman, which organisation would I feel most comfortable in and have similar if not exactly the same goals?
More to the point, would they "accept me" as a trans woman?
Then I came across a blog - written by Sam Smethers, the CEO of the Fawcett Society. It was fair and expressed the view that womens rights and trans rights were not in direct conflict. Yes, there was some overlap, but women and trans women had very similar problems.
Sadly Sam left Fawcett a few months later, she had done "her bit" and needed some time with her family, but a link to her blog still sits proudly on the home page of this website. As a feminist organisation, Fawcett has a long, proud history fighting for womens rights and had done a review about that "Sex and Gender" question back in 2018.
They concluded regarding GRA reform - that Self-ID was not an issue - something that virtually all trans women would agree. The review (copied at the bottom of this page) was very comprehensive, and I was left wondering why the gender war was so toxic - for here was an organisation that just looked at the issues and concluded trans women should be included - not excluded.
I quickly joined Fawcett and felt at home.
Some gender-critical people may not like Fawcett's position, but it had not changed its policies since the review back in 2018. Fawcett is a "trans inclusion organisation" - period.
And I hope trans folk and our allies, together with feminist cisgender women who detest patriarchy, will join me at Fawcett because the gender war is a FALSE war.
The real battle is fighting womens low pay, getting more women into public office and government, and fighting for what is RIGHT.
So as some gender critical people may leave Fawcett, perhaps joining the transphobic organisations, I do hope women, trans folk and our allies will join Fawcett. I also hope those who may be considering leaving reconsider - trans women don't bite!
We have the same problems as you - and there is a job to do.
To explore Fawcett & join, click HERE
Authored by Steph: @PlaceSteph
Q&A on sex, gender and gender identity
The Fawcett Society was established to promote equality and diversity, in particular equality between women and men and to eliminate gender discrimination. As the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality & women’s rights, our vision is for a society in which women and girls in all their diversity are equal and truly free to fulfil their potential; creating a stronger, happier, better future for us all. We include women who are trans. We believe feminism is stronger for including the diversity of all women’s voices and ideas. Trans women and non-binary people’s experiences can help us to challenge gender norms and stereotypes. We also believe that feminists should be able to think and talk about gender, sex, and identity and how they are linked without those conversations being shut down. Discussion on all sides must come from a place of acceptance and support, which recognises that trans and non-binary people can feel excluded, face attacks in the media, and that trans women often face both misogyny and transphobia, and also that where women have raised concerns these are often based on experiences of misogyny and male-perpetrated violence. We support the campaign for trans equality and inclusion; we want trans and non-binary people to realise their human rights including through reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) process. We do not believe that this campaign and the campaign for women’s rights have to be in conflict, and believe that our campaigns can be stronger together. We support the provisions in the Equality Act to protect women and trans people and believe that we must maintain these protections. The questions in this document aim to summarise some of the current debate and Fawcett’s position in relation to it. If they are pointed or direct, that is because we want it to realistically reflect the questions we have been asked.
We need to continue to be able to talk about the role biological sex has to play in discrimination against women. Throughout history the patriarchy has been built on sex discrimination and the sexual exploitation of women. From female genital mutilation to rape as a weapon of war; to the sex bias in medical research;1 and from periods, pregnancy and childbirth to motherhood and the menopause, women have experienced discrimination and disadvantage because of their biology. Fawcett’s recent work, including our Sex Discrimination Law Review, has continued and will continue to address the sex discrimination women experience around, for example, issues such as pregnancy discrimination and breastfeeding at work.2 We think that having those conversations is vital, and compatible with a feminism that includes trans women’s experiences. Within discussions about biological sex it is also important to note that people’s experiences are diverse, including the experiences of intersex people who also face discrimination.
Gender is complex. Feminists have sought to understand gender in many ways, including as a social construct, a power structure, and a performance. What is consistent is that it is primarily used to oppress women. Gender is not the same as sex. Biological sex is key to how gender has been constructed, but misogyny is not only aimed at women with particular biological features. Fawcett campaigns against the negative impact that gender stereotypes have on women and girls, on non-binary people, and on men and boys. Those stereotypes too often stop people from living as they want and fulfilling their potential. Not all boys who want to wear dresses, or girls who are a “tomboy”, are trans, lesbian, bi or gay – and not all trans people conform to a limited, binary expression of their gender. That campaigning does not mean, though, that we should deny the lived experiences of trans women and men, or non-binary people, or their right to live according to their gender identity.
The Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) provided for the first time for trans people in the UK to legally change the sex recorded on their birth certificates to align with their gender identity. Since then, 4,910 applications for a Gender Recognition Certificate have been made.3 This law set out a process requiring trans people to obtain a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and prove to a legal and medical panel that they have been living in their ”acquired gender”4 for at least two years. The Government is consulting on changes to this law. They have stated that the consultation focuses on the GRA, and they are not proposing any changes to the Equality Act 2010. Their stated aim in considering reform is “to make the legal recognition process less intrusive and bureaucratic for trans people”.5 We welcome the fact that Equality Act protections are to remain unchanged. We plan to respond to the GRA consultation. Our response will draw upon and be consistent with the content of this Q&A. A number of fears have been aired about making gender recognition a de-medicalised, self- certification process. Other countries including Ireland, Malta and Argentina have adopted a self- certification approach – while formal evaluation of the changes they have made is lacking, so is evidence of widespread problems resulting from it. We explore some of the concerns that have been raised in the debate in this country, in this FAQ. The gender recognition process as it currently stands is problematic, stigmatising, intrusive, and in need of change. We support the principle of GRA reform. We believe that changing from a medicalised and often humiliating process to a formal process of legal self-declaration does not make transition any less significant.
The Office for National Statistics’ Crime Survey of England and Wales finds that in 2016 1.3 million women were victims of domestic violence, and almost a fifth of women aged 16 or over have experienced sexual assault in their lifetimes.6 Women-only services and spaces are a vital part of tackling violence against women and girls which is endemic in our society, and must be protected. The Fawcett Society is not a provider of women-only services. It is essential therefore that we listen to the multitude of voices of women who run these services and those who rely on them. We urge the Government to ensure they gather a comprehensive range of views from service-providers and service users during the GRA consultation process.
The law as it currently stands says that people operating women-only services such as refuges or rape crisis centres, should treat “transsexual people [sic] according to the gender role they present”. It also provides for exceptions where service providers can restrict access to single-sex spaces both in the provision of services and in terms of employment. Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance clarifies that any such exceptions should be as restricted as possible, and occur where doing so is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.” 7 As such exceptions would negatively impact on trans women, the “proportionate” test should have a justly high bar. Evidence from a Stonewall survey of trans people finds that they face profound levels of discrimination and hate crime in our society, and that 28% of those surveyed who were in a relationship experienced domestic abuse last year, and a quarter overall experienced homelessness.8 A discussion around appropriate and effective ways to enable the inclusion of trans women alongside the often multiply disadvantaged women who use women-only services is happening already amongst the organisations who provide those services. Organisations in Scotland including Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland have stated that they do not anticipate changes to their working practices from self-identification reforms proposed there, because access to their services is already based on self-identification.9 It is important that, in retaining existing discretion held by single-sex service providers under the Equality Act while reforming the Gender Recognition Act, the Government ensures that guidance is clear on how to implement that discretion lawfully. We must also recognise that the biggest threat to single-sex services is insufficient sustainable funding from the Government, especially for smaller specialist providers including LGBT specialist provision, in the face of high demand caused by the actions of violent men. We welcome trans women’s voices in our calls for stable long-term funding for vital services which can meet the needs of diverse women.
One of the concerns that has been raised about including trans women in all-women spaces is that violent men fraudulently claim to be trans women in order to access those spaces. There are some examples of this happening but they appear to be rare.10 In the UK, with the law as it currently stands, such a man could already take this course of action. As we understand it, GRA reform will not change that risk but this needs to be explored as part of the consultation. It is important that the rules around exceptions that currently exist are maintained and clarified through guidance so that women-only services understand how they are able to act proportionately to protect women (including trans women) service users from any such threat. The GRA consultation gives space for this issue to be raised.11 Another concern is that if service users, especially if they are survivors of rape or other male- perpetrated violence, perceive trans women as ‘male-bodied’, they will be put off accessing trans- inclusive services. This could be perceived as a transphobic position, but it would equally be wrong to write off the fears and trauma of vulnerable women. In such situations services need to continue to be able to lawfully balance the rights and needs of both women who are trans and women who are not. Work with LGBT organisations to promote better understanding can also play a part in ensuring everyone accesses the services they need.
Women in prison, over half of whom have experienced domestic violence, are more likely than men to be sentenced for non-violent offences, given ineffective short sentences,12 and most women – many of whom are the primary carers for their children – should not be in prison in the first place.13 Women in prison are particularly vulnerable both because of their experiences prior to entering prison and also by virtue of the fact that they are imprisoned and so cannot escape from the women they are incarcerated with. Additionally, research also shows that women in prison are at risk of coercion or abuse from male prison guards.14 Public policy is letting women in prison down in multiple ways. Trans women should, subject to an appropriate and effective risk assessment, be treated as women within the prison system, which already deals with women who are a risk to other women. It is clearly unacceptable to keep trans women in the mainstream male estate. We have seen failures on this front in the past, in some cases with severe consequences. Current NOMS prison guidance states that trans prisoners with a GRC must be placed within the estate of the gender that they identify with, unless the “risk concerns surrounding the prisoner are sufficiently high that other women with an equivalent security profile would also be held in the male estate”, while trans prisoners without a GRC should have applications to move estate determined by a Transgender Case Board.15 The Government’s consultation states that “individualised risk assessment… forms the core of the decision-making process”, but we have concerns about the implementation of the current policy.16 A concern has been raised, including by the British Psychological Society (BPS),17 that some manipulative men, including those who are perpetrators of violence against women, or sex offenders, are falsely claiming trans identities to gain access to vulnerable women, or preferential treatment, and that a reformed GRA may make this easier to do. We have to take this concern seriously. In addition, there have been cases where trans women with a history of sex offences against women have been placed into women’s prisons, and subsequently assaulted women.18 This suggests that existing safeguards are inadequate. Introducing self-declaration alongside this provision could leave the system more open to the type of abuse that the BPS describe. This needs to be actively protected against, with all reasonable avenues explored by Government alongside GRA reform and needs to be addressed as part of the consultation. In addition, the risk assessment system must take sufficient account of a history of violence against women when determining where trans women prisoners are placed – recent examples suggest that this is not happening. The safety of all women in the prison system must be of paramount concern.
What about women-only swimming sessions, will including trans women make other women feel excluded? Or women’s changing rooms? What will self-identification mean in these situations?
We believe that we should start from a position of inclusion not exclusion. Service providers have to find a way of meeting the needs of all service-users, and the Equality Act provisions are part of that. But women also need to feel safe and confident that men are not exploiting GRA reform to gain access to women-only spaces. The Government must address these situations, learn from service- providers who succeed in providing inclusive services, and listen to women’s concerns. For example, recent media coverage has identified that unisex changing rooms are more likely than non-unisex facilities to be the location of incidents of sexual assault, voyeurism and harassment.19 In many cases these facilities have been installed out of concern for transgender rights, or may in part be a response to the need to make cost savings. But an unintended consequence is that they may be providing men with the opportunity to sexually harass or assault women. If women are less safe in gender neutral spaces that should be a cause for concern for all of us. In such situations those spaces are not truly gender neutral and women-only spaces should be maintained. Women-only spaces are not solely about safety – considerations of privacy and dignity also play a part, both for women who aren’t trans and women who are. For some women, having women who they perceive as ‘male-bodied’ within those spaces may be unacceptable. Many trans women currently use women’s changing rooms without comment, but GRA reform has opened up the discussion about people’s feelings on the matter. We hope that a more open discussion can enable those feelings to be aired sensitively, and at the same time valuing all women’s rights and respecting all women’s needs.
A practical issue has been raised about whether collecting gender and/or sex-disaggregated statistics should stop in order to include trans or non-binary people. It is vital that we are also still able to collect data on sex so that the Government and other organisations can provide appropriate services and act in a way that doesn’t breach their legal equality duties. Collecting data is essential for any measuring of gender impact and gender inequality in our society. Data that allows us to understand the experiences of trans people is also severely lacking. We think that it is possible to adopt an approach which collects data on both sex and gender identity. But further work needs to be done on this. We welcome the Office of National Statistics’ reassurance on this point that they will continue to collect data on sex and continue to work on this issue.20
Trans women with a GRC are eligible to stand on AWS and have been eligible for some time. The Labour Party has stated that it has a self-identification policy in place for the AWS it uses, although the legality of this has been challenged.21 Fawcett’s view is that opening up AWS beyond trans women with a GRC would be welcome. AWS are a vital tool and have been successful in increasing women’s representation. Within our politics BAME women, disabled women, lesbians and bisexual women are all additionally under- represented - we need women in all their diversity, including women who are trans, in our politics. At the moment though, we’re at risk of pitting women against each other in a competition for scarce seats at the table. Our focus should not be on how to redistribute the smaller number of opportunities available between women, but on tackling the underlying problem and growing the number of opportunities by ending male dominance of positions of power and ensuring truly gender balanced and diverse political representation.
It is key to note as well that women's and girls' sport has been, and continues to be, undervalued across society - alongside enabling trans people to participate in sport policymakers must do more to advance participation in and the status of the women's game across the board. The Equality Act applies different criteria for an exemption to the gender reassignment discrimination provisions when it comes to "gender-affected activity", which covers sports, games, or other competitive activities where the physical strength, stamina or physique of "average persons of one sex" would put them at a disadvantage compared to average persons of another sex. That test may be less likely to be met for darts than, for example, track athletics, but in each case it is an objective test. Where that test is met, a sports organisation or body can take necessary steps in relation to the participation of trans people in order to secure fair competition, or the safety of competitors. It is for sports organisations and National Governing Bodies to determine by reference to an objective assessment whether their activities are covered by this exemption, and at which levels. It is important for trans people to be able to participate in sport of their choice, without compromising their gender identity. It is also important for sports providers to be inclusive of trans people, but they also have to maintain integrity and safety for competitors in their sport. The Equality Act exemptions allow them to do that and we agree they should be maintained. In relation to changing facilities or non-competitive sporting activity, the same rules as for other single-sex provision would apply as outlined elsewhere in this Q&A.
Of course. Fawcett members have a range of perspectives on feminism and our diversity of thought is a strength; not all of us agree on everything all of the time. What we share is a desire to fight for women’s rights and end gender inequality. It is important people are able to express their views. This must always happen from a position of respect and understanding from all sides.
The tone of the debate in some quarters, and on extremes of both sides, has been a problem. Amplified by social media, a small minority whom we believe do not represent the views of most people have gone far outside legitimate debate and strayed into violence, or aggressive, intimidating, or dehumanising language. We believe there is no place for that in this discussion. Aside from that unacceptable behaviour, there has also been a move from some quarters to shut down any discussion of these issues by feminists, particularly those who have concerns about self- declaration. It is understandable that trans people, who have been under unjustifiable attack in the media, and their allies, want to defend themselves. But some conversations which are not transphobic, but rather seek to ask questions about gender or the detail of policy, have been shut down. It is important that there is space to express concerns and ask questions about a complex issue; we hope that process will help us to come together as allies to find ways to work together on this and wider issues. It is notable that in Scotland, where there has been an ongoing dialogue for some time between women’s and trans organisations, that mutual understanding and respect is stronger and there is a common agenda.22 We think this is valuable and needed in the rest of the country too.
A child may not conform to society’s expectations of their gender but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are trans, although some may want to transition. As an organisation which fights against gender stereotypes which limit all of us, we think it is key that this is acknowledged – but it is important that we decouple gender non-conforming with the importance of meeting the needs of trans people who want to physically transition. The age at which this happens is a question of medical ethics, and is outside of the scope of GRA reform.
Lesbian experiences are at the heart of feminism, and lesbian identity has always been threatened by sexism and homophobia. Within the public discussion of Gender Recognition Act reform, some women have raised feelings of concern that certain lesbian identities may be threatened by discussions about gender identity: for example, society continues to discriminate against lesbians, including those who don't conform to social norms of femininity, and concerns have been aired that some lesbians who are not trans may therefore feel pressure to identify as trans men. We need to end the limiting stereotypes of what it means to be a woman, and to end the discrimination that women who don't conform to gender stereotypes experience. This is a shared concern for women fighting homophobia, transphobia and sexism. Equality for trans people can play an important role in challenging these harmful stereotypes. As Ruth Hunt from Stonewall puts it, “homophobia and transphobia are much cosier bedfellows than people realise... Equality for, and acceptance of, trans people is vital for all of us. It will strengthen the equality of lesbian, gay and bi people, and it will stop the ridiculous and limiting stereotypes of what it means to be a woman.” 23
Privilege arises from the beliefs we hold about ourselves and our identities as informed by the society we live in and the resources and advantages (or disadvantages) we each have, which can determine our experiences and opportunities. It is a complex mix of multiple identity characteristics and structural factors and it is relative. Privilege can arise from class and racial identity as well as sex, and no one person has exactly the same experience of privilege as another. A woman who was treated as a boy or a man before they ‘came out’ or transitioned may have experienced some of the privilege society gives men; and/or they may have experienced oppression if they were perceived as a man who didn’t conform with masculine stereotypes. It is therefore likely that they did not experience privilege in the same way as boys and men because of their own inward perception of themselves as a woman, and that this conflict may have been a cause of real distress. On ‘coming out’ or transitioning they are then likely to experience the misogyny that is a part of women’s everyday lives, alongside transphobia. Women have very different lived experiences, whether they are trans or not. Trans women are likely to experience much of the same sexism that derives from female biology.
No. We will continue to campaign to extend and defend women’s rights; to ensure equal representation and equal power for women; to address women’s financial inequality and independence and to challenge gender norms and stereotypes. That has not changed. But it does mean that we recognise that we have more in common, can achieve more together than we can apart, and that we must ensure that the diversity of women’s lived experiences are represented throughout our organisation, our policy and research and our campaigning work. We are campaigning for all women, not just for some women; and we recognise that if some of us are held back, then we are all held back.
Initial publication October 2018; revised February 2019
PRIMARY TO ORIGINAL DOC:
1 Johnson, P. et. al. (2014), Sex-Specific Medical Research: Why Women’s Health Can’t Wait – A report of the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, https://www.brighamandwomens.org/assets/BWH/womens- health/pdfs/ConnorsReportFINAL.pdf
2 Fawcett Society (2018) Sex Discrimination Law Review
3 Ministry of Justice (2018), Tribunals and Gender Recognition Statistics Quarterly
4 This is the language used in the legislation, which is used at various points in this document in order to reflect the current law. In some cases such language is outdated.
5 Government Equalities Office, (2018), Reform of the Gender Recognition Act: Government Consultation https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/721725/ GRA-Consultation-document.pdf
7 EHRC (2011), Equality Act 2010 Statutory Code of Practice: Services, public functions and associations, accessed at https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/servicescode_0.pdf
8 Stonewall (2017), LGBT in Britain: Trans Report. Due to different methodologies we do not draw direct comparisons with figures from ONS data.
9Engender (2018), Frequently asked questions: Women’s equality and the Gender Recognition Act https://www.engender.org.uk/news/blog/frequently-asked-questions-womens-equality-and-the-gender- recognition-act/; and Scottish women’s sector (2018), ‘Review of the Gender Recognition Act 2004: A
10 For example the case of Christopher Hambrook, (http://torontosun.com/2014/02/26/predator-who- claimed-to-be-transgender-declared-dangerous-offender/wcm/fc2c70f0-b1a1-41e2-85db-bec9d0012ce5 11 That question asks “If you provide a single or separate sex service, do you feel confident in
interpreting the Equality Act 2010 with regard to these exemptions?”. The adequacy of guidance from various sources is likely to form part of responses.
13 Fawcett Society (2009) Engendering Justice – from policy to practice, https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=7db3a286-c0e0-40d5-ad09- a95a65955d34
14 Commission on Sex in Prison (2014) Women in Prison: Coercive and consensual sex, Howard League for Penal Reform https://howardleague.org/publications/women-in-prison-coercive-and-consensual-sex/
17 British Psychological Society, (2016) ‘Written evidence submitted by British Psychological Society to the Transgender Equality Inquiry’,
19 Independent, 2 September 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/sexual-assault-unisex-changing- rooms-sunday-times-women-risk-a8519086.html
20 ONS (2017) 2021 Census Topic Research: December 2017 accessed at https://www.ons.gov.uk/census/censustransformationprogramme/questiondevelopment/2021censustopicres earchdecember2017
23 Ruth Hunt, Huffington Post article, accessed at https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ruth-hunt/trans-allies- identity_b_18456706.html