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A woman’s space in the UK

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Woman's Place, self-identifying, violence against women, Gender Recognition Act, gender recognition certificate, women's spacesCall to action.

The UK government’s Equalities Office is consulting on changes to the existing Gender Recognition Act.

There is some concern about this, for if the government were to go ahead with a simplification of the gender recognition process, and move towards a self-declaration system, it would mean that violent men could demand access to women only spaces and services such as refuges, sexual violence centres/services and prisons simply by claiming to identify as a woman, whether or not they were.

There is already evidence that this is happening in the prison service in the UK; and Soham murderer Ian Huntley’s reported desire to be called ‘Lian’ is one of the more extreme examples of the danger, if it turns out to be true.

And there is evidence from both the UK and internationally of people who were born male entering women only spaces dressed as women and going on to assault women.

Whether or not these offenders are transgender is irrelevant, since the recommendations in the report would facilitate this type of offending by making access to women-only spaces dependent on an individual’s declaration that they identify as a woman with no need for any process of social or medical transition.

There is also the question of sports competitions, of women’s colleges letting self-defining men share rooms with women – and a woman who objects to such a share being limited in what she can do or say; or lesbians who do not want to have a relationship with a self-defining female but physically male person.

Currently, for your acquired gender to be legally recognised in the UK you need a Gender Recognition Certificate.

The process for acquiring a Gender Recognition Certificate in the UK requires that you are over 18; have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria (defined by the NHS as a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because they believe there to be a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity); that you’ve lived in your acquired gender for at least 2 years and that you intend to live in your acquired gender for the rest of your life.

You must also have an original or certified copy of your birth certificate and copies of any official documents that show your birth name has changed to your current name; proof you’ve lived in your acquired gender for the required time (2 years for standard route, 6 years for alternative route); any medical reports and proof you’re living in your acquired gender (passport, driving licence, payslips or benefit documents, utility bills or other documents of an official nature).

The proposed change to the law would simplify the process for gaining a Gender Recognition Certificate with the likely introduction of a simple statement of intent, like that in Ireland’s ‘Gender Recognition Act, Ireland, 2015’ which is:

“I do solemnly and sincerely declare that I:

1 – have a settled and solemn intention to live in the preferred gender for the rest of my life,

2 – understand the consequences of the application,

3 – make this application of my own free will.”

But women face both endemic structural and personal inequality.

This is reflected, for example, in the high levels of sexual harassment, violence against women and girls; the gender pay gap; discrimination at work.

And this is why sex is a ‘protected characteristic‘ in the Equality Act (2010).

Which Woman’s Place UK, a new single-issue campaign group launched recently, believes must be defended.

And this is what their campaign is calling for:

1 – Respectful and evidence based discussion about the impact of the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act to be allowed to take place and for women’s voices to be heard.

Too often women are silenced, threatened, trolled, harassed and even physically assaulted for daring to engage in a discussion about the possible consequences of a legislative change.

The accusation of “transphobia” should not be used to shut down women’s voices.

2 – The principle of ‘women only spaces’ to be upheld – and where necessary extended.

In subsequent briefings we will set out the reasons why these spaces are needed.

3 – A review of how the exemptions in the Equality Act which allow for single sex services or requirements that only a woman can apply for a job (such as in a domestic violence refuge) are being applied in practice.

Woman’s Place believes that the Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry and its recommendations have had a chilling effect on many service providers and employers who are now not sure if it is lawful to apply these exemptions.

4 – The government to consult with women’s organisations on how self-declaration would impact on women only services and spaces.

5 – The government to consult on how self-declaration will impact upon data gathering – such as crime, employment, pay, and health statistics – and monitoring of sex-based discrimination such as the gender pay gap.

As the campaingers point out, transgender people should have the same rights as anyone else to be free from discrimination, to access the services that they need and to be treated with dignity and respect.

But moving to a process of self-declaration risks unintended consequences for the safety and wellbeing of women and girls.

Trans people have the right to access the services that they need and there are real concerns about the safety of transwomen, in particular if they are housed in the mainstream prison population in line with their biological sex.

However, the Women and Equalities Select Committee’s recommendations in these areas are a) not the best way to address these issues and b) threaten the safety and wellbeing of women and girls.

You can join Woman’s Place’s campaign on facebook; on Twitter @Womans_Place_UK.

Or you can write to your MP and draw their attention to the 5 points: click here for a sample letter.

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

But violence against women and sex discrimination still exist. Women need reserved places, separate spaces and distinct services.

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