Women Made Invisible Still Make Up Half Your Votes

The last time we had a general election in this country, I was excited. A certain energy had begun to gather in the wake of a successful Labour campaign and the once seemingly inevitable Conservative landslide was no longer certain. I bought extra coffee with the intention of staying up to watch the results and made a point of voting later in the day so that I could take my daughter to the polling station after school. Women had died so that other women could vote, I told her. You have to strive for what you think is right. She squinted at her fingernails and asked what was for tea.

The daughter of Labour party members, my own childhood during the 1980’s had rung with cries of Maggie Maggie Maggie! Out Out Out! Now as I put my cross in the box I had a real hope that things could be better: that a change of government might see me not having to live with the constant dread of another universal credit roll out, and that the local services for women I had seen decimated by lack of funding over the years might once again thrive. Just a few days after that election I would wake up to the devastation of Grenfell — an only too preventable disaster that hit like a thump to the gut, made, as it was, all the more deadly by an unforgivable scrimp on social housing by one of London’s richest councils. My Labour vote had never been one for Jeremy Corbyn, but for survival.

In the space of just under two years we have seen the political landscape shift dramatically and are now, again, facing the possibility of a general election. Issues such as Brexit, and a failure to deal effectively with anti-semitism and racism within the main parties, are setting people apart who might once have stood along recognisable partisan lines. This time feels like no good road to go down.

Great chunks of the population seem set politically adrift, and in particular women, who have recently become increasingly aware of attacks being made on their rights by trans activists seeking to deny the reality — and as such the political and social significance — of biological sex.

In 2015 the LGBT charity Stonewall, along with others, quietly lobbied the government, recommending amendments to the Equality Act 2010 that would see the protected characteristic of gender reassignment replaced with that of gender identity, and that would remove entirely the sex based exemptions designed to protect women, therefore effectively erasing sex as a protected characteristic altogether.

Then in 2017 the Labour party wrote in their hurriedly put together manifesto: “A Labour government will reform the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010 to ensure they protect Trans people by changing the protected characteristic of ‘gender assignment’ to ‘gender identity’.” The removal of sex based exemptions did not get a mention here however, and there was an added on commitment to “gender auditing all policy and legislation for its impact on women before implementation.”

Which sounds, on the surface, optimistic. But what Labour and other parties seem to fail to grasp is that it is not possible to protect both ‘gender identity’ and ‘sex’ simultaneously. Any implementation of sex based exemptions that ensured a service or space remained single sex would necessarily and legally discriminate on the basis of gender identity, in that it would allow for the exclusion of anyone at all born male, no matter their legal status. Protection without exception on the basis of gender identity is fundamentally incompatible with such exclusion. It simply is not possible to categorise human beings by both sex and gender identity when these do not align, hence the two pronged attempt by trans activists previously to have removed all sex based exemptions from the Equality Act while also conflating gender identity with sex.

A recent example of this conflict of rights is found now in the case of Vancouver Rape Relief who recently had their yearly grant funding withdrawn by Vancouver city council. Under Canadian law, specifically the human rights act, both gender identity and sex are prohibited grounds for discrimination. But despite all other similar services in the country being made accessible to trans women, and Vancouver Rape Relief therefore being the only organisation left committed to providing single sex services, a relentless campaign of litigation and harassment has seen them now reliant on donations. Protection for gender identity without exemptions leads to sex discrimination with potentially devastating consequences.

I would beg of people to understand that women have been socialised all their lives to fear — and take responsibility for avoiding — male violence, and that women feeling frightened of and threatened by male people can be a natural consequence of living in an often violently sexist society. Women traumatised by this violence cannot cognitively trick themselves into perceiving a biologically male person as female, any more readily than anyone else can. In a time of acute crisis, to expect them to pretend, or to shut up and deal, is an act of bare cruelty.

I am not suggesting any human being be left without necessary support (of course not) but pointing out that a failure to provide any single sex provision will deter some women from accessing services altogether. With two women a week killed as a result of domestic violence in this country, I would expect any political party that claims to care about equality to consider this unacceptable.

As it stands now in Britain, women’s services are being systematically destroyed by both right and left. While Tories slash funding, supposedly progressive organisations ignore the Equality Act and refuse to implement lawful exemptions that would provide traumatised women with the deserved comfort and safety of female only spaces. With no change whatsoever yet to the law, there are already no more single sex services for women in the entire city of Brighton.

Politically without a home, increasing numbers of female voters — myself included — find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place with two essentially miserable choices. Vote for a party that has overseen the increasing impoverishment of women and children, cutting their benefits and services to ribbons while prioritising tax cuts for the already rich (I could never), or instead one made toxic by that peculiar strain of leftist machismo, and that has rushed without thinking into pledging support for law changes aimed at disappearing women’s reality and rights.

I should think the politicians might remember we are half the population though, and that for every woman speaking freely on this issue there are hundreds more quietly listening, thinking, and eventually deciding. You may imagine that silence means acquiescence but you would be wrong. And in the privacy of the voting booth, everyone gets an equal say.