***Update 2: Jan 18*** I am reassured to find that the Labour Party are looking at this issue and am happy with the progress that’s been made.***
***update*** Since I wrote this, I have found out that the Women in Leadership Scheme is run by the LWN, an affiliated organisation, not the Labour Party itself. I haven’t changed the title because I feel the Labour Party does need to think about this issue but it is not the Labour Party itself that made the ruling I am discussing.***
When I heard that the popular and wildly over-subscribed Jo Cox Women in Leadership Scheme was admitting transwomen, I didn’t believe it. There is little enough provision for women anyway, and surely the Labour Party with its famous concern for equalities wouldn’t reduce it still further at a time when protecting women’s spaces is so contentious.
I checked with an Equalities Officer who said, and I quote, “the Labour Party doesn’t condone pretending to ‘help’ one disadvantaged group by stealing provisions from another. That’s a Tory tactic.”
Transwomen ain’t what they used to be
But, as it turns out, it’s true. The Labour Party may have famous concern for equalities but it has changed its rules in favour of transgender people and not noticed itself being neglectful of women as a whole. “Transwomen are women”, cried the first cohort on the Jo Cox scheme – and that’s totally natural – they got along quite happily with the transwoman they had amongst them, and rushed to defend the policy – as I would have in their situation, had I not looked to the USA and seen what’s down the line when you make self-declared ‘gender identity’ a protected characteristic. Here’s a clue…
Some feminist voices were heard objecting to the Jo Cox Scheme’s decision not to invoke the Equality Act exemption for the female sex. The objections were slapped down with that knee-jerk cry of “transwomen are women” which, with a bit of thought, anyone can see is not the point.
We are not talking about the born-men living as women who you are used to taking into your circle and looking after. We are talking about an unknown increase in numbers, accompanied by a huge decrease in the requirement to actually live as a woman, whatever that means.
We’ve all got rather confused.
Sex or gender?
If you choose to ignore the Equalities Act exemptions for the female sex, as the Jo Cox scheme has done, and you then accept that you are the gender you say you are, and that that magically changes your sex too, then absolutely no effort is required. Male-bodied, male-socialised men with male attitudes to self-advancement can simply say “I identify as a woman” and use up female facilities and provisions. This is regularly happening in pub and nightclub toilets now – it’s the latest amusing way to annoy women. It’s not funny, and it’s only the beginning.
Last year, something like 1000 women applied for the 60-something available places on the Jo Cox scheme but, because it’s not paying attention, the Labour Party reckons that’s enough for transwomen too, despite their rising numbers, and despite the fact that transgender (not necessarily trans-sexual) women are already comfortably represented in officer roles in LGBT, in some TUs and in Momentum.
I would like to remind the Labour Party why there are special provisions for women.
Why Women Need Equalities Act Exemptions
In most cases, setting up courses and activities for one sex only is illegal but where a group is recognised as disadvantaged, they are allowed certain exemptions because of their ‘protected characteristic’. Why is sex a protected characteristic? Not because you ‘feel like a woman’, but because it is recognised that girls tend to get a poor deal in education and career opportunities, and (remember the #metoo campaign?) because they are further disadvantaged by having to spend so much energy on avoiding unwelcome treatment from predatory males. In recent years – the austerity years – women have been knocked back disproportionately by the strictures of being impoverished carers, by a lack of social care in the face of family difficulties, by the proliferation of poorly paid, insecure work and by the dreadful housing and welfare conditions imposed on single mothers.
Two factors have come together to create an unintended injustice here. Firstly, aware of the problems particular groups face, the Labour Party has set itself admirable targets to bring disadvantaged groups into government where their voices can be heard – that’s what the Jo Cox program is all about but – this is the second vital point – the quotas it sets itself are hard to fill in the case of women. Just saying ‘we want 50% women MPs/councillors/CLP officers’ or whatever does not alter the fact that most women will not be able to free themselves to take up those roles.
“There’s an immense amount of pride about becoming a FEMALE MP,” she says – not an MP who identifies as a woman, but a FEMALE MP.
Equal, but not the same
Transwomen – especially if they declare themselves women later in life, may well have spent the formative years of their education and careers aided by all the privileges of, for example, being a middle class, white, heterosexual male. They are far less likely to be knocked out of contention by care obligations, they are unlikely to be full-time single parents – they may indeed have created another single-parent family by leaving their families in order to be the woman they want to. They are there, ready willing and able to fill those roles set aside for women, and spurred on by a male sense of ambition and entitlement. Thus organisations determined to achieve 50% women in office find a ready source of box-tickers – the result is particularly evident in Momentum which in some regions lately seems to be more visible through its fierce defence of trans rights than through the campaign work it was created for.
So the women who’ve always been women – the carers, the single-mums, the survivors of poverty, rape and abuse, lose out. Sure, transwomen have difficulties of their own and may well be survivors of one kind or another – but they have different difficulties, and “the Labour Party doesn’t condone pretending to ‘help’ one disadvantaged group by stealing provisions from another. That’s a Tory tactic.”
How to help trans people
Sure, let’s do something to help trans people but first off, don’t be so insufferably condescending. Trans people who know what they’re doing don’t need you playing games for them, but they do need a voice in government – and that does not mean one powerful group amongst them gets to represent all of them. In the case of women’s training, networks and officer-roles, how about we offer some of the available places to trans people who have had the disadvantages that make sex a protected characteristic. We could discuss offering some women’s training places to trans men – or in the case of the Jo Cox programme, if you want to stick to your rejection of the female sex as a protected characteristic, if you’d rather cater for ‘people who identify as women’, why not look for some of those young women who have de-transitioned, and now have double the amount of catching up to do. The women who are described by Maria Catt as ‘explorers reporting back’ (Catt Callahan 2017 in Transgender Children and Young People ed Brunskell-Evans & Moore, pub Cambridge Scholars).
They will have much to teach us about the advantages and problems of being women. You can find out more about these forgotten women through the links below, to detransitioners’ blogs and groups in the States, where such women are beginning to find a voice. I chose the links from a list collected by Maria Catt for the benefit of anyone who has any concern for the “re-sisters”. (I would like to think that groups designed to help men, and/or for everyone, will also make provision to help de-transitioning males, too.)
So come on Labour Party – find out which trans people need which kind of help, and get on with it, without whittling away the provisions you’ve already set aside for women. It is the least you can do, in recognition of what girls and women have to contend with.