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The Tories are right to defend single-sex spaces

The trans debate is not just 'culture war' nonsense.

Lauren Smith

Topics Identity Politics UK

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The Conservatives have issued another big General Election pledge. On Sunday, they announced that a future Tory government would re-write the Equality Act 2010 to make ‘biological sex’ a protected characteristic.

They are right to say that the Equality Act, as it stands, ‘is not sufficiently clear on when it means sex and when it means gender’. Currently, the act considers ‘sex’ as one of the characteristics that is legally protected from discrimination. It does not, however, clarify whether ‘sex’ refers to actual biology or mere gender identity. As a result, it is often not clear whether single-sex spaces are allowed under the law to exclude transwomen, particularly if a transwoman possesses a gender-recognition certificate. Combined with the fact that ‘gender reassignment’ is also considered a protected characteristic, this has led to considerable confusion over which characteristic takes priority.

Clarifying this would be a much-needed step in the right direction when it comes to protecting single-sex spaces. It could go a long way in preventing biological men from encroaching in women’s spaces, such as in toilets, hospital wards or prisons. It would also give private entities, such as domestic-abuse shelters or rape-crisis centres, the power to decide who they accept or exclude from their services, without fear of falling foul of the law.

UK women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has also suggested that, in some cases, the new legislation would mean that trans athletes must compete with their biological sex, rather than with the gender they identify with.

There’s much to agree with here. Clarifying the meaning of sex in the Equality Act would make many women’s lives safer, fairer and more comfortable. If anything, the Tory proposal does not go far enough. The Equality Act has helped to usher in some of today’s most regressive trends – from the institutionalisation of trans ideology to the proliferation of ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ policies. A party serious about taking on these trends would consider scrapping the Equality Act entirely.

Predictably, the Tories’ modest reforms have been greeted with howls of outrage. The usual suspects, from trans activists to the opposition parties, have tried to downplay the threat to women’s rights posed by gender ideology. Labour shadow defence secretary John Healey told BBC Radio 5 Live that this was merely ‘an election distraction from the really core issues that matter to people’. Similarly, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper called it a ‘cynical distraction’ and an attempt to wage ‘phoney culture wars’.

On one level, the charge of cynicism is not entirely unfounded. The Tories have had 14 years in office to make biological sex a protected characteristic. It’s fair to ask why they are only pledging to do so now, when a General Election is around the corner. What’s more, Sunak made the exact same promise in his leadership campaign back in 2022. It certainly feels like a last-minute ploy to win votes from the gender-critical, Mumsnet demographic.

But let’s be honest, the Tories’ critics aren’t simply questioning the timing of this pledge. They are making light of the issue of women’s rights as a whole.

For many women, single-sex spaces are not a ‘culture war’ distraction, as Labour and the Lib Dems seem to think. They are a vital necessity. Would John Healey dismiss the concerns of a traumatised rape victim, who is made to share a hospital ward with a biological male? Does Daisy Cooper not care about young girls being forced to share swimming-pool changing rooms with fully grown men?

These are not merely hypothetical concerns or hysterical fears. Men really have been allowed into women’s prisons. Female pupils really have been giving themselves urinary tract infections rather than share school bathrooms with boys who identify as trans. In one especially shocking case in 2021, a woman was reportedly raped by a transwoman on a female-only NHS hospital ward.

As late as it is, we should still welcome the Tories’ proposal to define womanhood as biological and to protect single-sex spaces. Gender ideology has done a lot of damage to women and children in recent years. It’s time other parties took a stand against it, too.

Lauren Smith is a staff writer at spiked.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Identity Politics UK

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