Thank you for contacting me about updating the Equality Act to specify that any reference to sex means a person's biological sex.
I agree with the statement in several of the very many emails I have received on this subject that this 'is a serious and much-needed debate about protecting dignity, privacy, safety and fairness for all, in areas including single-sex services, single-sex schools, sports, single-sex associations and charities'.
For the avoidance of doubt, by women and girls I mean adult human females and human female children.
I am clear that biological sex is an immutable characteristic and that it is essential that the right of women and girls to access single-sex spaces and services provided by women is upheld, especially in situations, such as changing rooms and procedures involving intimate contact, where they may be particularly vulnerable to predatory males. It is important to stress that women should anyway have access to spaces and services for and provided by women only in all circumstances in which their rights to privacy, dignity, fairness and safety would otherwise be violated. It is vital that there is complete clarity that the possession of a Gender Recognition Certificate or any other form of claim to transgender status does not make it possible for this right to be compromised or denied. As I have said before, this is not to say that transgender people as such are predatory but that some men will exploit any opportunity to get at women and girls as we have seen in relation, for example, to Scottish prisons.
The sex-based rights of women and girls must be defended and if necessary fought for again. They must not be undermined. I am very sympathetic to the argument that the proposed clarification of the Equality Act is a necessary and would be an effective measure in defending and advancing women's rights.
The current guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on existing legislation says that it is entirely acceptable for providers of single-sex services to take account of biological sex of their service users. Where it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, the Equality Act 2010 is clear that service providers can exclude, modify or limit access for transgender people, even where they have a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). This includes where a service provider has concerns that the presence of individuals who are biologically male could prevent them from meeting their aims, such as in the example below, included in the guidance: “A group counselling session is provided for female victims of sexual assault. The organisers do not allow trans women to attend as they judge that the clients who attend the group session are likely to be traumatised by the presence of a person who is biologically male.”
I can assure you that the Government is committed to protecting women's rights and the Minister for Women and Equalities regularly seeks advice from the independent equality regulator as part of her role. The department has received advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the Equality Act and will consider this in the usual way.
I will be monitoring this issue very carefully to ensure that the Government gets this right and that the law does indeed protect the interests and uphold the rights to fairness, dignity, privacy and safety of women and girls.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP