No help to women: Charlotte Gerada, Dawn Butler and Marsha de Cordova
Artillery Row

Labour’s woman problem

The Labour women’s conference doesn’t know what a woman is

My local Labour party voted through a motion for the online women’s conference which took place at the end of June. The motion (that I drafted) asked Labour to re-endorse its manifesto commitment to sex-based rights. It also called on Party leaders to condemn the abuse received by women. It stated that the misogyny that women face for speaking out  “would not be tolerated were it directed at a person/people with any other protected characteristic.”

Predictably, our perfectly reasonable motion was rejected by the conference arrangements committee because they claimed “it diminish(es) the experiences” of these other groups of people. I appealed against the decision and forwarded this to Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s Shadow Women and Equalities Minister and Charlotte Gerada, the National Women’s Officer amongst others.

The chair kept telling delegates that we must include men who say they’re women in anything and everything we do

You might imagine that people with “women” in their title would show an interest in this issue. But, unsurprisingly to many of us in and around the party, nobody I contacted had the decency to reply. I and many other women experienced the same non-communication tactics from Dawn Butler when she was Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities. 

 Labour’s approach to concerns about the threat to single sex spaces and services is to stick their fingers very firmly in their ears. Clearly proving that they aren’t bothered about the treatment of women when we campaign to defend our rights. Can you imagine that a complaint like this would be ignored if it were about racism or disability or, God forbid, “gender reassignment”? 

Our motion was treated as if it was beyond the pale of acceptable opinion, despite the right to single sex services and spaces existing in law, thanks to the Labour Government’s 2010 Equality Act. And it’s not as if we’re going against current party policy, since the 2019 Labour manifesto committed us to upholding these rights. Welcome to the Labour Party in the 2020s where sex-based rights — designed to protect and support women — don’t matter. It’s more important for them to kowtow to men who pretend they’ve somehow miraculously become women.

The women’s conference was the predictable farce that many of us knew it would be. The chair kept telling delegates that we must include men who say they’re women in anything and everything we do. I managed to speak about the spurious reason for rejecting my motion and the urgent need for sex-based rights to be discussed. I was constantly interrupted and eventually cut off. I was the only speaker at the conference to be shut down in this way.

The disdain that some in Labour have for women who want to protect our sex-based rights is appalling

Judith Wright cut off at Labour Women’s Conference

Apart from my brief contribution there was no mention of the huge elephant in the room.

In fact there was no debate on anything. It was more like a motivational event where we all had to applaud everything that toed the official party line, part of which seemed to be, men can take part in the women’s conference if they simply self-identify into womanhood. One such man was granted the privilege of speaking during a “discussion” on Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) despite the fact that I know of at least one woman who was prevented from speaking even though her local party had submitted a motion on this issue.

The motion on VAWG was voted forward to the annual national conference. Needless to say, parts of it pander unapologetically to men who say they are women. There was no discussion on women’s health issues, as clearly this would have required a reality check about what women’s bodies really are.

Like countless other Labour women, I have spent the last few years battling to get the party to publicly support sex-based rights for women and girls as well as asking that they condemn the abuse levelled at those of us who defend these rights. Many of us have been completely ignored by anyone with any clout. We also face untold harassment and aggression from members of our local parties. I know women who have left local meetings in tears and some who have to drink or self-medicate before turning up to meetings. 

Labour should not pretend to be a caring, progressive party if it refuses to listen to women’s fears about rights to safety and privacy

 In 2019 I also presented a motion on sex-based rights to my local Labour Party. As a local member had publicised the details on social media beforehand, I was extremely worried that a mob of anti-women activists might turn up to the venue. Afterwards he and a friend were publicly crowing and congratulating each other on how they’d managed to beat the “TERFS” (ie the women who care about women) They didn’t achieve the desired outcome though as I’m still speaking out.

Women who are ex-members are also viewed as legitimate targets. Take the example of Rebekah Wershbale who has been used as the face of “transphobia” for a training course by the controversial “Labour Campaign for Trans Rights” Yet again the Labour leadership has said nothing.

The disdain that some in Labour have for women who want to protect our sex-based rights is appalling. People in leadership roles have either ignored us or tried (and sometimes managed) to silence us. Misogynists in the party are at liberty to dish out vitriol against us as and when they please. 

 The public needs to know that access to single sex spaces and services is under threat. This is not a niche issue. Countless organisations are removing single sex facilities; hospitals, refuges, prisons, toilets, changing rooms. Children don’t have the automatic right to single-sex sleeping areas during trips arranged by schools or clubs. 

The Labour Party can redeem itself at the national conference in September but it should not pretend to be a caring, progressive party if it refuses to listen to women’s fears about rights to safety and privacy. Members must be given space to express our concerns publicly and in a supportive environment. The exact opposite to the hostility that we faced at the women’s conference.

 Labour needs to reassure its members and the public that it has the backs of women and girls. Otherwise it will start to look like a modern day “nasty party” and it can kiss goodbye to forming a government any time soon. 


  1. The motion on Violence against Women includes the following:

Conference resolves that:

  •  Police, prosecutors, judges and all public servants should receive training and guidance on transphobic hate crimes and discrimination. 
  •  Education is required to stop the spreading of abuse around self-identification, and protect the rights of trans women. 
  •  Trans women must be encouraged to participate in public life and stand as candidates for public office

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover