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Artillery Row

Self-ID versus survivors

Traumatised women deserve to know that they can be supported by women

When a woman has been raped, beaten, abused, degraded, or left in abject fear by a man, the last person they probably want to speak to about their experiences is another man. Most female victims/survivors want to speak to another woman about the traumatic events men have subjected them to. That simple fact was so obvious to the authors of the Equality Act 2010 they built exceptions into legislation, to ensure that female victims of men’s violence can be reassured the support they access will be single sex. 

Nothing has changed in terms of reducing men’s violence, or indeed the trauma responses of women subjected to that violence, in the last 14 years, so why are some organisations misrepresenting the law? 

The campaigning group Fair Play for Women (FPFW) have been raising the improper use of Schedule 9 Occupational requirements in job adverts, with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), since July 2021. FPFW have alerted the EHRC of ten different examples of discriminatory adverts, and this month the EHRC confirmed they would be urgently reviewing guidance for employers on single sex jobs. 

After nearly three years raising the issue most women would have given up, but Dr Nicola Williams, of FPFW is nothing if not tenacious. She told me:

A few years ago, women started to show me examples of job adverts purporting to be ‘women-only’ while also encouraging some men to apply if they identified as women or non-binary. I knew that was both unlawful and potentially harmful. The Equality Act is very clear. 

I reported these unlawful adverts to the EHRC. It’s their job to make sure the Equality Act is used properly; they also have special powers to enforce the law when organisations are in breach. Gender ideology has infiltrated deep into our society because most people don’t see it. 

Eventually, the EHRC has publicly committed to ‘take action’ and ‘enforce’ the law. The next few weeks will show us all whether that promise is credible. I do hope so, especially for the women who need to trust that ‘women-only’ really does mean ‘women only’. 

The examples of these adverts contain clear breaches of the law. Alongside West Yorkshire Police, who should at the very least to be able to correctly read and apply the law, we have the trade union group Unite the Union, who quite frankly appear to have taken it upon themselves to completely re-write the Equality Act — advising trade union reps in their still live trans equality at work guide that:

…an employer is not allowed to discriminate against a trans person who has gained legal recognition for their acquired gender. This applies to all exemptions including, if the job involves intimate body searches and working in a private home involving intimate contact. 

Unite the Union also claim: 

The Equality Act 2010 has, regrettably, exempted organised religion from this form of discrimination. This means that religious organisations can apply for an occupational requirement of an employee not to be a transsexual person. However, they still have to be able show, as before, that it is essential for the post.

Neither of these statements are accurate. However, they are a great example of when transgender ideologists infiltrate large organisations, with the incumbents taking it upon themselves to re-write actual legislation, which aims to influence swathes of professionals with an incorrect version of the law.  

You’d think the last place this would happen would be in the women’s movement, but unfortunately, they are the worst offenders, with most adverts uncovered by FPFW coming from charities that are largely reserved for women who have been abused by men. 

The worst part of these adverts is the gaslighting language used to try seeding into recruitment an ideology that has absolutely nothing to do trauma informed support for female victims. The adverts use linguistic tricks — stating the job is reserved for women and referencing the Equality Act exceptions — with the small print defining women as self-identifying”.

The last thing you would hope that any professional would want to do is mislead a woman who has bravely reached out for support, but these charities aren’t just on shaky legal ground, they are obscuring the truth to female victims of male violence.

I am not sure I will ever understand the motivation of those trying to undermine women’s rights, and I know I am not popular with many in the women’s movement for raising this issue time and again. But that’s ok — this isn’t a popularity contest (thankfully), it’s about what is right. You only need to spend time with women who have been impacted by men’s violence to know that holding onto the basic premise of by and for women services is an essential part of support.  

I’ve recently had the pleasure of meeting with Sharon Holland whose daughter Chloe tragically died by suicide after months of prolific abuse from her ex-partner. Sharon is campaigning to change the law to make manslaughter an offence by coercive and controlling behaviour. She is currently going through a heartbreaking review of what happened to Chloe and who she reached out to. 

Sharon told me: 

You can see from Chloe’s experience that the only people she engaged with and trusted over those years were women, and as a survivor myself I know what that means. You only trust women in those moments, it isn’t about hating men, it’s about experiencing deep trauma — only women really understand that. 

It is depressingly clear that there are some who want to undermine protections of female victims like Chloe and Sharon. Efforts to ensure that trans victims are supported in by and for models of support are to be celebrated and welcomed — but notably we don’t see those services being routinely sabotaged by professionals from within the women’s sector in the same way as those reserved for female victims.   

Author of Defending Women’s Spaces, Dr Karen Ingala Smith, who has worked in the anti-men’s violence movement for over three decades, told me:  

I find it heartbreaking and anger-making that some women working in the very specialist organisations, purportedly supporting women who have been subjected to men’s violence, are letting down their beneficiaries. I find it disappointing that others claim to be afraid to speak out against this. Our services were developed by survivors and feminists (many women being both) to give victim survivors routes to safety and recourse to hold men to account. As service providers, we have a responsibility to protect their legacy and to make sure we provide woman-led and woman-centred support.

It’s now up to politicians to protect the rights of women subjected to men’s violence and to make the Equality Act clear by clarifying that “sex” means biological sex. The Conservatives recently announced another commitment to amend the law, but as ever, the headlines reveal this is less about protecting women, and more about scoring political points against the Labour Party’s inadequacy on this issue. 

Yet again women’s rights are being kicked about in a game of political football — but it’s less a game of two halves and more about one half having fun at the other half’s expense. As always, the most vulnerable women pay the price. 

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