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Artillery Row

Will the next prime minister stand up for women’s rights?

Rhetorical progress has been made on gender issues — but will it affect policy?

Rishi Sunak has been clear for several years that a woman can’t have a penis. Now, motivated by the polls and JK Rowling’s intervention, Sir Keir Starmer has agreed. This is a positive development; but it does not mean that the next Government will be able to unpick the grip that gender activists continue to exercise over many of our schools, hospitals, and prisons. 

Many Labour figures – Bridget Phillipson, Anneliese Dodds, and Jonathan Ashworth to name a few – still seem all over the place on this issue. While Conservative ministers have, after a few false steps, largely reached a unified stance on this issue, Labour’s move in the right direction has been confined to “top of the ticket” interventions from Starmer and the boldest of his lieutenants, Wes Streeting. 

It remains to be seen how individual Labour ministers will tackle activist capture. Policy Exchange’s latest Biology Matters Compendium published today — a unique documentary record of the march of Transgender ideology through public institutions — reveals that this approach remains pervasive. 

Controversies surrounding transgenderism have embroiled almost every Government Department, from Local Government to Education to Justice. While the final 18 months of the last Parliament saw the Conservative Government make some progress on addressing this issue, there is still much to be done — a handful of tactical wins do not constitute a strategic victory. If the next Prime Minister, whether Sunak or Starmer, wants to make clear that they care about women’s rights, these are the six major policy questions he must answer:

  1. Will the next Government uphold the ban on prescribing puberty blockers to children? In response to the Cass Review, patients under 18 can no longer be prescribed puberty blockers, either by NHS GPs or private clinics. However, the emergency regulations introduced to achieve this will expire just three months after the election. Meanwhile, TransActual (in partnership with the Good Law Project) have challenged the Department of Health and Social Care in the courts. It is vital that the next Government makes the emergency ban permanent. Nor should the future Health Secretary be cowed into inaction by the threat of Judicial Review. 
  2. Will the next Government clarify that biological males with Gender Recognition Certificates cannot enter women’s spaces? The Equality Act provides protection for women’s single sex spaces. Schedule 9 of the Act also permits employers, such as rape crisis centres, to restrict certain jobs to female applicants. This legislation seems to conflict with the Gender Recognition Act which allows transgender individuals to change their legal sex. So can biological men with a Gender Recognition Certificate enter women’s spaces? Starmer says they can’t. If he really believes this then Labour should commit to clarifying the ambiguity in the Equality Act.
  3. Will the draft guidance for gender questioning children in schools be passed into law? In 2023 Policy Exchange revealed that only 28 per cent of schools inform a child’s parents that they are experiencing gender distress. Schools are dealing with a sudden increase in gender distressed children with no formal guidance on the topic. The draft guidance on gender questioning children, currently in the consultation stage, will change this. However, Labour’s Shadow Education secretary has claimed that it “drifts far too much into partisan and unnecessary language”.  Can a future Labour Government be trusted to bring this vital piece of safeguarding legislation into force?
  4. Will the Relationship Sex and Health Education guidance be implemented? As Policy Exchange has exposed — 72 per cent of schools are teaching children contested gender identity theory. Despite this, many schools refuse to show parents the materials their children are taught. Worksheets and PowerPoints are often produced and sold to schools by activist campaign groups who claim they cannot be shared due to “copyright”. The new guidance, currently under consultation, clarifies that parents have a right to know what is being taught to students, and that children should not be taught they can be “born in the wrong body”. The consultation is scheduled to close just one week after the election – the next Education Secretary must immediately pass this guidance into law to protect the next generation of children from indoctrination.
  5. Will the updated NHS Constitution for England guarantee women the right to same sex accommodation and care? Whilst the NHS Constitution it is not legally binding, it sets standards and expectations for how care should be delivered to all patients. As Policy Exchange revealed last year, NHS hospitals are refusing to guarantee same-sex intimate care for women. The proposed changes to the Constitution seek to amend this. The consultation period has now ended, and it is up to the next Government to decide which of the proposed changes will be brought forward. It is vital that the proposed changed relating to “sex and gender reassignment” are upheld, and yet the Labour Party remain quiet.
  6. Will the Government protect the female category in women’s grassroots sport? There has been much progress to protect the female category in women’s elite sport. However, as Policy Exchange demonstrated in November, most of the National Governing Bodies allow for self-ID at a recreational level. Starmer has said that it is “important sports governing bodies take a lead on this”. Will he require Sport England to withdraw funding from governing bodies that won’t protect women’s sport?

Major progress has been made on the question of women’s rights and transgenderism. Both Labour and the Conservatives are keen to prove they’re getting to grips with this issue. The past few weeks have seen reassuring language from Sir Keir Starmer, who has finally acknowledged that “biologically, a woman is with a vagina”. But language isn’t good enough. Policy capture must be answered with policy solutions — not rhetoric. Anyone seeking to form a Government on July 5th must be able to answer these questions.

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