WEP CONFERENCE 2020
Conference 2020- This is the motion, as presented to the Agenda Committee
This motion was written and submitted by the caucus with 26 supporting signatures. (Link to original motion document here)
MOTION: UPHOLDING THE EQUALITY ACT 2010
WEP affirms the vital importance of the provisions in the Equality Act 2010 (1) that sex is a protected characteristic in discrimination law and that women and girls have certain rights to
single-sex services, in order to protect their safety and dignity.
WEP affirms that upholding sex as a protected characteristic in discrimination law and in safeguarding the safety and dignity of women and girls underpins each of WEP's seven core
policy objectives (2).
Our women's movement campaigned for generations to secure these rights.
WEP recognises that some public bodies and other providers of services have failed to apply these provisions of the EA correctly, causing women and girls to lose access to their rights (3).
WEP calls on the Government urgently to issue a statement of the law on the correct application of the EA, to all government departments, public bodies and relevant private bodies.
The Government's statement of the law must make clear, with worked examples and guidance:-
-(a) when and how the EA allows separate services for men and women, or provision of services to only men or only women;
-(b) how public bodies and private bodies that perform public functions must account for the protected characteristic of sex in applying the Public Sector Equality Duty, and
-(c) how private bodies should take account of which of those EA duties apply to them.
Further, WEP calls on the Government to provide urgent education to the general public on sex as a protected characteristic in discrimination law and our rights to single-sex services, so that
we can all understand our rights and hold service providers to account.
It is well-documented that public and private bodies often misunderstand and misapply the law in relation to sex discrimination (4) and, in particular, where the Equality Act 2010 ('the EA') allows for
provision of single-sex services (5).
This has led some bodies to apply the law incorrectly, including
Councils (6) and private service providers (7).
This misapplication of our law lets down the women and girls whom the legislation was designed to protect. WEP must note that some groups have recently called for the removal of these rights and protections (8).
But women's and girls' rights and protections are not dispensable and WEP
must fight for them with all our might.
All groups with protected characteristics require full protection of the law. All rights carry equal
weight. Therefore, a foundational principle of equality and discrimination law is that the rights of
these groups will sometimes come into conflict and that competing rights need to be balanced in
a lawful and fair way. This is what the EA provisions described above were intended to achieve,
and can achieve if applied correctly. WEP must support the proper balancing of competing
The defining of sex as a protected characteristic in discrimination law and in safeguarding the
safety and dignity of women and girls are principles which underpin each of WEP's seven core
policy objectives (9).
Here are some examples:
- WEP's policy of equality in healthcare and medical research requires both (a) that women and girls can ask for intimate health treatment and care from female staff and sleep safely in female-
only wards, and (b) that research is sex-specific so that women's different biology and experiences are not ignored;
- WEP's policy of ending violence against women requires that those women fleeing male violence can choose to rest and heal in female-only refuges and be helped by female counsellors so that their trauma is not compounded;
- WEP's policy of equal representation in politics, business, industry and throughout working life requires that it should be permissible to have all-women shortlists;
- WEP's policy for an education system that creates opportunities for all children requires that girls should be able to play and compete in single-sex sports, for fairness and safety.
(1) The Equality Act 2010 - https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents
(2) WEP website, at 14.8.20 https://www.womensequality.org.uk/objectives
(3) House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee report, 30.7.19 -
(4) Legal briefing by lawyer Audrey Ludwig,20.07.2020 - https://womansplaceuk.org/2020/07/20/making-policies-
(5) Legal briefing by lawyer Rebecca Bull, 11.2.20 - https://mbmpolicy.files.wordpress.com/2020/02/impact-of-gender-
(7) Ibid & House of Commons Women & Equalities Committee report, 30.7.19, chapter 7
(8) WPUK website, at 14.8.20 - https://womansplaceuk.org/references-to-removal-of-single-sex-
(9) WEP website, at 14.8.20 https://www.womensequality.org.uk/objectives
'Calls to rewrite the Equality Act to eradicate single-sex spaces that safeguard the needs of those who wish to be accommodated in that space by those that will not have the experiences, the understanding, nor the true lived experiences of being girl, or woman, is unacceptable'
Sarah Crofts - Founding member of WEP
Delivered to Conference 2020
Thank you, Madam Chair
I’m a founding member of our party, as are many of the signatories to this motion. Like everyone here, we who proposed this motion are all invested in this party and passionate about its aims.
This motion only concerns the Equality Act 2010. This is an existing law, but one that is not being applied properly by government and public authorities, or by private organisations.
Our motion asks the Women's Equality Party to urgently stand up and defend the existing law by pressing the Government, public authorities and private organisations to apply the Equality Act as it was intended.
This motion does not affect the Members' Consultation.
The remit for our Members' Consultation came from our 2018 Conference, where the membership voted to hold a consultation on whether the party should campaign for some potential future changes to a law called the 'Gender Recognition Act 2004'.
This motion before you now, does not concern those potential future changes to law. Our motion is only about existing law concerning the sex-based rights of women and girls as defined in the Equality Act 2010. These rights are being ignored and abused right now. And that's why this motion matters to WEP members right now.
Sex-based rights, also called 'Single-Sex Exceptions', have been part of the Equality Act since it was brought into UK law in 2010. Single-sex exceptions allow for discrimination on the basis of sex within certain limited spheres. This law was made in recognition that women and men sometimes have differing needs and that single-sex services, spaces and provision are necessary to enable everyone to participate fully in our society.
It's Single-Sex Exceptions that lawfully allow for competitive sports to be segregated by sex, that allow for rape crisis and domestic violence services to be staffed by only women, that allow for women to know they'll have a female nurse at their smear test, that allow a veiled Muslim woman or an Orthodox Jewish woman to enjoy a female-only swimming session. They work for men too, let’s not forget: thanks to the Equality Act, we can have men's health clinics and parenting groups for new fathers.
The Single-Sex Exceptions within the Equality Act are a fundamental part of the very existence of our Party. Our party recognises that women are all different with different views and needs, but that all women share the specific experience of our shared sex and structural sexism. It is on the basis of our sex that women have been oppressed since the beginning of time. And, of course, protecting women’s rights is the very reason that all of us here joined and built this party!
We believe that WEP as a party should be deeply concerned that guidance about how and when 'Single-Sex Exceptions' can be applied is often unclear and sometimes deliberately misrepresented. In reality this means many women and girls are being denied their legal rights to single-sex provision.
We believe that party members and conference delegates would wish WEP to lend its strength as a political party which centres the rights of women to press Government to ensure that clear, unambiguous direction is issued to ensure that all public bodies, service providers, organisations and businesses can make informed choices about how to take account of 'Single-Sex Exceptions' . Without this direction, the current situation of conflicting and erroneous guidance will continue to deny women our rights in law and potentially exclude us from accessing a service or provision that would enhance our health, wellbeing and opportunities in life.
We are in danger of taking for granted the rights won by our mothers and grandmothers in the feminist movement.
As a Party, it is our duty to prevent those past gains being eroded. Those gains, those rights, not only form the bedrock of the Equality Act but the policies of this Party. Without these rights, we will not achieve all that WEP set out to do, and therefore we must protect them and insist on them.
We cannot allow the misapplication and obfuscation of equality laws to continue, or else the very heart of women’s rights – our rights – will be lost.
As members of the Women's Equality Party, we understand these are our fundamental rights and protections, and it is our duty – collectively – to stand up for all women by ensuring our legal rights are upheld. It is impossible to consider any WEP policy without referring to the present law, and therefore we urge Conference to vote to allow our motion to be debated.
This is the speech WE were never able to deliver, and subsequently our members were never able to hear
Val Carpenter- Founding member of WEP
Intended proposer speech for substantive debate of motion
This year I've talked a lot with some of our older members. They first became politically active in the 1960s and 1970s. They're proud to call themselves the grandmothers of our movement. As feminists, they fought for Black rights, lesbian rights, disabled people's rights, mother's rights and their children's rights. They knew that all these rights (or lack of them) impacted profoundly on women's lives and that to improve our lives, all of these rights must be brought together under our feminist banner.
We stand on the shoulders of those feminists every day. We take it for granted that their battles were won and stay won - but we shouldn't.
Our mothers and grandmothers achieved many great laws for us. We have laws against rape. We have laws against sacking pregnant women. We have laws protecting lesbians. We have laws requiring equal pay.
But laws only work if people apply them properly. We must keep insisting that our rights in law work for us in real life when so often they don't.
So we come to the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act enshrines our right to have single-sex services and spaces for those times when we need them, to protect our safety and privacy. But it's not enough to have these rights on paper alone.
Last year, the House of Commons Women's and Equalities Committee published a detailed report into failures of institutions and organisations to enforce the Equality Act. The Committee found that very many public authorities were failing to apply the Act correctly in regard to women and girls, leaving us without the services we need. The Committee found that it was being left to affected groups, like women's refuges, to challenge public authorities to apply the Equality Act properly - but that these groups simply can't make these challenges because they can't afford to.
In July 2019, the Committee concluded by saying:
We recommend that the Government Equalities Office issue a clear statement of the law on single-sex services to all Departments, including the requirement under the public sector equality duty for commissioners of services to actively consider commissioning specialist and single-sex services to meet particular needs.
It's over a year later and we're still waiting for this clear statement from our government.
Meanwhile, women in vulnerable circumstances continue to suffer male violence due to being forced to share space and services with men. Since 2017, over 1,000 sexual assaults have been reported in mixed sex mental health wards.
And it's not just about refuges and hospital wards. Our right to single sex spaces cover schools, youth hostels and holiday camps, prisons and homeless hostels, changing rooms and toilets. And our rights to single sex provision include smear tests and maternity services, sports competitions, women’s charities, all-women political shortlists and awards for professional merit.
The Equality Act is integral to every one of WEP's policies. It forms the framework in which we all operate. We can't move WEP forward without standing on the firm foundation of the Equality Act.
What should WEP do?
Our motion proposes we call on the Government to issue urgently a statement of the law on the correct application of the Equality Act. This statements of the law should be directed to all government departments, public bodies and relevant private bodies.
The Government's statement of the law must make clear, with worked examples and guidance:-
-(a) when and how the Equality Act allows separate services for men and women, or provision of services to only men or only women;
-(b) how public bodies and private bodies which perform public functions must account for the protected characteristic of sex in applying the Public Sector Equality Duty, and
-(c) how private bodies should take account of those Equality Act duties which apply to them.
Furthermore, our motion proposes that WEP must call on the Government to provide urgent education to the general public on sex as a protected characteristic in discrimination law and our right to single-sex services, so that we can all understand our rights and hold service providers and service funders to account.
We consider that these are achievable objectives for WEP and should become active WEP policy from now on.
We, as women, are an oppressed class. It helps nobody to pretend we aren't.
Perhaps a few women really do have the privilege and resources which allow them to choose to waive their rights. But, they don't have the right to waive the rights of other women. They don't speak for us. As a class, we women still need our rights!
Most women, most of the time, don't have the privilege to pick and choose what happens to us. As our grandmother feminists knew, real intersectional feminism means standing for all women all of the time. Our feminism must include women who don't have privilege, and who don't have resources, and can't pick and choose what rights they fancy.
It's our job as feminists to make sure that the elderly woman or the disabled woman in a hospital ward can sleep safely without fearing the man behind the next curtain.
It's our job as feminists to make sure that the young woman going for her first smear test doesn't have the added anxiety that she'll have to make a fuss to get a female nurse.
It's our job as feminists to make sure that the veiled Muslim woman or the Orthodox Jewish woman can have just one evening a week where she's free to go to the swimming pool and enjoy herself with her friends, secure that she's at the women-only swimming session with women-only changing rooms.
It's our job as feminists to make sure that we can wave our daughters off on school trips, knowing they'll be safe sleeping in a single sex dormitory.
It's our job as feminists to make sure that the refugee woman with no job and no money doesn't have to submit to her and her children staying in a refuge with men, just because the refuge only gets funding if it includes men.
It's our job as feminists to make sure that not one more of the traumatised women who fill our women's prisons will be put at risk of sexual assault by male sex offenders.
These are our jobs as feminists. These are our jobs as WEP members.
This is serious. Real feminism is about real women's lives. THIS is what intersectional feminism looks like. It's me and you, and my sister and your mother and the woman next door.
I want to quote another woman I admire. She's not reached grandmother status yet, but I am proud to say that I stand here on her shoulders. This is my friend, Sophie Walker, in her 2018 speech to our Conference:
"We live in a world where women are taught to acquiesce to other people's needs before their own, to smile and say they are fine when they are not, to say yes before they're sure they mean it."
We should all stand on Sophie's shoulders, by admitting that we know her words are true.
The burden of proving our rights must not rest on individual women's shoulders. If we don't insist that everyone applies our sex-based rights all the time as a matter of course, we leave every woman and every girl to take on a lone fight every time she needs her rights to safety or privacy.
We each know from our own lives how hard it is to fight, even if we're lucky enough to be able to. It's frightening; it's exhausting. We know that most women can't and won't fight because the odds are stacked against them. That's why we have our sex-based rights enshrined in law. We shouldn't have to fight anymore. We are feminists and we must stand for and with all women.
The Equality Act belongs to us all. Let's claim it back!!
WEP and the misrepresentation of the aims behind our motion 'Upholding the Equality Act'
WE are the WEP sex-based rights caucus and WE are proud and passionate members of WEP - the only party that sets women and girls at the beginning, middle and end of each and every policy, at each and every campaign.
A party that, historically, makes the tough policy decisions because WE know they are the right policies to improve women’s lives.
WE are proud to be in a party that upholds the Nordic Model, that has a leader who has pushed for affirmative consent laws, and has taken direct action to tackle the under representation of BAME and other marginalised women in our fold.
WEP is a political party formed in response to achingly slow progress in achieving women's equality. WE make relevant, effective policy that aims to close the lag between legislation and real world equality.
Equal pay laws, domestic abuse laws, anti maternity-discrimination laws (to name just a few) have failed to materialise substantive change in women’s lives.
WE are fed up with slow progress whilst women pay the price.
WE are fed up with the pay gap.
WE are fed up with the burden of low paid and unpaid work being placed on women’s shoulders.
WE are fed up that women are the shock absorbers for austerity and Covid-19
WE are fed up that women are still being raped, beaten and exploited and, all too often, still are not protected, often have nowhere to go for safe harbour.
WE will not debate the existence of women’s rights. This work has already been done by the women’s liberation movement before us.
It is in this common cause that we brought an urgent motion to conference- ‘Upholding the Equality Act 2010’.
Why did we bring this motion and why is it urgent?
WE brought this urgently because, just like the legislation listed above, the Equality Act is not working for women and children. The legislation has not translated into facilities and support. It has not delivered what it was intended to do because it is not being implemented as it should be, because the EA2010 constantly misrepresented and misused.
Women across the UK, (as detailed in the House of Commons’ Women and Equalities Committee 2019 report), have complained that lawful single-sex exemptions are not being widely enforced, resulting in a wholesale roll back of women's rights and protections.
Our motion asked WEP members to urgently stand up for women and children by pressing the Government, public authorities and private organisations to apply the Equality Act as it was intended.
Women and children are in danger right now. A surge in abuse rates during lockdown, coupled with an economic vulnerability which is both structural and exasperated in times of crisis means WE must act now. Women can not wait.
Women in this country and in our party want and need safe single-sex spaces.
This need for single-sex spaces does not just include refuges and specialist women’s services, but access to single-sex spaces throughout wider society including changing rooms in schools and across public life, hospital wards, women’s health clinics, prisons, sporting competitions, all-women shortlists. The list is long.
Women, not just in the UK but our sisters across the globe, look to this country to lead the way in safeguarding women’s rights and protections. WE cannot continue to flounder on this issue. We are letting women down in their hour of need- a surge of violence and abuse against a back-drop of a decade of austerity and a global pandemic.
What happened at #WEPconf2020 and how did we get here?
Disappointingly, our party leadership denied to table our motion ‘Upholding the Equality Act 2010’ for debate.
WEP Steering Committee claims that our motion would undermine a proposed internal consultation on whether WEP should campaign to reform the GRA 2004, essentially allowing self-ID of sex. We reject this assertion:
Our motion does not address the GRA 2004. It addresses a separate area of law and women in this country and beyond, need our party to talk about our laws as they are today, not just how they might be in the future.
We challenged the steering committee's rejection of our motion at conference during Party Business. We had 5 minutes to speak on why our motion was important, and why members needed to hear and debate it.
The Steering Committee used their internally influential platform to speak against us, urging conference to vote down the reading of our motion, again citing the consultation.
Simultaneously, and disappointingly, a senior member of the party used the conference message boards to suggest our motion was a ‘smokescreen’ to derail the consultation.
WE are disappointed that anyone in the Party would suggest that asking for the Women’s Equality Party to take action on an urgent issue affecting women right now is a smokescreen for anything. This bullying, smearing and bad-faith argument is not doing 'politics differently'.
WE have stated, and continue to state unequivocally that we welcome and support the members’ consultation of self ID. We have offered our support and practical help to central office to help facilitate and guide the process. We will always take any opportunity available to us to promote the improvement of the lives of all groups, and to ensure that no group loses out in the advancement of another.
Whilst we agree that there may be crossover between these discussions, the Equality Act underpins all of our rights as women in law. It is simply unacceptable that all discussion concerning these rights must be frozen whilst this consultation runs its course. Two years has already passed since the 2018 self ID motion was referred back. According to the party's own timetable it could run for another two years. Yet so far only a group of 60 members have been consulted in all of that time.
Women and girls cannot - should not - wait for a feminist party to act for them. They need our support now.
An internal consultation of self-ID was never intended by the membership to freeze policy development, discussion or to quash responsiveness to the needs of women as they arise.
After a nationwide feminist campaigns the Government has now ruled out changes to the GRA2004. Meaning WEP's proposed internal consultation, already over two years in the making, has missed its window. But failures to apply the Equality Act matter to women and children across the UK right now.
Right now, every single day, women and children are losing their rights and protections because our law is not being applied as intended. Male violence continues, unabated, whilst women’s options shrink.
WE are incredibly disappointed that WEP took the line that this matter should not be discussed and explored by membership. Moreover, that those that wish to discuss this would be silenced and misrepresented by the party.
WE will continue to support the consultation, in recognition that it is a brave attempt to tackle an issue that no other political party has made inroads into. But we maintain that WEP leaders and our fellow members should be putting all our strength into where it matters right now - upholding our rights to single-sex space and services. That's why we are still seeking to work with WEP leaders to ensure that members can openly discuss our sex-based rights, and come together as a party to uphold the Equality Act.
It is time that The Women's Equality Party acknowledges that it is our sex that is the root cause of our united struggle. Until then women and girls are not being served.
If WEP cannot define us, WEP can not protect us.
We urge you to join with us in asking WEP leaders to stand up for women and children right now. Sign up to our newsletter via our website, follow our blog, see our recommendations for the steering committee candidates and #UpholdtheEA
@WEP_UK @ManduReid @Legaleagle24 @HannahPopsy @TabithaMortonWE