In September 2018 the Women's Equality Party leader Sophie Walker pressed pause on a self-ID motion brought to conference. Ill thought out and with the potential to undermine WEP's sex-based policies, Sophie Walker blocked it. The membership voted in agreement that a membership-wide consultation should be undertaken before the motion was taken forward. Thank you Sophie!
Three and a half years later and the membership-wide consultation still has not happened. Instead, last year the Party designed a members assembly alongside NatCen. This culminated in a report* by NatCen. A report that was kept confidential by WEP and the main findings suppressed for months. We present the findings here.
The results from the WEP members' assembly on self-ID showed that:
71% of members support single-sex services as outlined in the Equality Act 2010
This is a resounding win for women and our sex-based rights. These findings are particulary significant when understood in context. This was not a member-wide consultation, but a process of discussion with WEP selected members with a balance of views:
At the start of the process 40% were pro self-ID, 40% were anti self-ID and 20% were undecided.
This shows there was a significant shift from a pro-self ID position to an anti self-ID position when it comes to single sex spaces and single-sex exceptions as outlined in the Equality Act 2010. In fact, half of those described as 'undecided' or 'pro self-ID' shifted their position to an anti self-ID position after listening to the expert evidence.
This is BIG news, and shows that our Party is not in deadlock, we are not polarised and there is a way forward. So why has the Women's Equality Party not platformed these results and spoken up for women? Why, when our VAWG policy advocates for single sex exceptions, and our membership support single-sex exceptions is our Party unable to advocate for our sex-based rights?
It gets worse. Not only have they failed to advocate for us, they have taken moves to bury and dismiss the report. After NatCen published the findings WEP sat on the report for 9 months, publishing the report summary in August last year. The report summary was accompanied by a Party statement by Mandu Reid suggesting the results were ambiguous. We have looked at the report and we disagree.
It is bleak indeed when the UK's only feminist Party does not have the ovaries to honestly represent the views of its members. Members and branches have been silenced and shut down on this issue since 2018. It was this stonewalling that led to women collectivising and forming the sex-based rights caucus. Even the most charitable take on WEP's behaviour looks like an attempt to kick the biggest feminist issue of the decade into the long grass.
This is not 'doing politics differently', this is not doing politics at all.
Even with the public conversation laser-focused on male violence against women and girls, WEP still fails to tangibly advocate for women, for our members or even its own policies.. and Yes! Single-sex spaces are included in our VAWG policy.
How did the biggest feminist project reduce itself to little more than online virtue signalling?
Whilst WEP's social media decries the misogyny of the MET police and makes frequent (but vague) platitudes that society must somehow 'end male violence', behind the scenes it fails to do any of the heavy lifting.
Being a difficult woman that says 'NO' does very little for the CV of careerists. Sheltering women against the prevailing wind of patriarchy is unyeilding, uncompromising, messy work. It doesn't translate well to LinkedIn profiles or personal brand building. And you better believe that challenging men on their sense of entitlement to women's labour, bodies and space gets far less 'likes' than a chipper tweet on being kind.
Career builders prefer that particular brand of gushing 'be kind feminism' (or de-fanged feminism as Gail Dines would describe it). It is far more conducive to building the many individual brands we see emerging from the upper echelons of our party. Privilege politics? Hell yes.
Returning to the NatCen Report
The members assembly was tasked to look at each of our seven policy areas and look at the impact of self-ID. There is a lack of clarity in may of the questions asked and language used. We have pulled out the points that we feel are key bellow:
VAWG Policy Outcomes
71% of members support single-sex services as outlined in the Equality Act 2010
84% of members support an increase in specialist services including LGBTQ+ provisions
WEP members would like to see specialist provision increased for all demographics, including gender reassigned people. This show that participants have a grounded understanding of the complexity of support services. A view that is reassuringly aligned with the evidence given by Women's Aid to the Women and Equality Select Committee in 2020. A reasonable and evidenced position that services only work when they are trauma informed and tailored.
Health Policy Outcomes
69% advocated for single-sex hospital wards
Mixed sex wards are widely evidenced to be less safe for women. Data shows that women are assaulted at a rate of one incident per day on NHS mixed sex wards:
"A 2008 examination of nurse and patient perspectives, confirmed he had not exaggerated. There were patients, it confirmed, of both sexes and of varied ages, who “experienced a lack of privacy, worried about bodily exposure and felt uncomfortable”. Nurses entirely sympathised. “Mixed-sex accommodation,” it concluded, “is an unacceptable solution to bed shortages.” Source
It is concerning that only 44% felt that medical services should recognise sex. For any readers that are not sure as to why we need accurate sex markers on our private medical records we urge you to read Jamie's story.
97% want WEP to explore best practice for collecting data on sex and gender identity
This outcome is positive. It demonstrates the understanding that sex and gender identity are separate and important data points. An acknowledgement that #sexmatters.
However, this is all a moot point. Since the Members Assembly took place, the High Court has ruled on the importance of sex-segregated data. This legal challenge brought by Fair Play For Women ended the practice of allowing a person to self identify their sex for the purpose of the ONS.
Equal Representation Policy
62% would like our Equal Rep policy to include references to trans women, non binary people.
80% Aim for political representation that is equal to the population
As a caucus we are in full agreement that trans women and non binary people should be referenced in our policy. We are concerned as to why there is no suggestion to include 'trans men'. Ironically, this seems like sexism! We welcome further dialogue and clarity on this.
It is concerning that only 35% of those members involved agree that women's representation should be equal to men's!
Equal Pay and Opportunities Policy Outcomes
82% support challenging gendered work place roles
49% support clarifying the impact of self ID on equal pay claims
Education Policy Outcome
91% Challenge gender stereotypes as specific part of curriculum
82% Protect the rights of children and young people to be gender non conforming without being trans or non binary
80% Specify inclusion of LGBT relationships in RSE policy
69% Schools should make provision for gender neutral (unisex) toilets and changing facilities
This section is a little problematic to deal with. The lack of clear definitions, using gender and sex interchangeably, really undermines the clarity of meaning. For example, 'teacher training should acknowledge that gender is non binary'. This is very unclear. This seems like a wasted question in terms of meaning. This confusion around language and potential conflation of sex and gender makes it tricky to gauge meaning.
The two top outcomes were that schools should challenge sex stereotypes (already WEP policy), and that schools must protect the right of children and young people to be gender non-conforming without being labelled as trans or non binary.
69% support unisex toilets in schools, but it is unclear if this is in addition to single-sex provision too.
Was the process fair, transparent and accountable?
Our Party was tasked by Conference in 2018 to carry out a member-wide consultation on Self-ID. Three years (literally) passed. We were told to wait until the GRA consultation had concluded. It came and went.
What eventually transpired was far from what the members voted for at Conference in 2018. Instead we got a members assembly that was problematic before it even begun (Read more here). And still no member-wide consultation.
NatCen was bought in , at great cost, to design the process. We flagged several concerns, mostly around bias. Previouly, under the leadership of Nancy Kelley, NatCen had previously been involved in no platforming Prof Alice Sullivan from an academic forum on data. She was no platformed because of her research around the importance of sex-based data. Given this context, inviting NatCen to design the process that could potentially decide WEP's policy position on self ID is problematic.
It gets murkier.
A member of the steering committee and co-author of the stalled self-ID motion was appointed to oversee the self-ID consultation. Under her watch NatCen was awarded the contract. She was employed by NatCen at the time as a Senior Survey Programmer.
We have asked for details on how much members' money was spent on the NatCen contract, or if awarding of this contract was ethical, or what benefits, if any, this person gained from winning this contract for NatCen. No answers have been forthcoming. NatCen kept the contract. The officer quietly resigned from overseeing the process.
After awarding NatCen the contract, the consultation's goal posts changed frequently. It morphed from a member wide consultation to a members assembly. Then a members assembly charged with writing questions for a member-wide consultation, then to understanding how self-ID impacts our policy, then morphing again into voting on policy propositions to our policy areas. Dizzy yet?
Inconvenient policy areas such as sport (falling under both health and education policy areas), were omitted from the process.
None of this was actually what the Party was constituted to do. Conference voted on a member wide consultation- it got a hash of tangled questions with tangled terminology to a selection of members.
Poorly worded propositions, terminology like 'natal women', 'sex at birth', sex and gender used inconsistently - and interchangeably - acted as a barrier to clear meaning. Many participants fed back to us that meanings were unclear and breakaway groups dominated by a few people were not conducive to robust discussions.
Yet despite the loaded dice, what was clear, was our member's robust support of single-sex spaces. Come on WEP it is time to do the heavy lifting.
@WEPwomen @WEP_UK @NatCen @ManduReid
*Read the Natcen report summary here: