Women’s Aid decides some women are less equal than others

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Women’s Aid, founded in 1996, are a sadly vital and much needed resource and refuge for women across the UK. Domestic and sexual violence are a scourge that primarily affects women with low income women in particular not having the resources or ability to escape as easily. So its extremely disheartening to see their recent statement deciding that women like me are just less deserving of sanctuary or escape.

Before we go on its important to mention that nothing has changed here. The moral panic in the UK surrounding transgender people and our equality has in no way impacted the way Women’s Aid does its work. In their own statement regarding their current policy they say; “members routinely use exceptions within the Equality Act 2010 to provide single sex services”. What they mean by this is that sometimes when a woman who is a survivor shows up and happens to be trans, they turn her away. They tell her her presence might cause discomfort for other women and so she has to go find another place to recover and heal from the violence she has experienced. This is what they were doing pre-moral panic, during the moral panic and this statement indicates they intend to keep on doing it even as the moral panic is dying out.

Single-sex exemptions do exist in the Equality Act 2010. They allow for the exclusion of transgender people if its a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” but as we heard from the House (that should be abolished) of Lords recently; simply being uncomfortable with trans people isn’t a legitimate aim and blanket exclusion isn’t a proportionate means either. Other women’s groups have said they have never used the single-sex exemptions because there’s never been a need to and all of this happens against a backdrop of the harassmtent of Mridul Wadhwa. A transgender woman who has dedicated her life fighting sexual violence and supporting survivors who has been harassed and abused for doing so. Some even imagining conspiracy theories about how she only became CEO of Edinburgh Rape Crisis as some sort of sick fetish or to prey on vulnerable cisgender women. You know, just horrific and defamatory stuff; the bread and butter of anti-trans activism.

But oh wait, it gets worse. Remember those low-income women I mentioned in the opening paragraph? Well they are, of course, the ones most likely to be affected by decisions like this. The single-sex exemptions don’t actually apply on the door; they apply in court. Think of it kind of like Schrödinger’s cat, when you’re turned away at the door of a refuge for being trans it is not yet decided whether this was a lawful use of single-sex exemptions. This can only be found out in a court of law. In short the transgender woman would have to sue the refuge for discrimination, a lengthy court process would occur and then a judge would decide whether what happened was legal or not. This is obviously a process which is inaccessible to low-income women, especially low-income transgender women in the UK where employers openly admit they would not hire us and we have to pay extortionate amounts of money for private healthcare to access medications cis people have no trouble obtaining on the NHS.

Besides all that, it is genuinely hard to think of a legitimate aim for excluding a transgender person from a space on the basis of their birth sex. In fact, I’d probably go as far as to say there likely isn’t one. Without the single-sex exemptions written into the act this “lawful discrimination” would simply be “discrimination” and therefore not lawful at all. A fact which I think would likely come to light if this ever ended up in court. But even aside from the financial issues with making that happen, literally who is going to be so desperate to escape violence by going to a refuge but also mentally grounded enough that they can engage in a legal dispute? The deck is fully stacked against transgender survivors and so the case law that would likely undermine the single-sex exemptions is unlikely to ever happen.

And its not like we haven’t tread these waters across history before. I feel a little white saying this so I’ll quote Laverne Cox referencing Sojourner Truth;

“ain’t I a woman?”

Powerful as all fuck words that have endured the test of history because of the truth being told. From the era of the Suffragettes and women fighting for the right to vote, amongst other equalities where black women were decidedly left behind and left out. “Women deserve equality, but some women are just not equal to other women” according to white cisgender women. It’s only made more hilarious and sad by the fact that this shit is being repeated in the 2020s by groups who have taken to using the colours of Suffragette/Suffragist movements. White, green and purple hearts, ribbons, flags — some have even taken to cosplay dressing up in old timey outfits just to really rub in the fact that we are repeating a bigoted mistake, but about trans women instead of women of colour.

Women’s Aid should be ashamed of themselves for this because unless all women have safety and security in the UK then no women have safety and security in the UK. The role they have chosen to play in this is quite frankly inhumane. We should abolish the single sex exemptions from The Equality Act 2010, absolutely. But you don’t HAVE to use them. Women’s Aid could just say “no, this is blatantly discrimination” the fact they haven’t just proves they view some women as less equal to others. Disgusting.

Gemma Stone
Gemma Stone is a transgender writer who has been covering the rise of transphobic hate campaigning in the UK. She has written hundreds of articles dissecting aspects of transphobia including debunking blatant disinformation. She is very tired and trying her best, and hopefully having a positive impact on such a beautiful community.

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1 COMMENT

  1. […] Other news regarding single-sex exemptions includes the impassioned speech given in the House of Lords by Lord Etherton. He spoke on the single-sex exemptions and what a “legitimate aim” must be in order to meet the very high bar that has been set. Mere discomfort with transgender people is not enough to meet that bar. Meaning groups like Women’s Aid who turn away transgender women could be opening themselves up to legal dispute. […]