Penny Mordaunt, the UK’s Minister for Women and Equalities recently took part in a Q&A session with the women of Mumsnet for International Women’s Day.
The questions were polite, serious, informed, worried and backed up with evidence. The answers were few, came late, lacked substance and were dismissive and contradictory. As Dr Eleanor Scott noted they fell into four categories: (1) Deliberately misunderstood the question; (2) Didn’t understand the question or the issue, and contradicted herself; (3) Resented being asked the question; and (4) Couldn’t be bothered to answer the question properly. The largest category of all were the questions that were ignored altogether.
70% of question posts were focused on how policies on ‘gender identity’ affect women and children. Other posts related to various other women’s issues, to international development, and a few on Brexit. Posts on other issues were four times more likely to get an answer than those on gender identity (and their answers lead with active verbs “we are committed…”, “I can reassure you …”, “I am keen…., ”I will”, whereas the questions on how women’s rights may be affected by policies on gender identity got vague assurances ‘we are considering whether we need to take any further action’ ).
A question on the choice of colourway used in a campaign to encourage girls to go into STEM subjects got the answer “Let me know where you found the pink font and I will go and have a word” whereas questions about what has happened to a promised investigation into the reasons for the 4000% increase in the number of young women being referred to gender identity clinics got no acknowledgement.
Here I have pulled out just the questions about sex and gender. Perhaps in the current Brexit madness, this particular car crash of a conversation will go unnoticed. But I don’t think the dismissive answers and non-answers will age well, particularly when the questions are about safeguarding children. These are serious issues that deserve attention from the Minister for Women.
So here, in the style of Mildred Hayes are the 85 questions still unanswered. “How Come, Minister for Women and Equalities?”
What is a woman?
1. What is a woman? — No answer
2. Please define a woman in a way that does not use the word ‘woman’ as a definer— No answer
3. Do you think that there are any disadvantages or difficulties attached to being female, rather than male, in Britain today? — No answer
4. In what circumstances do you think it might be necessary to distinguish between male and female humans? — No answer
5. How do you propose to make that clear [that women are still women] and stop the imposition of ludicrous, reductive, insulting labels [such as] menstruators, cervix owners, womxn? — No answer
6. How do we define those people who are of the sex class that produces ova, gestates their young, lactates, menstruates etc? — I know what you’re getting at in this question. On these matters you’ll find me to be understanding and highly pragmatic. I get your concerns about this. My job is to ensure that these issues are dealt with and that everyone can go about their business and can feel supported and comfortable. And I am trying to do this swiftly.
7. If we can’t define that group how do we protect their rights not to be discriminated against because of their membership of that sex class? — The Equality Act exists to guard against discrimination on the grounds of a number of protected characteristics, including sex. There are many women who do not menstruate, who do not bear children, who do not produce eggs, for whatever reason. They are still covered by the protected characteristic of sex. The Gender Recognition Act allows someone to change their legal gender by altering the sex marker on their birth certificate.
Can human beings change sex?
The Minister says that she believes ‘transwoman are women’ but will not explain what this means.
8. Do you stand by your earlier statement that transwomen are women? — Yes I do.
9. Have you reconsidered this in light of growing concerns in key areas such as women’s sports, prisons, healthcare, crime statistics and safeguarding? — No answer
10. Can humans change sex? Y/N — No answer
11. Please would you explain exactly how a man can become a woman? — No answer
12. Why and how [do you] believe men can become woman, and why [should] women accept this? — No answer
13. Why is a quasi religious belief (genderism) being imposed on an unwilling population from above? — No answer
14. [DFID works on girls’ education and women’s health], surely it would be more cost effective to get all these girls and women to self-identify as men? Or is it not that simple because real women can’t identify out of poverty and sex discrimination? Please explain thanks. — No answer
15. If The House of Commons was 50% men and 50% transwomen is that equality? — When the chamber of the House of Commons looks like the country it serves then I think we’ll know we are getting there.
The rapid rise in children and young people transitioning
Six months ago it was reported that an urgent investigation had been launched into the rapid rise in the numbers children (particularly girls) identifying as the opposite sex, and seeking medical treatment. Questions about the promised investigation were ignored, as were questions about concerns about, and from within, the NHS Gender Identity Development Service.
16. Could you tell us more about [the enquiry into the rise in young girls experiencing gender dysphoria] and when the findings are likely to be released? — No answer
17. Children are being given experimental ‘puberty blockers’. Follow-up studies of the children post-18 have not taken place, but it is known that harm has taken place. Will you assure us that the promotion of such harm in schools will stop immediately? — The Gender Identity Development Service, which is more commonly referred to as ‘the Tavistock’ is the only NHS gender identity service for under-18s in England and Wales and is not promoted in schools. This is separate from Gender Identity Clinics for adults, of which there are seven in England and Wales. When it comes to medical treatment, there are age limits. Puberty blockers can only be given to children from about 12, who have gone through extensive counselling and discussion with their families and medical experts. Cross-sex hormones are only available at 16 and over, again, after a continued in depth look at how that child’s health is progressing, and surgery is only available to adults who are 18 and over. The Gender Identity Development Service for under-18s notes on its own website that there is not enough research out there on puberty blockers. This is something the NHS has been carefully and sensibly dealing with for years — making the best decision for each individual child, in conjunction with their families, weighing up all the risks. We have committed in our LGBT action Plan to improving our understanding of the impacts on children and adolescents of changing their gender. It is important to note that age limits for legal gender recognition are separate to age limits for medical treatment. The age limit for applying for legal gender recognition is 18, and there is no intention to change this.
18. What is your response to the recent Panorama Programme in which Professor Carl Heneghan (Oxford University, Evidence based Medicine) found there was significant problems with the way we treat trans children and informed consent is not possible? — No answer
19. Why is the Tavistock continuing to prescribe puberty blockers when their own study showed no benefit and an increase in self harm for girls who were on this treatment? Why are they being allowed to experiment on vulnerable children? The effects of puberty blockers need to be followed up in long term studies — why is this not happening? — No answer
20. Do you not think, based on the evidence, the NHS needs to delay any medical treatment of people with gender dysphoria until they are adult? — No answer
21. We need urgent investigation into why autistic children are being groomed into believing they are transgender in disproportionately large numbers. We are aware of the fact there seems to be a higher prevalence of autistic spectrum conditions in clinically referred gender dysphoric adolescents than in the general adolescent population. This is something the NHS Gender Identity Development Service is looking at. If you would like to make me aware of specific details please do get in touch. email@example.com
22. Where is the support for children and young people who detransition? — No answer
23. Ordinary women in Britain have tried to blow the whistle on the potentially disastrous effects of medicalising children who are questioning their gender roles — [how can they do this more effectively] where should they report their allegations? — No answer
Guidance promoted in schools
Several posters raised questions about the organisations delivering training and guidance to schools (including with central government funding) and what attention is being paid to whether the content is in line with scientific evidence, children’s rights and the Equality Act. The answer given was that it is up to schools to do their own due diligence.
24. Guidance from trans lobby organisations being put into schools is concerning in a number of ways (safeguarding, encouraging unquestioning support of transition with no watch and wait contrary to NHS practice, encouraging schools not to keep data on biological sex, advising schools they should allow boys into female changing room and sleeping areas without informing parents, suggesting lesson plans that teach a particular and unscientific view of gender identity that is one ideological belief and with no discussion of the complexities or other views on the matter, etc)]? How will you help ensure children and girls in particular are ALL protected through guidance given in this area ? — No answer
25. I understand that the Women and Equalities Committee has recently awarded money to Stonewall to train schools. What checks have been done on the training and by who to ensure that it doesn’t negatively impact on safeguarding children and the rights of women and girls? — No answer
26. [Schools and local authorities have adopted transgender policies] without undertaking equality impact assessment or consultation with the other children and parents/carers was undertaken prior to adopting these policies….will the minister honour her responsibility to our female children and urgently commission thorough and robust impact assessments and then commission independent guidelines to ensure that the human rights of all children are upheld in our schools? — No answer
27. If the advice being given to schools is later found to be incorrect and harm occurs to a child due to schools following this advice, who will be liable and pay any compensation due? Will it be individual schools or will it be the Government? — No answer
28. Are you worried that gender (sex) stereotypes pushed by trans lobby groups such as Mermaids, are harmful to women and girls? — No answer
29. Do you agree that it is confusing and highly counterproductive to teach girls that they should never be expected to show their body or do things that make them embarrassed and uncomfortable, and that they have the right to say no, while also following policies that state if they say no or share feeing uncomfortable about having to undress, shower or sleep alongside a boy who identifies as a girl, they should be reminded to be kind and inclusive, and ‘re educated’? — No answer
30. How are gender non-conforming children are being supported rather than encouraged to believe they have been ‘born in the wrong body’? This is for parents to explore and make decisions with their children and schools, and possibly with other services. We do not intend to lower the age limit for legal gender recognition from 18, and the age limits for legal gender recognition are separate to age limits for medical treatment. Surgery is not offered to children and adolescents. All children should be supported in their identity, whatever that is.
31. I am terrified to send daughter [who does not fit into ‘girly’ stereotypes] into school because the transgender ideology has become so entrenched. What are you doing to support girls like my daughter and parents like me? — I want women and men to be free to make choices that suit them, not based on other people, and society’s, expectations. We want schools to be a place where all pupils feel safe and supported. The new Relationships and Sex Education guidance will help children to understand LGBT issues in an age-appropriate way. It does not set out exactly how a school should teach about LGBT issues, but instead says that the school should cover LGBT when it considers it appropriate, and they are free to determine how they do this. It is hard to comment further about your particular situation, but if you have concerns I suggest you raise them with your local MP- we can often mediate in such situations if you have concerns. Your daughter sounds wonderful and I hope she continues to be herself and wear what she wants. I was a bit of a tomboy growing up, including playing for a boys football team.
32. Why do schools have no government guidance on this issue? — No answer
33. Are aware of the enormous impact teaching gender theory in schools is having on the autistic community? — No answer
34. What is your view on [the fact that a fairly prominent Conservative party member is telling people that Transgender Trend school’s advice pack is anti-trans, anti-LGBT and promoted conversion therapy? — No answer
35. (From a transwoman) what is your reaction to the news that a school has withdrawn from providing lessons on LGBT issues due to religious objections from parents? What can you do to ensure that this decision is reversed and that LGBT pupils in the school are supported? — No answer
36. Will teachers be able to refuse to teach the elements of this curriculum that teach gender identity theory as established fact? — No answer
37. Please could I kindly suggest a review of all educational interfaces with organisations such as [Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence etc and ensure any training materials are fully legally compliant with the specifics of EA2010? — No answer
38. [Should] LEAs undergo formal legal compliance reviews (maintaining compulsory inclusion of biological sex as protected characteristic in all their paperwork at the very least) given they frequently inform safeguarding and data collection policies at local level?— No answer
Single sex spaces
Many posters raised the issue of single sex services, which the government says it will protect, but which in practice are being turned into ‘single gender’ allowing anyone who identifies as a woman to access female changing rooms, dorms, hospital wards, women’s refuges and school toilets. The question of how a male rapist undertaking sexual assaults while housed in a woman’s prison was brushed of as a matter for colleagues at the Ministry of Justice.
39. How is the UK government working to ensure women’s access to single sex spaces and services in the UK? — I understand people are worried, but I want to reassure them we are absolutely committed to maintaining protections for single sex services.
40. Will the govt please ring fence women’s single sex spaces and services? They are life saving, and many women cannot use them if they are mixed sex, for a variety of reasons including coercive control, abusive relationships, and being from a conservative religious background? — No answer
41. Why are you removing women and girls sex based rights and protections? Single sex areas become mixed sex, the word women is replaced by bodily functions, sport becomes mixed sex. Women’s officers are male, lesbians are under pressure from male lesbians. Do you think women deserve anything just for them? — No answer
42. Why are you giving away our safe spaces to men? — No answer
43. Why do you think that we and our daughters have no right to privacy, dignity and safety by having single sex spaces? — No answer
44. Will you commit to ensuring that my 8 year old daughter and all other girls in the UK have the right to toilets which are provided only for females (people who will menstruate) as they go through puberty? When it comes to toilets in schools, the School Premises regulations 2012, which cover England, state that separate toilet and washing facilities must be provided for boys and girls aged 8 and over. However, the same regulations state that there can be an exception to single sex segregated toilets in schools where the toilet facilities are in a room that can be secured from the inside and used by one pupil at a time. So if a school wishes to provide, alongside the single sex toilets, single occupancy lockable toilets (rather than stalls in a shared area) as gender neutral toilets for pupils, that is judged acceptable by the regulations. We know the concern people have over these issues and we are working as swiftly as possible to arrive at what further we may need to do.
45. Do you support the moves towards mixed sex toilets and changing facilities in schools? — No answer
46. Does it concern you that girls in the UK are now reporting that they are missing school when they have their period and that some girls dehydrate themselves in order to avoid using the toilet at school altogether? — No answer
47. What would you say to parents who are concerned about their girls being pushed out of education because schools no longer support segregated toilets and changing rooms? — No answer
48. Why is the safety & dignity of single sex toilets & changing rooms being taken from girls in schools in the UK? — No answer
49. Should we be teaching our daughters that they have a right to be listened to when they try to voice concern about [period shaming and other toileting embarrassment in school mixed sex toilets]? Should article 12 in the UNCRC (on children’s human rights to have a voice) be scrapped? — No answer
50. If there is a man [in the communal swimming pool changing area] identifying as a women, who is looking at my children, whilst rubbing moisturiser on his thighs after his swim, what can I do? Are you of the opinion that I have to accept this changing room situation? — No answer
51. Do you have any explanation for how a policy was allowed to exist that enabled a male bodied, legally male rapist to self ID as a woman and be placed in a women’s prison? — This is an area for my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice, who I know are reviewing their policy and practice in this area at the moment.
52. Do you acknowledge this to be a human rights abuse of the female prisoners and what actions are being taken to ensure that this never happens again? — We need to be sensitive to the needs of everybody in our society so we have an appropriate solution — we have seen transgender women commit suicide in men’s prisons, and we have seen the horrific case of Karen White. Nobody should be put in a space that causes a risk to them, or a risk to others
53. I wonder if any making rules around putting men with penis into women’s refuge have any concept of how terrified battered women are there children hiding with them are of men in what was previously a safe space. … What uber compliant abused women have been consulted on sharing their safe space? — No answer
Monitoring ‘gender identity’ instead of sex
Questions on how data use to monitor crime, health, education and equality are being impacted by a shift from ‘sex’ to ‘gender identity’ were ignored.
54. [Given redrafting of terms Woman, Female, Trans, Gender, Sex etc] do you feel it vital that ALL current legislation should be reviewed to ensure laws are not twisted, by using a current definition of gender, when sex is now more appropriate? — No answer
55. How will public bodies collect the data that is necessary for the proper exercise of the public sector equality duty if we can’t define a group which holds a protected characteristic under the Equality Act? — No answer
56. [How can we monitor the impact of policy changes, funding decisions] in relation to sex without a clear, non-circular definition of “man” and “woman”? — No answer
57. Please talk to your colleagues at the Ministry for Justice and the Home Office regarding the collection of crime and prison statistics [are] crimes committed by self-identified transwomen already being included in the “female” data set)? — No answer
58. How will you ensure that [self identified gender does not replace sex in analysis of disparities between men and women in education, employment, pay etc] and the advancements are not reversed by natal males identifying as women and using their male advantage to take the space that women are still fighting to occupy? — No answer
Guidance on the single sex exemptions in the Equality Act 2010
There were many questions on the Equality Act, in particular on the lack of clear guidance about how organisations should apply the ‘exemptions’ in the Act which allow single sex services.
59. The Equality Act exceptions are not being implemented in circumstances where they clearly should be. Does your government intend to take action to reverse this situation? If not, why not? — No answer
60. [Where government departments are misstating protected categories] do you not feel that [this]should be immediately corrected? — No answer
61. What will the government do to provide clear guidance [on how the single sex exemptions in the equality act should be applied in relation to transgender people]? — As part of developing our response to the Gender Recognition Act consultation we are considering whether we need to take any further action, to make sure single sex spaces continue to be protected.
62. What are you doing to ensure that the needs of girls and women are always and explicitly considered whenever a single sex space is changed to a mixed sex [including ‘single gender’] space? — No answer
63. [Stonewall are actively campaigning for an end to the single sex exemption in the Equalities Act, and are being paid to advice schools and local authorities] Given that the government has committed to maintaining the single sex exemption, what are you doing to ensure that it is upheld? — No answer
64. Do you have plans to provide clearer guidance around single-sex provision [e.g. in relation to university halls of residence, refuges, and hospital wards]? It is pointless saying that the exemption exists when organisations are being pressured by powerful and aggressive lobbies not to invoke it. — No answer
65. What do you think about the gender reforms in the Irish Republic that have exceptions — based upon biological sex — for prisons, healthcare facilities and other places where women need safe spaces? — No answer
66. [While prisons and women’s refuges, may be able to conduct a case-by-case analysis of which transwomen should be allowed into women only spaces] do you understand that this is not something ordinary women can do, and there are very many situations where our dignity and privacy is compromised? — No answer
67. Do you have suggestions for how we ensure the dignity, privacy and safety of women and girls in everyday life, if the number of men legally changing their legal sex to female increases drastically, as it looks like it will? — No answer
68. What will you do to ensure there is solid guidance for organisations, Government depts and local authorities as well as private businesses [to invoke the single sex exemptions in the Equality Act]? — No answer
69. What is the role of the EHRC in all this? Government and EHRC are doing damn all when half the population is being stripped of their rights, in fact they appear to cheering this on. — No answer
70. (From a Transwoman) Can Penny confirm that the Gov intends to make no changes to the Equality Act or the provisions of that act and so the current protections for single sex spaces and the inclusive policy for trans people will continue as they currently very successfully run. — No answer
The gender recognition act — changing sex legally
Questions about whether the gender recognition act is sound were met with a basic cut and paste description of how it works.
71. Do you agree that the GRA is no longer fit for purpose as it creates a legal fiction that a person can change their biological sex. We all know that this is not possible? For medical reasons alone surely it is essential to know whether a human body is male or female? The Gender Recognition Act 2004 does not require trans people to have genital surgery to legally change their gender. This law has been in place since 2005. At the time it was world leading for not requiring trans people to be sterilised in order to legally change their gender — because of course that is what genital surgery effectively does. Many other countries follow a similar approach, or go further than the UK position.
72. Would it not be better for a man with gender dysphoria to be able to change his legal sex marker to that of Transwoman? I think it is important here to explain what it means to change your legal sex marker. When someone goes through the process of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate to change their legal gender, they then use that certificate to get a new birth certificate. This means their new birth certificate will show the name they are now using and the sex marker on the birth certificate will change either from male to female or female to male. There is no box for ‘transwoman’ on a birth certificate. We are operating within the confines of a system that only recognises male and female on birth certificates, and so trans people must, in order to legally be recognised in the gender they live their life in, change the sex marker on their birth certificate.
73. Is it best practice in law to have male bodied people with male genitalia classed as women? The Gender Recognition Act 2004 does not require trans people to have genital surgery to legally change their gender. This law has been in place since 2005. At the time it was world leading for not requiring trans people to be sterilised in order to legally change their gender — because of course that is what genital surgery effectively does. Many other countries follow a similar approach, or go further than the UK position.
74. (From a transwoman) Does the Gov regret the length of time this is taking and the hate that appears to have been stirred up against a 0.6% minority of women in England? — No answer
75. The dictionary definition of a woman (‘adult human female’) has been described as hate speech. What do you think? — No answer
76. MPs, some of them Cabinet Ministers, have expressed their concerns [and say] they’re afraid to speak out in public [on gender self ID] What do you think of these MPs? — No answer
77. How do you feel about the efforts to prevent women from speaking about issues that concern us, meeting in groups and the no-platforming of invited women guests at the request of other speakers by the publicly-funded BBC? — No answer
78. What do you think of academics being censored or disciplined for being critical of transactivists’ attempts to erase women & girls from any kind of gender critical feminism? — It is important that proper academic analysis and open discussion of trans issues are not suppressed and academic freedom is not curtailed. But it is also important the voices of trans people are listened to as well. The EHRC in February this year published a guide on freedom of expression for higher education providers and student unions. This is a useful piece of guidance and I encourage people to read it.
79. Why have you now met with Stonewall several times yet Fairplay for Women and A Woman’s Place UK’s events in Westminster experienced much silence from politician’s quarters? — No answer
80. Why are political lobby groups such as Stonewall and Mermaids given public money and influence? — No answer
81. Imagine if a whole lot of white people decided to redefine what it is to be black, in order to claim that they [the white people] were “really” black, and it was racist to suggest otherwise? I suspect no-one would stand for that. But it’s OK for a minority (0.5% of the population) to demand to redefine the existence of 51% of the population? — No answer
The issue of protecting women’s sports was deflected onto sporting bodies.
82. Do you think that it is right and fair that a person who was born male and has gone through male puberty, can compete in girls’ and women’s sports? — Sporting bodies have their own rules in place regarding transgender people in sporting competitions, and it is for each organisation to determine the rules that best suit their sport or competition when looking at such issues of fairness and safety. The International Olympic Committee has a set of guidelines which they have put into place, for example.
83. What is the government policy with regards biological men taking female spaces on teams or competing against women in sport [given government policy on encouraging sport for health]? — No answer
A couple of final questions
84. Would you say, as a feminist, that you cannot help but be impressed by how ordinary women have organised and driven this conversation into the mainstream, despite threats & abuse, when all our elected representatives refused to listen, or were too scared to touch it? — No answer
85. With the amount of evidence to hand when will you make a stand for women’s rights? — No answer