Many of us watched, enthralled, as the debate on the Equality Act 2010 unfolded in Westminster on Monday 12th June. We were heartened as speaker after speaker described how important it was to protect the rights of women and girls, by making clear that sex in the Equality Act truly means sex. Now, we are hoping that this government gets on and delivers its promise to revisit the Act and clarifies, once and for all, the definition of sex.
How do we get a government to change its mind? How do we influence public bodies to speak up in favour of women and girls?
Lobby the organisations that regulate the regulators.
One way of doing this is by starting a parliamentary petition, and this was the tool used by Sex Matters, supported by WRN, to trigger this particular debate. Another way is to lobby your MP and to explain why the issue is important to you. Yet another route is to lobby the organisations that regulate the regulators, and explain why they are failing to deliver the protections you are seeking.
This route was used by one of our WRN members. With her permission, we share the letter she sent to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), explaining why safeguarding and the supposed protections of the Equality Act were failing vulnerable patients.
The letter also demonstrates how women are routinely silenced by fear, and how the stress of pursuing safeguarding concerns comes at personal cost. Ultimately, the stress of trying to protect female patients led to this NHS worker quitting her job.
Some identifying features have been omitted below, but this is the letter our member sent to Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chair of the EHRC, on the 26th April and in the run-up to the Westminster debate.
Thank you for considering the clarification of the Equality Act.
I didn’t think this was necessary. I thought it was good enough to ensure routine provision of single sex wards and hospitals, especially in mental health settings - where I used to work. However, that is not the case. Our Trust solicitor’s interpretation of the Equality Act is that it allows for routine admission of men who identify as women into women only wards.
This seemed wrong to me and so I made the case for single sex wards. I drew on the 2007 Ipsos MORI research, Karen Ingala Smith’s work on trauma-informed care and other sources. I did not say men have malign intentions when they ask to be admitted to a women’s ward. I just said the priority should be to make men’s wards safer rather than women’s wards more stressful and potentially unsafe.
Many colleagues agreed but were scared to speak out because of the Trust and their professional bodies being Stonewall supporters. The housing crisis didn’t help either.
I had the luxury of feeling able to speak up but failed. The stress of raising concerns in a Stonewall accredited trust, and other events, led to my resignation.
Ideally the EHRC would have been an organisation I’d have turned to for support but your Mental Health Act guidance for patients, which passes the buck about trans patients to individual trusts, did not inspire confidence. I’m still wary to be honest. Your mention of “both sides” suggests you believe the hyperbolic slurs against those of us who raise concerns and stand up for women. Still, it’s best to be hopeful so I wish you all the best with your work.
In her personal statement published in May on the EHRC website, Baroness Falkner said “Many, many of you have also shared your own experiences of unfairness and injustice, which are humbling.”
The writer of this letter was proud of being one of those acknowledged by the Baroness who, as many WRN members know, came under sustained personal attack for her willingness to revisit and clarify the Equality Act.
Speaking after the Parliamentary debate, the writer says it has been chilling to see the routine condemnation of those who speak up - with hyperbolic slurs and threats of violence used to try to silence them. Even worse, in her opinion, are those politicians and policy makers who stay quiet or talk of “both sides”. She states, “Only one side is issuing death threats and removing people’s livelihoods in ways far more dramatic than mine.”
The reference to the housing crisis in the letter is, of course, intended to demonstrate how difficult it is for women to speak up when they could lose their jobs, lose their income, and lose their homes.
She points out how many medical institutions’ opinions are in conflict with the rights of women, and that the Royal College of Psychiatrists sexual safety guidelines make it clear that transwomen should be welcomed on women’s wards and protected from being “bullied” by other patients.
She said she followed the NHS Freedom to Speak Up process, raising concerns at the highest level. Her experience made her a fan of Sonia Appleby’s suggestion that the Freedom to Speak Up lead should be part of an independent body, not the Trust board.
Her final thoughts are, “I’m still wary to be honest, but hope that things are now heading in a more sensible and constructive direction.”
2007 Ipsos MORI research that led to single sex services.
Karen Ingala Smith’s work on the limitations of risk assessments.
The EHRC Mental Health Act guidance for patients, which passes the buck about trans patients to individual trusts.
Baroness Falkner’s statement on the EHRC website, published May 2023
Royal College of Psychiatrists Sexual Safety Collaborative
The NHS Freedom to Speak Up scheme.
Sonia Appleby’s suggestion that the Freedom To Speak Up lead should be part of an independent body.