Sex and the law in the UK – Sex Matters

Shadow report on the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention).

[I]t is well-established that equality does not always mean treating women and men in the same way, and that single-sex facilities are often needed. These include:

  • Everyday facilities for washing, changing and using the toilet, and where people are living or sleeping communally such as in hospital wards. These situations are more comfortable when provided separately for men and women. Not providing these facilities separately makes women in particular feel unsafe and humiliated. It puts women at risk of voyeurism, exposure and assault – crimes that are predominantly committed by men against women – and makes the public realm a more hostile place for women, often keeping them at home.14
  • Specialist services for women, particularly as victim-survivors of violence against women, were born of the recognition that when it comes to violence, women and men are so different that treating them in the same way, or mixing them together as victims or offenders, reproduces violence. Prisons are also single sex, under the international Mandela rules.
  • Sports, so that women and girls are not forced to compete, train or undertake recreational sporting activities with men and boys where this would be unfair or unsafe for them because of men’s greater size, strength and athletic ability.

This legal complexity and uncertainty leaves service-providers of all sizes and in all sectors facing risk when operating within what should be a straightforward law. Many have become afraid of trying to provide single-sex services or to collect data on sex at all, and have made everything “gender-neutral”.

Conclusion and recommendations

Without clear legal protection against discrimination or measures to allow positive action on the basis of sex, or requirement to consider the specific needs and disadvantages of women as a sex the UK we believe the UK is in breach of the Istanbul Convention.

Removing the legal effect of the Gender Recognition Act on the protected characteristic of sex in the Equality Act would return legal protection to women. It would not take away protection from transgender people, who are covered by the separate characteristic of gender reassignment. This could be done using secondary legislation, using a provision in the Gender Recognition Act (s23) for resolving such conflicts and adverse effects.

Source: Sex and the law in the UK – Sex Matters

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