Single-sex services: the Survivors’ Network response

“We make it really clear to all women when they access [the service] that there is the potential for trans women to be in that group and that that’s just how it is.” Service provider cited in the research supporting the Survivors' Network letter

On 4th April 2022 the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) issued new guidance on the law on single and separate-sex services, making clear that services for women don’t have to include trans-identifying males.

This has been widely welcomed by leaders of women’s organisations in discussions we have been having, although many are not yet willing to speak publicly on the issue.

On 13th April 2022 Survivors’ Network in Brighton published an open letter criticising the new guidance and making contentious claims about users and providers of specialist women’s services. Its response is based on the ideology that “trans women are women”:

“To suggest that the value in women-only spaces lies solely or primarily in the exclusion of men significantly undervalues the inception, the purpose and the continuation of women-only spaces. Trans women are welcome in these spaces, they add amazing value to these spaces and we need them in these spaces.”

We have published an analysis of the letter and its signatories, highlighting that:

  • It only reflects a narrow portion of the staff and trustees of the women’s sector, with almost two-thirds from just two organisations (Survivors’ Network and Tyneside and Northumberland Rape Crisis). 
  • No equality-law academics or lawyers are included in the signatories. Of the nine academic signatories, four work in sociology and two in criminal law. 
  • Its research claim is based on a tiny sample and flawed methodology. The letter cites a research study based on focus groups with 23 women to support the claim that most women who have been raped do not mind sharing their experience in “women-only groups” with trans-identifying males.
  • Most women’s organisations understand that women value single-sex services and that single-sex services cannot accommodate both sexes. The claim that most “women-only” support services in the UK have welcomed and supported trans-identifying men for years is not consistent with statements by Women’s Aid and the Women’s Resource Centre.

We have sent the briefing to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and we call on:

  • the boards of trustees of women’s sector organisations to ensure that their policies are aligned to the Equality Act 2010, and that their staff understand and accept this
  • the EHRC to engage with the women’s sector to ensure that its leaders understand their legal responsibilities and that they develop material that leaves no doubt about the meaning of basic concepts such as “sex”, “single sex”, “opposite sex” and “mixed sex”
  • Rape Crisis England and Wales to develop a policy statement that is in line with the Equality Act 2010, in order to support its members.