A letter to the Fawcett Society

Dear Fawcett Society

Your response to the EHRC guide for separate and single-sex service providers is dismaying. 

You say  “there are occasions where services, in particular those for trauma survivors, should be able to make the decision” [to provide clear single sex services with clear rules]. 

Which services do you think should not be for trauma survivors?  

One in five women have been sexually assaulted. 

Services for trauma survivors are not just specialist services. Trauma survivors use everyday services: schools, colleges, workplaces, sports centres, pubs, clubs, restaurants. 

Many women, whatever their personal history, simply prefer privacy from male colleagues, strangers and classmates when undressing, dealing with menstruation, going to the toilet, or sleeping in a dormitory or hospital ward. This is basic privacy and dignity.

Some women have particular constraints because of their religion or culture. 

Older women particularly value single-sex spaces. 

Having clear rules that no-one can access spaces intended for the opposite sex prevents ambiguity,  hostility and opportunistic harassment – voyeurism and exposure are the two most common sexual crimes.

Women (and the staff who are responsible for managing services) should not have to guess or negotiate with males to determine which can access “female only” spaces. 

You say that some of the examples that are given by the EHRC “are confusing and lack detail”.

Please elaborate. Give some scenarios. Walk us through how you think decision-making should be done. Which services do you think should tell women they are single sex but then admit some members of the opposite sex? If some males are to be admitted, what rules should tell you which ones? What should service providers do if women complain? 

How much of women’s dignity, safety and inclusion are you willing to trade for “acceptance and support” in each of your scenarios? 

When you get to this point in the exercise, take a step back.

Ask yourself why, as “the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights” are you telling women that their role is to support and accept men to encroach on their rights, resources, liberty and autonomy?

Maya Forstater, Executive Director, Sex Matters