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Simple guidance for single-sex services

Single-sex services publications

The Women and Equalities Committee has issued a new report that calls for guidance on the interaction between sex and “gender reassignment” in relation to single sex services.

In other words, it wants clarification on whether it is legal to provide a service that is just for women and does not include male people who identify as women.

This is something that the committee has been asking for since 2019. No-one has yet produced workable guidance.

As Karon Monaghan QC told the committee:

“At the moment, there is really no guidance at all. The statutory code of practice [ … ] contains virtually no guidance and is pretty confused about what the purpose or effect of a gender recognition certificate is. There is no guidance indicating when it is likely to be lawful to exclude trans people.”

Single-sex services include specialist women’s services such as women’s refuges, rape crisis counselling, women’s health and exercise groups, women’s holiday centres and other women’s services. Men-only services are also allowed by law, as well as mixed-sex services. It is clearly legal to provide all of these, and it ought to be straightforward to have clear rules and policies about whom they admit.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has committed to producing guidance in the new year, and the Women’s Aid Federation is also working on producing guidance for its members.

Any guidance is going to have to recognise the simple truth that in communal services where people interact or share the same space, it is impossible to provide an environment that is both single-sex and at the same time inclusive of members of the opposite sex.

Sex Matters is launching guidance for providers of single-sex services today

We have produced three documents for service providers that aim to provide straightforward guidance on how lawfully and confidently to provide a women-only service.

It really shouldn’t be difficult to understand and communicate the law on single-sex services.

Our guidance is based on the view that if you are lawfully running running a single-sex service (for which there is not a “high bar”) you have already justified excluding all males as a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

You are entitled to operate the service for biological women only. You do not have to include any males at any stage of a personal gender transition, including those with a gender recognition certificate deeming them to be legally female.

  • Single-sex services – providing a women-only service: We explain how charities, public services and commercial businesses can provide a single-sex service for women only (or for men only), with guidance about the Equality Act 2010.
  • Single-sex services: doing an equality impact assessment: We provide a step-by-step guide to doing an equality impact assessment that can help you show that your decision to provide a service for one sex only, or separately for women and men, was evidence-based.
  • Model policy: Our policy is tailored for women’s charities in England and Wales, but can be adapted for other organisations covered by the Equality Act 2010. 

We hope that the Equality and Human Rights Commission will produce similarly straightforward guidance in the new year.

We will also be producing guidance for providers of separate-sex services (hospital wards, toilets, showers, changing rooms and so on).