UK

JK Rowling: New women and equalities minister’s past comments ‘nonsensical’

Anneliese Dodds and Bridget Phillipson were named as heading up the new women and equalities team under the Labour Government.

JK Rowling has criticised Anneliese Dodds’ past comments on the definition of a woman
JK Rowling has criticised Anneliese Dodds’ past comments on the definition of a woman (Yui Mok/PA)

JK Rowling has described as “nonsensical” past comments made by Anneliese Dodds on gender as the Labour MP was announced as women and equalities minister.

The Harry Potter author has previously accused Labour of having “abandoned” her and others campaigning for women’s rights.

Ms Rowling has become known as a fierce advocate for the rights of biological women after criticising Scottish Government proposals to introduce self-identification for transgender people.

Ms Dodds was appointed a minister of state – Minister for Women and Equalities – in the Department for Education, serving under Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson who was named also Minister for Women and Equalities.

However, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said Ms Dodds will be the lead minister, with Ms Phillipson having also been named a minister for “constitutional purposes” as she is a Secretary of State.

The spokesperson said: “Anneliese Dodds will be the Minister for Women and Equalities and will be, as I understand it, attending Cabinet but for sort of constitutional purposes you also need someone who’s a full Cabinet member having the brief as part of their role, but for all intents and purposes, Anneliese Dodds will be the lead minister.”

Last October, speaking at Labour’s National Annual Women’s Conference, Ms Dodds said a Labour win in the election would see her “become the UK’s first ever Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, with a seat at the top table, dedicated to advocating for women in all their diversity in every Cabinet conversation”.

The Government is facing criticism from a coalition of campaigning organisations for not following through on that dedicated position, accused of offering a “diluted alternative” and “bolt-on ministerial briefs”.

Shortly after Monday’s announcement, Ms Rowling tweeted part of a transcript from an interview Ms Dodds had done on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour in 2022.

According to the posted transcript, when asked for Labour’s definition of a woman, Ms Dodds said there are “different definitions legally around what a woman actually is” and, when pressed again, said: “I think it does depend what the context is.”

Ms Rowling tweeted: “And if you happen to be wondering how I have the transcript of that Woman’s Hour to hand, it was sent to me by Dodds’ office after I publicly criticised her prevarication on the programme.

“They seemed to think I’d find her comments less nonsensical if I saw them in print.”

Ms Dodds, in her time as shadow women and equalities secretary, affirmed Labour’s commitment to “trans people and women” and criticised the demonisation of vulnerable people.

Last year she said Labour is “committed to modernising the Gender Recognition Act”.

In an article for The Guardian, she added: “Changing gender is not a decision anyone makes lightly. The process is intrusive, outdated and humiliating.

“So we will modernise, simplify and reform the gender recognition law to a new process. We will remove invasive bureaucracy and simplify the process.”

Meanwhile, Ms Phillipson has previously warned against “picking fights, seeking headlines” on issues around gender.

During the election campaign Ms Phillipson said she wanted to take the heat out of the row over transgender guidance for schools.

Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson previously warned against ‘picking fights, seeking headlines’ on issues around gender
Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson previously warned against ‘picking fights, seeking headlines’ on issues around gender (Lucy North/PA)

“Let’s stop this being a political football,” she told the BBC. “This is our children’s lives, their wellbeing, it’s too important to make this a culture wars issue on the front pages of newspapers.”

Draft guidance, published before the election was called, stated that England’s schools should not teach about the concept of gender identity.

Asked if she would ditch the proposed ban, Ms Phillipson said trans people’s “existence should be recognised” before saying discussion on the issue “drifts sometimes into a slightly bizarre conversation”.

She has also previously said “statutory guidance” on single-sex spaces would be set out by a Labour government.

Last month, she said: “I do believe in the importance of single-sex provision, but I also believe that trans people have the right to appropriate care as well. I don’t think it is about one or the other.”

The Conservative government had, before the election was called, announced plans to overhaul the NHS Constitution to “ensure that biological sex is respected”, referring to proposals to ensure hospital patients in England have the right to request to be treated on single-sex wards, with transgender people placed in rooms on their own.

Separately, Agenda Alliance, a coalition of organisations representing women and girls with unmet needs, said it was “an early missed opportunity” not to put in place a dedicated Secretary of State for Women and Girls.

Indy Cross, chief executive of the alliance, said: “We’ve been really clear that only a dedicated Cabinet post will have the political clout to bring about change.

“The letter we at Agenda Alliance sent to our now Prime Minister, with over 60 signatures from key specialist support organisations, showed the urgent need for a champion at the top table to fight the corner of women and girls, especially those at the sharpest edge of adversity. Not some diluted alternative.

“Bolt-on ministerial briefs will not cut it. We know women and girls deserve better. A fully-fledged, dedicated secretary of state is what we’ll continue to argue for. We look forward to working with the new government to achieve this.”