UK

What have the Tories announced on sex and gender and what are others saying?

Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch said the announcement is on a clarification in the law rather than a change.

The Conservatives have pledged to amend the Equality Act to define sex as ‘biological sex’
The Conservatives have pledged to amend the Equality Act to define sex as ‘biological sex’ (Yui Mok/PA)

The Conservatives have been accused of “phony culture wars” as they announced plans to amend the Equality Act  to make clear sex means “biological sex” rather than gender.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at what the party is saying and how others have reacted.

– What have the Conservatives said they will do?


In a party press release on Sunday, the Tories said the Equality Act 2010 has “not kept pace with evolving interpretations and is not sufficiently clear on when it means sex and when it means gender”.

The Conservative Party has said it will amend the Equality Act on the definition of sex
The Conservative Party has said it will amend the Equality Act on the definition of sex (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The party said it will change the Act to make clear that the protected characteristic of sex is “biological sex”, rather than gender.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, quoted in the release, said “making this change in law” would enhance protections and address “current confusion around definitions of sex and gender”.

– So they are vowing the change the law?


On Monday’s morning media round women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch said the party was seeking to clarify the Equality Act, rather than change the law.

Speaking to Sky News, she said: “This is a clarification in the law, it is not as many people assume, a change. It is re-emphasising what should be the status quo.”

– This sounds familiar, has it been raised before?


Yes. Last April the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said amending the definition of sex under the Equality Act could result in “greater legal clarity” around women-only spaces and access to sport, having been asked by Ms Badenoch to consider the benefits or drawbacks of defining sex as “biological sex”.

The EHRC said while it found “no straightforward balance” it had concluded that this definition could bring greater legal clarity in eight areas, including in hospital wards, and therefore that a re-definition would merit further consideration.

Kemi Badenoch previously asked the EHRC to consider the benefits or drawbacks of defining sex as ‘biological sex’
Kemi Badenoch previously asked the EHRC to consider the benefits or drawbacks of defining sex as ‘biological sex’ (Peter Nicholls/PA)

EHRC chairwoman Baroness Kishwer Falkner at the time warned there should be “due regard to any possible disadvantages for trans men and trans women”.

Mr Sunak pledged to ensure biological sex was written into the Act during his Tory leadership campaign in 2022.

– What areas of life could be affected by a clarification in the law?

Ms Badenoch said there are “a lot of problems right now”, stating that there are “rapists being put in women’s prisons on the basis that they are self-identifying”.

On the clarity an amendment would bring, she told the BBC Radio Four Today programme: “With public authorities, with prisons, if you are a man, you’re going to a man’s prison. If you’re a woman, you go to a women’s prison.”

Asked about what would happen if someone born male had undergone gender reassignment surgery, Ms Badenoch indicated they would still go to a men’s prison but there could be “special circumstances” created for them such as more privacy and separate areas.

She added: “What we find is that we don’t have actually trans men in men’s prison, and the reason why is because people understand that biology does matter”.

Giving an example of somewhere that is not publicly run, such as a rape crisis centre, she said a clarification in the law would mean the centre could decide what to do.

She told Today: “We are creating the space for people to choose what it is they want to do. If a rape crisis centre decides that it wants to allow a trans woman with a gender recognition certificate, they will be able to do so. If they choose not to, then they can’t be sued for that. That is what we’re doing.

“We’re not – and it is very important – we are not trying to stop trans people from being able to live their lives as they wish. What we are trying to stop is people exploiting the law.”

The minister insisted it is “not a paperwork issue” but rather a “practical issue”, when repeatedly challenged on whether only an original birth certificate would be accepted regarding the use of single-sex spaces.

– What are other parties saying?

The Labour party said amending the Equality Act is unnecessary and branded the Conservative announcement “a distraction from the election campaign”, arguing that the issue of cost-of-living pressures is more pressing.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey told Times Radio: “We will not want to amend the Act, it’s not needed. The Act, incidentally, was a Labour Act in 2010, that was opposed by the Tories, but it already provides protections for single-sex spaces for biological women.”

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said while there “could be better guidance” for service providers experiencing confusion on the issue, there is no need to “unpick the Equality Act itself”.

She described the announcement as “a cynical distraction” from Tory “failings”, adding “time and again we have seen how it (the Government) tries to wage these phony culture wars”.