Dodds defends reply to “definition of a woman” question after Tory MP criticism

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Anneliese Dodds has defended her recent comments on the definition of a woman during an International Woman’s Day debate today after criticism from Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin.

Jenkin used his contribution to the debate to highlight the appearance of Dodds on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour this week, when she was asked about Labour’s definition of a woman.

When the Tory backbencher described the Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary as “unable and unwilling to give a clear answer”, Dodds hit back with a demand of evidence from Jenkin.

The Labour frontbencher replied that the question is “quite easy for me, given that I am a woman”.  She asked Jenkin whether his information had come from social media, rather than listening to what she had said.

“I have no problem with criticism when it’s on the basis of what I have done,” the Labour frontbencher said. “But I do with respect have a problem with criticism on the basis of things I have not done.”

Jenkin argued in the debate against proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act in Scotland and called on the government to set out “clear definitions of man and woman, as enshrined in the Equality Act 2010”.

He also urged ministers to commit to “preventing biological men, whatever identity they claim and with whatever sincerity they claim that identity, from gaining access to women-only safe spaces”, arguing that not doing so was failing to protect women.

Tory MP Maria Miller, who secured today’s debate, intervened to say that organisations such as Women’s Aid and Refuge have been undertaking risk assessments of anyone using women-only spaces.

Responding to her comment, Jenkin said: “I think a great many women do not agree with her and I am speaking for them.” SNP MP Joanna Cherry then said there had been some confusion about “the extent to which a single-sex service can be provided” under the Equality Act exemption.

Labour MP Kate Osborne criticised Jenkin, saying it was a “real pity” he had not used the debate as an opportunity to “celebrate women” but instead had taken “more time than any other woman has done today to make his speech”.

When Dodds appeared on Woman’s Hour on Tuesday, she was asked by presenter Emma Barnett about “Labour’s definition of a woman”, a question that has caused trouble for various Labour frontbenchers in recent months.

The Shadow Equalities Secretary replied: “Well, I have to say that there are different definitions legally around what a woman actually is. I mean, you look at the definition within the Equality Act, and I think it just says someone who is adult and female, I think.

“But then doesn’t see how you define either of those things. I mean, obviously, that’s then you’ve got the biological definition, legal definition.”

Pressed by Barnett on the question, Dodds said: “I think with respect, Emma, I think it does depend what the context is surely. I mean surely that is important here.

“You know, there are people who have decided that they have to make that transition. You know, I’ve spoken with many of them. It’s been a very difficult process for many of those people. And you know, understandably because they live as a woman, they want to be defined as a woman.”

The Labour Party chair later added: “When it comes to the operation of the single sex exemptions, you know, that is spelled out within the Equality Act, quite rightly.

“I mean when it comes to sport, for example, it says that you can have… that single-sex exemption, for example, if that’s necessary for the safety of participants in sport, or if it’s necessary, in order to ensure fair competitions.

“That is spelled out within the Act. I think it’s really important that we’re actually looking at what the legislation says.”

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