Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:32 pm on 11th February 2021.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs) 2:32 pm, 11th February 2021

It is an honour and a privilege to follow Claire Hanna and Yvette Cooper. I welcome this Bill, but, as others have said, it does not go far enough to tackle maternity discrimination. That said, I am delighted for the Attorney General, and I wish her every blessing with her pregnancy.

I want to focus my concerns on one aspect of this Bill that has been mentioned already: why does this Bill make no mention of women? It is women who give birth and women who benefit from maternity leave. Is this a reflection of the ideological language that is now seen across schools, universities and the NHS, which bans use of the word “woman” and use of the word “lesbian”? Why must we deny the fact that there are two sexes, and why must we deny that biological sex exists? Why are the Government not complying with the Equality Act 2010? That legislation refers to pregnancy and maternity, and uses the day-to-day language of centuries: woman, she and her.

If this is an innocent mistake, then let us put it right quickly and easily by replacing the word “person” with “woman”, but if it is not, let us talk just for a moment about the erasure of women. Most women do not even know that this erasure of their sex class is going on, and when they find out they are appalled and they cannot believe it. Those of us who try to warn of the consequences of the erasure of biological reality and the reality of womanhood from legislation are often pilloried. Many politicians are now so in thrall to those who wish to erase women for the purposes of advancing gender identity theory that they call those of us who advocate for women’s sex-based rights transphobic, even when we have never done or said anything against equal rights for trans people in our lives, and even when some of us were trans allies before it was fashionable to be such.

It is not transphobic to advocate for women’s sex-based rights under the Equality Act 2010. It is possible, and right, to support both trans rights and women’s rights. Neither should be sacrificed for the sake of the other. We can have an inclusive society for everyone without doing that. Sex is a protected characteristic for a very good reason: discrimination against women is rooted in their biology. That is our lived experience. We must find a way to be inclusive without erasing women’s biology and women’s lived experience from the statute book, so why is this Bill doing that? Women are not “chest feeders”, a phrase we heard earlier this week: women have breasts, and women feed their children with their breasts. Lesbians are same-sex attracted: we are attracted to women’s bodies, not men’s bodies, and to say we must be attracted to men’s bodies is homophobic. These things need to be said, and they need to be said in this mother of Parliaments, so let us put this Bill right and reflect the reality and the law, as set out in the Equality Act and supported by the CEDAW convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.