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International Women’s Day 2024: How can the UK Government ‘Inspire inclusion’ in a country hell-bent on excluding trans women?

On Friday 8 March, the world celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD) 2024. Since its inception back in 1911, IWD has played a pivotal part in encouraging countries around the globe to prioritise efforts towards gender equality, address the ever-present gender pay gap , and develop incentives to help their female population become on par with their male counterparts.

While the UK has long been a leading voice in celebrating International Women’s Day and supporting the UN’s aim of accelerating gender equality around the world, the current government’s unwavering decision to leave trans women out of their narrative for gender equality often makes celebrations in the country feel surface level at best - and dangerously hypocritical at worst. After all, there’s no true gender equality without trans women.

Like all years, the UK government has fully adopted the 2024 IWD theme of ‘Inspire inclusion’ into its preparations for the event. However, given everything that’s happened to transgender women in the country at the hands of the government since the last International Women’s Day, this year’s theme seems even more nauseatingly on the nose.

On the official site for International Women’s Day, the United Nations states that governments from countries celebrating IWD should prioritise increased public spending on ‘essential services and social protection’ for women. The latter seems counterproductive to our current UK prime minister who has spent the majority of time in office so far firmly solidifying anti-trans hatred in the media and government agenda.

After all, does a prime minister who finishes his leadership speech with ‘A man is a man, and a woman is a woman, that’s just common sense’ seem particularly concerned about the lack of social protection for trans women in the country - and the subsequent soaring statistics of transphobic hate crimes? What about his government’s failure to deliver the ban to conversion therapy they promised five years ago in the 2019 election - or the fact that when the bill was finally brought forward for discussion , they spent the debate repeating lies steeped in transphobia and creating enough hysteria the bill once again wasn’t carried through to the next stage of parliamentary debate?

Another baseless act of support for gender equality in the UK from Sunak’s government is clear in the governmental plan to ‘tackle limiting attitudes to gender’ in the country, as explained in a published outline about the upcoming International Women's Day debate in the House of Lords. Given the government’s recent proposed amendment of the UK Equality Act to define sex as “biological” and in turn remove legal protections for trans people, I’m unsure how Rishi thinks limited attitudes towards gender will be tackled - surely, they will be multiplied.

The same goes for the government’s £2 million investment into primary schools to develop career-related learning for young girls in education. This investment will undoubtedly exclude trans girls who are already being so heavily discriminated against by the government’s new trans guidance for UK schools that many are too scared to even go to class.

On Friday (March 8th), the House of Lords will meet to discuss how the government has taken steps to promote women's economic inclusion in the country, no doubt citing that the UK is currently ranked 15th out of 146 countries for gender parity. However, the gender pay gap report doesn’t properly acknowledge trans women in its findings. Instead, the current legislation requires companies to report on ‘men’ and ‘women’ in their workplace, leaving it up to the employers themselves to decide how to categorise trans employees in their report, including those who are currently transitioning.

How then, can a government boast about a shrinking gender pay gap when the data itself is subject to employers being able to falsely fudge figures? For example, the experience of a trans woman in the workplace who spent some time in her early career as a cis man can easily be used by employers to artificially narrow the gap. Not to mention the UK government guidance for employers on how to prepare their data proudly states ‘If an employee does not self-identify as either gender, you can exclude them from your calculations.’

Further, on the note of exclusion, the UN’s campaign materials for the upcoming International Women’s Day recommend areas of action for participating countries. One of these areas is “helping women and girls make informed decisions about their health” - an aim the UK government has claimed it’s implementing as a result of its recently published Women’s Health Strategy for England .

However, a quick read of this strategy (and the vision published one year prior) shows that trans women are once again excluded from the government’s goal to ‘offer equal access to effective care and support, prioritising care based on clinical need and not of gender.’ Couple that with the news the NHS is shutting down the UK’s largest gender-identity clinic and trans young people currently face a five-year waitlist for an NHS first appointment, and it’s painfully obvious the UK government doesn’t view trans women as part of the country’s strive for gender parity. Lest we forget news from the previous Health Secretary that trans women may be banned from female-only wards to ‘restore "common sense" in the NHS.’

While there’s no denying the incredible impact of International Women’s Day on gender equality around the world, the annual celebration is also known as a chance for countries to see the work that remains to be done. And for the UK government, that means including all women in their vision for true gender parity. After all, the country can’t say they’re truly participating in IWD, if they’re not empowering the lives of trans women and girls, too.

Image of Tilly, a smiling woman with blonde hair and blue eyes.

Tilly Brogan

Tilly is a queer Freelance Copywriter based in Manchester. She balances her time between working  with LGBTQ+ organisations and women’s rights charities - and people watching in various Manchester cafes. She is also a proud lesbian. You can read more of her work here.

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