What is a woman? Labour frontbenchers don’t seem to be sure

Labour’s frontbenchers have been unable to define what a woman is, with one saying the issue is a “rabbit hole”.

On Wednesday, Yvette Cooper became the second shadow cabinet minister to refuse to give a definition of a woman.

The shadow home secretary told Times Radio “I just think people get into rabbit holes on this. Why are we all getting ourselves tangled up?”

When told it was “straightforward” to explain what a woman is, she replied: “As you can see I am avoiding going down a rabbit hole, it’s pointless.”

Her remarks came after Anneliese Dodds, the shadow minister for women and equalities, struggled to spell out what the definition of a woman was when asked on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

‘Different definitions legally’

She said: “Well, I have to say that there are different definitions legally around what a woman actually is. I mean obviously, that’s when you’ve got the biological definition, legal definition, all kinds of things.”

Asked what Labour’s definition was, the MP for Oxford East replied: “I think it does depend what the context is surely. You know, there are people who have decided that they have to make that transition…because they live as a woman they want to be defined as a woman.”

Following the exchange, JK Rowling tweeted: “Someone please send the shadow minister for equalities a dictionary and a backbone.”

The Harry Potter author – in reference to her character Lord Voldemort – quipped that under a Labour government, International Women’s Day would become “We Who Must Not Be Named Day” .

Asked whether the Labour Party has a definition for women, a spokesman said: “A woman is a woman.”

They denied that Ms Dodds “struggled” to answer, saying: “The law quite clearly states two things, that a woman is an adult female, and it allows for trans women to be legally recognised as women. Those are the two positions in law.

“Those are not new positions. The Gender Recognition Act has been with us since 2004, the Equality Act has been around since 2010, that is the position in law.”

Branded transphobic

The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has previously had to intervene on a debate over transgender rights that threatened to overshadow the party’s most recent conference after MP Rosie Duffield said his position on the issue needed to be clarified.

Ms Duffield did not attend Labour’s conference in Brighton in September after receiving threats and being branded transphobic for saying that “only women have a cervix”.

She has subsequently spoken out about how she has been bullied on social media, and accused the Labour leader of failing to do enough to stop a minority of local activists who have mounted a campaign of harassment against her.

The MP for Canterbury admitted last month that she had been “tempted” to defect to the Conservatives because of Sir Keir’s apparent indifference to her plight.

Labour has pledged to reform the Gender Recognition Act to allow transgender people to self-identify with a gender different to that of their birth.

The party also says it will uphold separate legislation that makes provision for single-sex spaces in some instances.

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