What Are the Parties Saying About Women’s Rights and Gender Identity?

In the final head-to-head debate before today’s election, Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak clashed over the issue of single-sex spaces. The debate highlighted the varying positions of the main political parties on women’s rights, transgender rights, and gender identity.


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak emphasized that voters face a “crystal-clear choice” regarding the protection of single-sex spaces. The Conservatives have pledged to “protect female-only spaces and competitiveness in sport” by revising the Equality Act to clarify that sex as a protected characteristic means biological sex.

Sunak stated, “Keir Starmer has not matched my pledge to reform the Equality Act… he’s not sure, like I am, that sex means biological sex, and that’s how you protect female-only spaces and services.” The Conservatives argue that the current guidance around the Equality Act, which allows for single-sex spaces if it is proportionate and intended to achieve a legitimate aim, needs clarification to explicitly mean biological sex.

Additionally, the Conservative manifesto includes guidelines for schools to teach the facts about biological sex and to avoid presenting contested views as fact. It also suggests that parents have a right to know if their child wishes to be treated as the opposite sex, with schools required to involve parents in such decisions. Unlike Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives have not committed to banning conversion therapy, stating that more time is needed to determine whether existing laws are sufficient.


Sir Keir Starmer reiterated the importance of protecting female-only spaces while also treating transgender people with dignity and respect. He pointed to existing Equality Act guidance that allows trans people with a Gender Recognition Certificate to be prevented from using a single-sex service in certain circumstances.

Starmer’s position on this issue has been nuanced and sometimes contentious. He has faced criticism from both sides of the debate, including from author JK Rowling, who expressed difficulty in supporting Labour due to its stance on women’s rights. Despite this, Labour’s manifesto pledges to ban conversion therapy, including for transgender individuals, and to reform the process of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate to remove unnecessary “indignities” while retaining the requirement for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats propose a comprehensive overhaul of the gender recognition process, removing the need for a medical diagnosis for a person to change the sex listed on their birth certificate. They also promise to ban conversion therapy outright and to recognize non-binary identities in law. The party’s manifesto includes a requirement for large employers to monitor and publish data on LGBT+ employment levels, pay gaps, and progression.

Scottish National Party

John Swinney, the SNP leader, has taken a cautious approach, indicating he will “wait and see” after the election regarding changes to gender recognition rules. The SNP had previously attempted to pass a bill allowing transgender people to change their legal sex through self-identification, which was blocked by the UK government. The party’s manifesto suggests that an independent Scotland would have the power to improve equality laws and societal norms.

Reform UK

Reform UK, led by Nigel Farage, has taken a strong stance against what it describes as “divisive, ‘woke’ ideology.” The party plans to ban “transgender ideology” in schools, which includes prohibiting gender questioning, social transitioning, or pronoun swapping. Reform UK also aims to scrap the Equality Act and diversity, equality, and inclusion rules, arguing that these measures lower economic productivity. Farage has emphasized the need to respect both the rights of transgender people and the rights of women to have exclusive spaces.

Green Party of England and Wales

The Green Party supports legal recognition of trans and non-binary people through self-identification and proposes allowing an ‘X’ gender marker in passports for non-binary and intersex individuals.

Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru, like the Liberal Democrats, supports a policy of self-identification for changing legal gender without the need for a medical diagnosis.

As voters head to the polls today, the parties’ diverse positions on women’s rights and gender identity reflect broader societal debates on these important issues.