UK Should ‘Degender’ Passports
Aidan Bull, Durham University
Maria Miller, chair of the Commons Women and Equalities committee, is calling on the government to make passports and driving licences gender neutral to end discrimination against transgender people.
The former culture secretary said more needs to be done to recognise the ‘damaging’ impact of gender stereotyping for the 600,000 people in the UK who are ‘gender dysphoric’ and do not identify as either male or female. In a recent interview, Miller claimed that ‘it can cause problems for individuals who have decided to transition, but haven’t necessarily got the right documentation’. This problem becomes all the more apparent given reports of transgender people suffering extra security checks at airports when the gender on their passports does not match with their presented gender (i.e. how they dress/act). One transgender person claimed they suffered added checks due to a body-related ‘anomaly’, which seems highly discriminatory.
Therefore, a potential solution to this problem is for there to be the option of a gender neutral passport, or as in Australia, have a separate ‘X’ category for ‘intersex/unspecified’ individuals who do not identify as being either ‘male’ or ‘female’. This would enable transgender people who do not have the appropriate documentation, or any person who does not identify with the gender binary (i.e. male or female) to have an appropriate title on their passport to match their gender preference. After all, Miller questions ‘why do we need gender on our driving licence? Why do we have to have it on our passport if it doesn’t really aid identification?’ Therefore, if requiring either the word ‘male’ or ‘female’ to appear on a passport has no relevance to identification, and given the distress it has caused people who do not identify with either gender, it seems desirable for an additional ‘X’ category to be added to UK passports, or for the notion of ‘gender’ to be disregarded in its entirety.
Leed’s Legal Red Light District
Emily Whelan, Durham University
The world’s oldest profession has been a frequent and long standing presence in Holbeck, a working class industrial district of Leeds. For the past decade, police have attempted to use harsh enforcement of laws prohibiting solicitation and kerb crawling to clamp down on sex workers practising their trade, but with little impact. However, in October 2014 Leeds City Council decided to try a different tactic. Instead of facing prosecution, sex workers and their clients are tolerated in the district of Holbeck. Between the night time hours of 7pm and 7am, Holbeck is Britain’s first legal red light zone.
The council has since hailed the scheme as a success, and in November extended it to run indefinitely. There have been calls for similar “managed zones” in the cities of London, Newport and Bradford. However, the story may be more complex than the official reports show.
Sex work is a sensitive and emotive issue, nowhere more so than in Leeds, once the hunting ground of Peter Sutcliffe, the prostitute killing Yorkshire Ripper. The scheme itself was born out of a mix of pragmatism and concern for the safety of the workers. Councillor Mark Dobson, who heads the scheme, argued prostitution “is an industry that’s as old as time and it isn’t going to stop and, as a city that is responsible… we have had to take a pragmatic approach to keep them [the prostitutes] safe.” The relationship between the sex workers and the police has improved, as prostitutes can report crimes against them, secure in the knowledge they cannot be implicated in a crime. Ugly Mugs, an NGO which gathers data on violence against sex workers, reported that in the year following the introduction of the scheme in 2014 more than 60 per cent of sex workers said they were willing to report crimes to the police compared with just 7 per cent before the scheme began. Charity workers and social services also say it is easier to locate and aid prostitutes, as they are drawn to one concentrated area.
However, this does not remove all danger from the streets, a fact tragically illustrated by the murder of 21 year old Daria Pionko just before Christmas. In fact, some prostitutes feel less safe, owing to an alleged reduction in policing of the area. The council deny this, claiming “the area is regularly patrolled” and is kept “as safe as possible”, a fact disputed by the prostitutes. Prior to the “managed zone”, the police played a dual role. They were both threat and sanctuary to the prostitutes, as whilst they were in the area to arrest workers, their presence kept dangerous clients at bay. Now, many feel the police have washed their hands of the area. As well as Daria’s murder, there have been two violent rapes and multiple assaults reported to police since the scheme began (evidence perhaps, of the newfound trust between prostitutes and police).
Britain’s first legal red light district may well have benefited the sex workers of Leeds. However until there is a police presence to protect the prostitutes, it cannot be called a success.
Catherine Ravenscroft, Durham University
The legislators of New Hampshire, USA are currently debating a divisive new law. The proposed Bill would make it a misdemeanor for women to publically expose their nipples without due care as to the offence or alarm it may cause others. While the proposal does include an exemption for breastfeeding, it has received severe criticism. Firstly, it is criticised on the grounds that it represents a significant backwards step in gender equality. In the USA, men have been lawfully allowed to appear topless in public since 1936. Passing the Bill would send a clear message that the legislators of New Hampshire wish to deny an equal freedom to the majority of women.
Secondly, the proposal comes among growing support for the #freethenipple campaign, a movement aimed at securing equality in the public perception of male and female bodies. They are campaigning to eradicate the inequality identified above and modify the law in the 37 US states which still consider a woman who exposes her nipple in public to be worthy of a criminal conviction. This programme has recently been gaining increased support and it would appear that, were they to pass the Bill, New Hampshire legislators would set themselves against a powerful growing trend.
Lastly, it can also be criticised on the basis that it furthers growing concern about the public perception of breastfeeding. While risqué photographs of breasts can attract public approval, it appears that the biological purpose of the organs continues to be shunned. Such critique was furthered by the recent social experiment conducted by Youtuber Joey Salads. Her video compared the public reaction to a model wearing a low-cut shirt and a mother breastfeeding her son. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the mother received many more degrading comments than the model, including being referred to as ‘disgusting’ on multiple occasions. While such negative public perceptions continue it is quite feasible that legal proposals, such as that being currently debated, are able to garner support. Nevertheless, the Bill has not been welcomed by all and it is still to be seen whether it will gain enough support to be enacted.
“What the hell is going on?” Reinstating feminism in the A-level curriculum
Jessica Tang, Durham University
Following parliamentary backlash about inferences from rumours in the media, the government has recently affirmed, in Parliament, that Feminism will be re-instated on the A-Level Politics syllabus. Last year, the Education department quietly removed sections on feminism, patriarchy and gender equality in the draft publication of the A-level Politics course. In fact, Mary Wollstonecraft was the only woman left as one of seven political thinkers to be studied under the draft proposition. The public outcry that ensued following this decision was momentous – one petition to the Secretary of State for Education garnered the support of over 46,000 signatures.
The government’s reversal can be seen as a relief for common sense. The draft proposition could be seen as an attempt to “airbrush women out of our history” or, at very least, said to “impl[y] that women do not belong in politics and that their contributions are not significant.” Not only has feminist thought been (and continues to be) instrumental in shaping society, but at a time when women constitute 50.7% of the population, yet are severely underrepresented in Parliament, the need to inspire the next generation to “be taught that the ideas of feminism and gender equality are important” is more pressing than ever.