Position regarding member services and direct services to survivors
Following a consultation with members and stakeholders, we are now able to publish our organisational position on single-sex services. We are proud to have a range of services, including single-sex services and services that meet the needs of trans and non binary people, in our federation.
Full statement here:
About Women’s Aid
Women’s Aid is a national charity. Our charitable objects are: “To promote the protection of women and children who have suffered from, or are exposed to, domestic abuse, including the preservation and protection of their mental and physical health, the relief of need and the promotion of research and education concerning gender-based violence.”
Women’s Aid is a membership organisation with over 160 members that provide support and accommodation to survivors of domestic abuse and their children across England. Each individual member organisation is autonomous providing a wide range of support services including women’s refuges, 1-2-1 support, dispersed accommodation, counselling, helpline, and groups. The membership includes many specialist services led by and for marginalised communities. Women’s Aid also runs national online support services, as well as providing expert training and consultancy to a range of external agencies and professionals.
Our roots are in the international women’s rights movement, and our federation developed in the 1970s and 1980s in response to patriarchy, sexism, and male violence against women. Domestic abuse organisations and refuges were originally created by and for women – many of whom were survivors themselves – as spaces free from men for safety, healing, mutual support, and solidarity.
We have been at the forefront of shaping and coordinating responses to domestic abuse for nearly 50 years. We have done so by placing the needs of survivors at the heart of our work and by responding to their needs and many of our staff, board members and supporters are survivors of domestic abuse. Together with our members, we support women and children experiencing domestic abuse, challenge the root causes of violence, and address women’s experience of intersecting and overlapping systems of oppression.
Development of our position on single sex services
Today, it is still widely acknowledged by expert service providers that single sex, trauma informed spaces are crucial in providing safe spaces for recovery from abuse and violence for women and their children. However, there is a trend towards gender neutral commissioning of services and its abandonment of commissioning the specialist domestic abuse services which are needed for all parts of the population. A consequence of this is that woman-led, single sex services are losing funding, which results in local communities losing the deep expertise and decades of experience these services provided. This is part of a worrying move by commissioners to disregard the sex-specific nature of domestic abuse.
Additionally, there is an ongoing exchange of different views on the inclusion of trans women in single sex spaces including with commissioners, within feminist movements and organisations, and across society at large.
Given this context, the Women’s Aid Federation of England committed to clarifying our own position on single sex services. To inform this, we consulted our national federation, staff, survivors, and key external stakeholders. This helped with our understanding of our members’ current practices, and their views, challenges and needs. The information obtained through the consultation is helping us to develop guidance for our member organisations.
Current practice within our membership
Our members are a diverse group of organisations providing a range of high-quality support and services. Some members offer support to women and children only, while others support all victims of domestic abuse. Most member organisations deliver at least some women only (single sex) services, most commonly through refuge accommodation and groups.
Members routinely use exceptions within the Equality Act 2010 to provide single sex services. They do this because survivors have told them that they and their children experience trauma responses when in contact with males, particularly at the point of leaving an abusive relationship but also for some time afterwards.
Many members provide responsive and effective community support and emergency accommodation to trans and non-binary survivors. A relatively small number of trans women need to access emergency accommodation. Where they do, some member organisations provide this within their accommodation on a case-by-case basis while others provide alternative dispersed accommodation or signpost to other organisations.
Where Women’s Aid stands
The Women’s Aid approach is born of our desire to support, care and take a trauma-informed perspective for all survivors with a particular focus on women and their children in accordance with our charitable objects. Our position has three pillars:
1. The provision of single-sex domestic abuse services is a founding principle of Women’s Aid, and we will defend it
Women’s Aid’s charitable objects centre the protection of women and children who have suffered from domestic violence.
Our priority is to meet the needs of all survivors to have spaces where they can heal and be provided with trauma informed support.
We know from our members that many women and children who have been subject to male violence and abuse need access to support and accommodation which is provided in single sex spaces as this reduces their distress and trauma. We therefore support the principle of providing single sex domestic abuse services which is lawful under the Equality Act.
Some members conclude that it is not appropriate to include trans women (including those with a Gender Recognition Certificate) in women-only shared spaces. We support their right to make this assessment, as long as they do so lawfully.
We will continue to support trans women to approach Women’s Aid for help directly. When they do, we will support where we can as ever, and signpost to specialist services that best respond to their specific needs and circumstances as appropriate.
2. We recognise that members have different approaches and offer a variety of services within their organisations. We support this diversity in our federation.
Domestic abuse services are most effective when they are led by local and specialist organisations who tailor their offer to the needs of their community. Therefore, our members are best placed to determine whether to deliver some or all as single-sex services within the parameters of the law.
The role of Women’s Aid as a federation is to enable and empower our members to meet the need and requirements they have identified in their service, and we recognise that they will choose to do this in different ways. Within the scope of our membership terms, we trust our members to unfailingly put survivors at the centre of their provision, and we will defend our members when they speak out about survivors’ needs.
3. We are committed to increasing the provision of services for all survivors of domestic violence and abuse, including trans people.
Overall, there is not enough community support or safe accommodation to meet the demand from survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. We will continue to advocate for additional funding and resources to ensure all survivors have the support they need and deserve including services delivered through ‘by and for’ organisations.
We will engage with respectful discussions about sex and gender and access to services. We recognise that balancing the rights of different groups of people can be challenging and call for respectful discourse about how to develop and deliver the most effective services to meet the needs of all vulnerable victims.
As part of this we are committed to further developing our understanding of the needs of trans people and emerging best practice in service provision for this group.
Within our federation we will champion the rights of women to speak and a respectful culture inclusive of the different viewpoints of, and approaches taken by, our members.
Women’s Aid Board of Trustees, March 2022
For review once every 18 months.
The publication of this statement sees no change to the way that services are run, and many of our member organisations run services that are accessible to trans and non-binary survivors, and welcome trans and non-binary survivors as service users. We will be working with our membership moving forward to better meet the needs of trans and non-binary survivors, under the third pillar of our position, and no doors currently open to trans and non-binary survivors will be closed because of this position.
Our position has been developed as we respond to the trend towards the gender neutral commissioning of services. This is leading to women-led, single sex services losing funding, which results in local communities being deprived of the significant expertise and decades of experience these services have provided. It is important for us to challenge commissioning decisions that negatively affect the quality of domestic abuse services that survivors receive. You can read more about this here: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/international-womens-day-blog-by-chief-executive-of-womens-aid-farah-nazeer/