Why Do the Ponds Matter?

Another #ManFriday, another jolly trip to the Highgate Men’s Pond on Hampstead Heath, this time wearing a rather fetching beard hand-knitted by an anonymous Mumsnetter. This time, as well as raising awareness of the peculiarities of the City of London Corporation’s policy to allow people of either sex to use the pond that matches their self-identified gender, we were looking for signs, posters, anything really, that the City of London Corporation had put up to invite bathers to participate in their online consultation about expanding gender self-ID across their services. I’ll tell you this for free: there wasn’t so much a postcard. We helpfully corrected that situation.


This isn’t surprising really, as the City of London corporation has been remarkably shy about publicising the consultation. So far, it hasn’t appeared on the Public Consultations page of their website and there’s been remarkably little on social media. It was first shared on Twitter by Edward Lord, a prominent mason, who is heading the consultation and who has described women who oppose gender self-ID as ‘hateful TERFs’ (trans-exclusionary radical feminists, a slur used to refer to gender-critical women) who publish ‘anti-trans bigotry’ on social media. He has publicly committed to the mantra ‘transwomen are women and transmen are men’, and states that the over-arching policy the City of London Corporation will publish following the consultation ‘aims to ensure that the services it provides do not discriminate against trans people’.

This is all lovely and woke and right-on, until, as usual, you stop to think about it. As well as the Highgate ponds (of which there are three: the men’s, the ladies’ and the mixed pond), the Corporation is also responsible for a number of public services and facilities, including several schools. The online survey, which repeatedly conflates sex and gender, asks participants to support a policy that would make single-sex spaces across their services – the ponds, toilets, changing rooms, including in schools – open to anyone who self-identifies as that sex by saying ‘I am a man/woman’.

Does the Corporation really think it’s a good idea to allow a group of teenage boys to say ‘I am a girl’ and be allowed to change for PE with the girls? Where do the girls’ privacy and dignity come in here? How about the large Jewish and Muslim communities living near the Ponds? Has anyone considered the impact on them of effectively making the ponds themselves, as well as the communal changing areas, mixed-sex?

Apparently not, as the Corporation has dispensed with its duty to perform a pre-consultation Equality Impact Assessment to assess how people with characteristics protected under the Equality Act 2010 would be affected. The protected characteristics are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Disappointingly, but unsurprisingly, the City of London’s Equal Opportunities Policy fails to list sex as a protected characteristic but does include gender, which is not a protected characteristic.

The survey itself is deeply flawed.

#ManFriday have complained to the City of London Corporation and asked them to withdraw it, pending an Equality Impact Assessment, a re-write to remove the obvious bias and the replacement of Edward Lord as the person in charge of the forthcoming policy. On Thursday, Hannah Clarke, #ManFriday’s Media Officer, spoke at length with Marcus Roberts, the Corporation’s Head of Strategy and Performance in the Department of Community and Children’s Services. The resulting email exchanged is published below in full. The short version is: Hannah raised a number of serious concerns with the consultation, which were ignored and brushed off.

In full:

Dear Marcus,

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me yesterday.  As I’m sure I made clear I am extremely concerned about the consultation that was launched this week about gender identity, due to its structure, its language and its clear lack of regard for women’s groups and wish to outline these concerns further below.  I would appreciate it if you would acknowledge this email and take steps to work towards a clearer, more reasonable consultation as a result of our input.  

You stated yesterday that no equality assessment has been carried out as you don’t consider it a need or requirement.  The Local Government Association Guide to Engagement suggests otherwise – that equality assessments “must be carried out to demonstrate that decision makers are fully aware of the impact changes may have on stakeholders”.  It is worrying that this hasn’t been completed and the impact of making single sex spaces controlled by the Corporation mixed sex hasn’t been thought through.  There will be impacts on all women, but particular impact on women with certain faiths and women who have survived male violence.  That these women haven’t been considered in this consultation is distressing.

I am also concerned that the survey is being shared on social media in a very limited way.  Your chair, Edward Lord, was taken to task for some very sexist language used on Twitter recently and has blocked a number of prominent women’s rights activists.  In him sharing the survey initially (though I appreciate it has now been shared on the Corporation’s own Twitter page) this limited the audience and specifically excluded a group who work to stop single sex protections being eroded.  Beyond this there seems no effort to share the survey with people who have limited access to technology, who have poor English and who aren’t fully engaged in this political debate right now.  These people are all stakeholders who will be affected by these decisions.

The survey itself is very disappointing, I would like to highlight a number of issues that I believe you should address.

  • You ask about people who live or work in the city but make no provision for those of us who neither live nor work but worship or volunteer in the city so have strong links to the square mile.
  • You ask those who live outside the city if they use the facilities that you oversee but provide no information about these facilities.  Many people are totally unaware of the Corporation’s reach and are therefore not given the ability to answer this question correctly.
  • You ask in questions 4 & 5 about gender identity principles.  The phrase “gender assigned at birth” is misleading and inappropriate – nobody has a gender assigned at birth, they have a sex observed.  Indeed throughout the survey you do not mention sex once, though it is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and is the reason that single sex spaces exist.  Gender identity is not a protected characteristic, and it directly affects single sex spaces.
  • In questions 6 & 7 you go on to ask about the removal of same-sex spaces again without mentioning sex.  This portion of the questionnaire is incredibly misleading as it does not explain what “gender identity” really means – intact males identifying as women – and the increased risk to women as a result of this.
  • Question 9 asks about self identification of “gender identity” in a very leading manner.  It sets out a proposal and asks for support so is clearly showing bias.  There are many cases where self-ID has been abused, most recently in a women’s prison in the UK, and you are asking for support for this.  Why?
  • Question 10 asks for support for mixed sex facilities, using the nonsense phrase “gender neutral”, in spite of it being shown that when mixed sex facilities are implemented incidents of voyeurism and sex crimes towards women increase significantly (see the Target study in the US for documented evidence of this).
  • In question 12 you again ask about gender, when you mean sex. The two words are not synonyms. Male and female are descriptors of sex classes, masculine and feminine describe gender.

That the Corporation of London seems to be looking to undermine the protections women have, as set out in the Equality Act 2010, with this survey asking about “gender identity” is worrying.  That the language in the consultation and the distribution of said consultation is so biased is more so.

I would be grateful if you would respond to me with a suggestion of how we can work together to ensure that vulnerable groups aren’t overlooked in this consultation and that the implementation of any recommendations does not cause harm or detriment to any stakeholders.

Kind regards,

Hannah Clarke


Roberts’ reply:

Dear Hannah

Thank you for your e-mail, and for taking the time to contact us and set out your concerns. To respond to your main points:

  1. While we have not conducted an EQIA on the survey, we will, of course, conduct a full EQIA before making any policy decisions, assessing the impact of different options. My apologies if I did not make this clear. We take our legal responsibilities under the Equalities Act very seriously, and would not introduce policy in the City that was not consistent with the Act.
  2. Regarding the survey, we need to review our use of the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ to ensure that we’re getting this right going forward. However, with the survey now live, I am confident that it allows respondents to make the points that you make in your e-mail – including raising concerns about the language of the survey (using the free text boxes). We will then reflect on these responses as part of  our review of how we should take policy forward.  
  3. Thank you for the offer to work with us to ensure that we are reaching vulnerable groups, which is much appreciated. The Corporation has not done any targeted promotion of the survey as yet, and we would welcome your suggestions of organisations we should promote this to ensure that key groups are able to respond. If you were able to provide details that would be helpful.

We are aware that many individuals and organisations have already promoted our survey – on all sides of the debate – and already we have had a very high number of responses. While I’m sure you will be among those respondents, I will also ensure the comments you make below are recorded as part of the consultation response.

I hope this provides some reassurance, and that you will continue to engage with us as we review and develop our equalities and inclusion work.

AtB, Marcus

To which she responded:

Dear Marcus,

Thank you for coming back to me so quickly.

I am still concerned by your responses.

  1. I find it strange that you’re entering into consultation to make significant changes to the protections afforded to women via single sex spaces without looking into the impact those changes will make.  It is clear from the structure of the consultation that the impact hasn’t been understood, or has been understood but the City of London Corporation is not seeking to make respondents aware of the outcome. I am sure this is simply an oversight but the impact of male bodies in women-only spaces has massive impacts on all of us there, particularly those I highlighted earlier as coming from certain faiths or having been victims of male violence.  
  2. This consultation has a clearly telegraphed expected outcome from its use of language.  It is not acceptable for a public body to use sex and gender interchangeably when one is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010 that the consultation seeks to disadvantage.  To say that you need to get it right going forward is an understatement – you need to get it right now.  I appreciate that you are concerned that the survey being live makes this difficult but it isn’t impossible, and your unwillingness to understand that people won’t understand the significance of the questions you are asking due to you using gender where sex is both meant and expected is disappointing.
  3. I am happy to introduce you to a number of women’s groups, but suggest that you withdraw the consultation and meet them to discuss their needs before you consult on removing them.  I am certain that we’d all be willing to work with you alongside transactivist groups to ensure that a fair and open consultation is put forward to the public.  A number of us have significant experience in public policy and political work so we will bring expertise to the table.

I, and all of ManFriday, do strongly suggest that the consultation be withdrawn and rewritten to ensure that it fits with national and City of London Corporation guidance.  To ensure that it addresses the issues of single sex spaces being compromised in a way that people fully understand.  To ensure that the language used is accurate and appropriate and not designed to confuse or mislead participants.  

As stated above we would be glad to assist you in preparing a clear, unbiased, appropriate consultation so that the responses you receive will be beyond challenge.  It would be appropriate if the Members and Officers taking part in this consultation are equally unbiased and appropriate so I respectfully ask that Edward Lord withdraw from the exercise as his online comments have clearly shown that he is unwilling to approach this in an objective way, in accordance with your Code of Conduct.

I look forward to your response on these matters as soon as possible as the longer this inappropriate consultation is left live the more damage will be done to the reputation of the Corporation in the eyes of the wider community, particularly the 52% of them who are women.

Kind regards,

Hannah Clarke


And the final response from Roberts:

Dear Hannah

Thank you for your e-mail.

I note your comments and will ensure these are included as part of the ongoing consultation process. We would welcome your suggestions of groups we could engage in this.

All the best, Marcus

How’s that for a polite ‘We don’t care. Shut up and buzz off’?

So, why do the ponds matter? Because they enable people of both sexes to participate in swimming, which they may not otherwise do if no single-sex provision was available, and because the City of London Corporation is also responsible for schools and other services which include single-sex provisions. As usual, the most vulnerable and marginalised – children, ethnic and religious minorities, homosexuals, victims of sexual abuse, women and girls – are the ones who stand the most to lose.

The online consultation, should you wish to participate in it, is here: https://t.co/k260oUnQeG It’s open until 14th September. Until then, To the Ponds!

Amy Desir

Founder of #ManFriday

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