Starmer defends record after JK Rowling says Labour 'abandoned women'

Sir Keir Starmer has defended Labour's record on gender equality after JK Rowling accused the party of "abandoning women".

The Downing Street hopeful said he was "proud" of his party's history on the subject after the Harry Potter author wrote a 2,000 word essay in The Times criticising his views.

Ms Rowling has been outspoken in her belief that biological women should be able to have separate spaces, which trans women - who were born male - should not be allowed access.

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In the article, she said she would "struggle" to vote for Labour at the election, having donated to the party in the past, because of its "dismissive" stance on the issue and had a "poor opinion" of the party leader's character.

Responding, Sir Keir said: "I'm really proud of the long history of the Labour Party in making real progress on women's rights, passing landmark legislation that has changed millions of lives.

"Now that battle is never over and we need to make further progress, which we will hope to do if we earn the trust and confidence of the voters at the general election."

On transgender rights, he said a Labour government would seek a "reset" moment "to make sure that as we make progress we do it in a context that brings people together".

In her article, Ms Rowling took umbrage with Sir Keir calling Labour candidate Rosie Duffield "wrong" after she said in 2021 that only women have a cervix.

At the time, he said her comments were "something that shouldn't be said. It is not right."

Sir Keir was asked about this statement in a recent leaders debate, at which point he said he agreed with his predecessor Sir Tony Blair that women have vaginas and men have penises.

Ms Rowling said she felt the Labour leader gave "the impression that until Tony Blair sat him down for a chat, he'd never understood how he and his wife had come to produce children".

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She claimed Ms Duffield, who last week announced she has withdrawn from hustings events as she does not feel safe, has received "literally no support from Starmer over the threats and abuse, some of which has originated from within the Labour Party itself".

And she claimed that Sir Keir had given the impression Ms Duffield had taken a hard line "even though almost identical words had sounded perfectly reasonable when spoken by Tony Blair".

She said: "As long as Labour remains dismissive and often offensive towards women fighting to retain the rights their foremothers thought were won for all time, I'll struggle to support them.

"The women who wouldn't wheesht (be quiet) didn't leave Labour. Labour abandoned them."