A group of women in London have launched a campaign to reclaim a women-only swimming pond after males who identify as women were allowed to swim there.
The “Let Women Swim” campaign to reclaim the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond as a female-only space was launched on Saturday by around 130 Muslim and non-Muslim women.
The aim is to reclaim the space by 2025 – in time to celebrate centenary of this iconic London swimming spot.
The protest was organised by Standing For Women and supported by local chapters of the Women’s Rights Network and the newly-established group Let Our Sisters Swim (LOSS).
Over six thousand people have so far signed a petition in support of the campaign.
There are three ponds on Hampstead Heath in London – the Men’s Pond, a Mixed Pond and the Ladies’ Pond. But under a rule change introduced in 2019 (in the name of “inclusion”) men were permitted to swim in all three ponds while women who don’t want to swim alongside men, for reasons of personal preference or faith, are excluded from all three ponds.
The female changing room, including a communal area as well as some cubicles, is now also mixed-sex.
At the time, Edward Lord, chair of the City of London Corporation establishment committee, the driving force behind the change, said: “The Equality Act 2010, ensures that trans people, or those with the protected characteristic of ‘gender reassignment’ should not be discriminated against in any service or facility and public authorities like the City of London Corporation have a legal duty to ensure trans people are included through all of its services.”
This campaigners dispute this and say The Equality Act – which lists nine “protected characteristics” including sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment – does not infer any rights on trans people. They say the Act also explicitly protects single-sex spaces, such as the Ladies’ Pond.
A spokeswoman for the campaign said: “Let Women Swim will continue to put pressure on the Corporation of the City of London until it restores the original purpose of this historic place, protects its unique legacy and upholds the law and women’s rights.”
Muslim protestor Catherine Heseltine said: “I first swam at the Hampstead Heath Ladies Pond at about the age of ten with my mum. I remember going through that gate felt like walking into a magical secret garden and how special it felt that the whole place was just for girls and grown-up ladies.
“I would love to pass that experience on to my own daughters but as Muslims we’re now excluded by City of London Corporation’s so-called inclusion policy, along with orthodox Jewish women and many other women who simply don’t want to undress and swim with males.
“But something that actually makes me even angrier than the fact that I’m forced to self-exclude from our historic Ladies’ Pond is that the sign on the gate still simply says ‘women only – no men beyond this point.’ Many women in London speak English as a second language, many don’t follow the mainstream media, many have never even heard of the idea that the magic words ‘I am a woman’ can make a person with a penis a woman and not a man.
“So I have something to say to the decision makers at City of London Corporation who have ignored my letter. Exposing women and girls to naked males without consent is not progressive!”
Khalida Khan of the An-Nisa Society added: “An-Nisa Society from the 80’s fought for the right of women for single-sex facilities and we are appalled that we are now regressing. One of our campaigns was for women-only swimming sessions. Muslim women were not accessing swimming classes, and as we know, lack of exercise leads to poorer health outcomes. We, with the support of our local sports centre started women-only swimming classes, giving access to women to swimming for the first time. The Centre was so supportive that they even used to put bin bags on the large windows for each session!
“Now, not only are we seeing single-sex facilities being erased, those that are left are being opened up to those who self-identify as women. Many women are afraid and appalled at this development.”
Gender self-ID policies
A Swim England Guide to Engaging Trans People in Swimming (which has since been taken down and replaced with links to transgender organisations) stated that: “trans customers should be enabled to use whichever changing room they feel appropriate – trans women must be included in any single-sex women’s sessions.”
And in response to a question about their policy, a spokesman added: “We want to encourage everyone to enjoy aquatic activities and we recognise that different communities and faith groups have different needs. Our desire is that pool programming and the use of facilities ensures a safe space for everyone where everyone’s dignity is respected and to this end we provide advice and guidance. However, facilities are outside our direct authority and therefore outside the remit of our policies.”
UK Active, the national body for the leisure industry, also supports trans inclusion stating: “Everyone is entitled to be treated as a member of their self-identified gender.”