- EXCLUSIVE: Somerset Council has bene accused of ‘writing out women’
A council was accused of ‘writing out women’ today for purging the word ‘mother’ from its pregnancy and maternity leave policy to be more ‘inclusive’.
The document, from Somerset Council, has replaced the phrase ‘new and expectant mothers’ with ‘new and expectant parents’.
It was changed to be ‘inclusive to all employees who are pregnant, have given birth in the last 6 months, and those breastfeeding, including transgender or non-binary people’, its HR committee announced.
Feminist campaigners have repeatedly complained of the word ‘mother’ being purged from official documents despite only biological women being able to give birth and breastfeed.
The New and Expected Parents Policy outlines the council’s responsibilities to new mothers. While it says the word ‘parent’ 16 times, it no longer contains any mention of ‘mother’.
For example, one section now refers to the council’s duty to ‘provide a place for pregnant and breastfeeding parents to rest or where practicable [and] provide a private room for nursing parents to express and store breast milk’.
Claire Loneragan, from Women’s Rights Network, told MailOnline: ‘Replacing the word ”mother” with ”parent” is not neutral. It changes the scope of the policy to include men.
‘But men – whether new parents or not – will never need the ‘place for pregnant and breastfeeding parents to rest’ that Somerset County Council will provide.
‘It is not inclusive to remove the words mother and woman from a policy that relates entirely to pregnancy, breastfeeding and the challenges that new and expectant mothers face. It writes women out of our own life experiences.’
Mlli Hill, a writer and founder of the Positive Birth Movement, revealed Somerset Council’s decision on her Sub Stack blog.
She wrote: ‘The policy ONLY covers pregnancy and maternity leave, it is not for anyone but women. How it is inclusive to erase the word ”mother” from this policy completely.’
A spokesperson for Somerset Council said: ‘Somerset Council is an inclusive organisation.
‘The move to gender neutral language in our policies highlights our commitment to inclusivity.
‘It does not exclude women; it simply ensures that no staff, for whom this and other policies may be applicable, are excluded.’
In August, it emerged midwives had been warned they risk harming trans people who have given birth by calling them ‘mother’ or ‘mum’.
NHS protocols told maternity ward staff that using the traditional terms may amount to misgendering a trans man or non-binary person – and damage their mental health.
They were even advised to warn new parents in advance that they will have to refer to themselves as ‘mother’ on their baby’s birth certificate in case it causes them distress.
Hospitals are also increasingly using the term ‘birthing people’ instead of women in signs and documents to be more inclusive.
Caroline Ffiske, from the campaign group Conservatives For Women, said: ‘Women have been making clear their disgust and disappointment at the way in which the NHS is wilfully erasing language that describes women and our experience.
The Mail asked all NHS hospital trusts if they had specific maternity or pregnancy policies for trans and non-binary patients.
Only a handful did, but several more said they were working on them or updating their procedures.
North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust said its pregnancy policy for staff ‘has been updated to remove gender specifics where possible, and is now titled Pregnant Employees and New Parents Policy’.
South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust said: ‘A birthing person should be treated as a pregnant individual and their pregnancy and birth planning should be individualised to birthing people and their families.’
Meanwhile, the General Medical Council has now swapped the word ‘mother’ for neutral terms in its maternity guidance for staff.
Its updated guidance for when employees become pregnant now entirely omits the term ‘mother’.
The internal document now refers to ‘surrogate parents’ instead of ‘surrogate mothers’ , with all female-specific terms removed from the text.
Separate guidance on the organisation’s menopause policy was also tweaked to remove references to women.
One GMC employee said the move was a ‘concerted effort’ to ignore women and biology, the Sunday Telegraph reported.