Engender, who describe themselves as Scotland’s feminist organisation, have published an open letter following criticism of themselves and other officially funded women’s groups by MSP Joan McAlpine.

Engender’s opening gambit is to announce that they “neither ‘represent women and girls’, nor make any claim to.” This is quite an admission from a supposedly feminist group and rather begs the question what purpose Engender serves. They state that their “expertise comes from feminist scholarship, evidence drawn from delivery of services and programmes, and work with women and a wide range of women’s groups.” It would appear that Engender’s rather rarified expertise is from a rather narrow version of third wave feminist scholarship, while their “wide range” of women’s groups excludes all those who disagree on points of policy. We should note here that Forwomen.Scot members include those with decades of front line feminist activism – including at Greenham and Faslane and those who campaigned for gay rights when the stigma of AIDS overshadowed the community –  as well as lawyers, academics, medics and those involved at the coal face of women’s services.

When Forwomen.Scot applied to join as an organizational member of Engender on 22/08/18, the criteria as published on the website read as follows:

After a long period of delaying tactics, Engender updated their policy to say:
“If you are an organisation which doesn’t work specifically on women’s issues, but support our aims and align with our broader values, we’d love to welcome you as an ‘affiliate member’. Please note, we cannot accept membership applications from single-issue groups that campaign against one of our policy advocacy positions. For example, we would not accept membership from a women’s group that campaigned to restrict access to abortion healthcare, to avoid causing confusion about Engender’s position on that issue.”

In other words, a non-feminist or non-women’s group which agreed to an extent with Engender’s policies could join, but not women concerned that a policy is misguided and could cause intense harm to women’s rights. Shamefully, they categorize us with anti-abortionists.

Engender did indeed say that we could apply for individual membership, however, the criteria for application as an individual is “All self-identified women who agree that they are feminists”. As our members do not “self-identify” as women, they simply are women by virtue of biology, we do not feel that we are eligible to join. We note that, in the open letter they used subtly different language: “membership is open to all women who are willing to tick a box to say they are a feminist.”  

Engender claim that they do listen to ordinary women on the topic of self ID. This has come as a surprise to those who intended to attend the Engender meeting on the topic of their support for the change to GRA and of the position of Scottish Trans Alliance (STA). It should be noted that STA have lobbied the government to reform the Equality Act, stating:

Women have repeatedly asked when the meeting will be rescheduled but to no avail. Engender have so far managed to avoid answering. They did, however, release a podcast in which they belittled women’s concerns on the subject.

Engender’s claim that funding for women’s groups is not dependent on trans inclusive policy is interesting in light of the comment made by Emma Ritch of Engender at a Lib Dem fringe meeting at which she is reported to have said that in Scotland VAWG organisations have to be trans inclusive as a condition of funding. She also mentioned that they had been collaborating with other women’s groups to ensure they were all on same page. This is an interesting approach to policy making and, again, highlights the lack of consultation with “ordinary” women. It is also is borne out by the question which Kezia Dugdale put to Christina McKelvie on 4th December 2018:

This is a matter of public record and of Government policy, so to continue to maintain a pretence that it is not, is remarkable.

Forwomen.Scot receive many approaches by those working in sectors with vulnerable women or those who have been adversely affected and even harmed by the policies of official – “respected” – groups. They highlight the lack of consultation, the silencing tactics and refusal to undertake proper research or conduct Equality Impact Assessments. Engender claim they have the evidence to show that change to the GRA will not impact women. In which case, why will they not share it?

The outstanding work of Women and Girls in Scotland has highlighted that the Scottish Prison Service policy developed in concert with STA was indeed done without undertaking an Equality Impact Assessment on the effect on women: SPS have agreed in light of this to review their policy. Women and Girls in Scotland’s work on the schools guidance issued by LGBT Youth Scotland found 11 breaches of the human rights of girls and the Children’s Commissioner has recommended a review. Scotland’s publicly funded feminist organization has not made a comment.

Engender’s government funding of over £200,000 pa is listed on the Government website under the protected characteristic of “gender”:

Murray Blackburn McKenzie have discovered some concerning applications of law and policy in the Stronger Together document which was developed in partnership by the Scottish Government funded LGBT Domestic Abuse Project, Scottish Women’s Aid (a co-signatory of the Engender letter), the Tayside Violence Against Women Training Consortium and the Scottish Transgender Alliance. They write:

“The guidance also advises that if other service users are uncomfortable sharing a service ‘this is rightly seen as no reason for the trans woman to be moved’, and that in this situation ‘we would work to educate other service users – much in the same way that we would if we received comments regarding other service user’s ethnicity, religious affiliation or sexual orientation’.”

They note that the document does not engage fully with the single-sex provisions of EA2010 stating:

“Under the EqA, a transwoman who does not hold a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) is legally male and as such would be treated as male for the purposes of the sex discrimination provision (see Norman (2018) on R (Green) v Secretary of State for Justice [2013] EWHC 3491). Exemptions under the protected characteristic of sex also allow transwomen with a GRC to be excluded from single-sex services and spaces in some circumstances, providing it can be objectively justified. For example, the EqA allows females only (or males only) to be appointed to posts for genuine occupational requirement reasons. More broadly, EHRC guidance states that access for transwomen must be balanced against the needs of other service users.”

Their work is worth reading in full: https://mbmpolicy.wordpress.com/2019/02/22/the-case-for-due-diligence-assessing-and-owning-policy-and-practice/

In light of Engender’s comments about “gender-disaggregated data” and the census, we think it is worth noting a strange change of policy which we found in their published accounts. In accounts filed 8/11/17, they state that part of their mission is to persuade “public bodies and other organisations to gather separate data on men and women”. The following year, this sentence disappears. It would be interesting to see the research – perhaps studies undertaken at the time – which lead Engender the belief that this objective was now redundant.

Ms McAlpine’s tweets have struck a chord with many women across Scotland, the UK and beyond. It has already been ‘liked’ by close to two thousand people and the responses are overwhelmingly positive and speak of relief that a high profile politician has the courage to step-up.

Despite this, Engender would like us to believe that there is no concern in feminist circles that concerted moves are afoot to redefine sex (and, consequently, sexuality), erode women’s rights and remove the protection of single-sex space for the vulnerable. For a group which claims to be motivated by the promotion of equality and protection of women, this is extraordinary.

6 thoughts on “Engender

  1. Thank you.
    I did not know some of this, and I am shocked.
    As I have been continuously and repeatedly these last years at what has been occurring in our goverments, without mandate and without our elected representatives highlighting, questioning, rejecting – informing their constituents! – bottom line – without creating a major stink! They have been complicit and have ennabled these changes over the last decade or so. I am at a loss – I do not understand why. The only motivations I can find would, I had hoped, at the very least, have horrified the women in parliament. But, no.
    We, the people, have been betrayed by our elected representatives, the leaders and strategists of all parties and by their servants.
    No wonder they promote Hate crime laws, defamation and so on they want to control, engineer, humiliate and intimidate us into silent acceptence. Real life is truly weirder than fiction.
    Best wishes and many thanks for your work.

  2. This is an interesting read and asks some important questions of Engender on this issue. They almost seem as if they have been unquestioned for so long they don’t need to provide any info, research findings etc. Their approach is extremely arrogant and to claim their position is due to expertise ignores the many other women with similar or even more expertise who don’t share their stance. It also comes across as pretty elitist and privileged and discounts the many women who don’t have expertise in a formal sense who’s views and experiences are valid, important and who deserve to be heard. It screams of – don’t question us, we’re the experts. Undoubtedly Emma Ritch has experience of working in the sector and managing a third sector organisation, but how does she have more expertise than say, Rosa Friedman, a legal expert? In Engenders refusal to acknowledge the different views and the range of experiences and circumstances of women or even to be transparent in their policy making process they have polarised this debate where they could have provided much needed balance. And in their letter yesterday they have the gall to state the debate should not be polarised and debate silenced. Self awareness is somewhat lacking.

    I think it’s also important to note within these women’s groups there is a lot of cross over between staff. E.g. Emma Ritch is executive director of Engender and is also vice convenor of Close the Gap and is on the board of Rape Crisis (and Glasgow Rape Crisis). Anna Ritchie Allan, the director of Womens Aid, is also executive director of Close the Gap and is on the Equate steering committee. Rachel Adamson, co director of Zero Tolerance is also on the steering committee of Equate and Talya Yaquoob is both director of Equate and on the board of Engender. All these positions are of course public information and sharing experience in this sector can be desirable but I think it’s important to factor this in when assessing the autonomy of each of these groups. Is it a small number of women deciding on behalf of many, with little transparency, who are involved in each others boards/steering groups? Was there any room for dissent or discussion around this?
    Did they, where relavent, even consult with their frontline staff and service users let alone the wider public? I don’t think any good work these groups do should exempt them from scrutiny, especially when they are taking such a stance and effectively ignoring women and providing little evidence and next to no consultation.

  3. Thanks for this piece and to the two other replies. I agree with it all. I have frequently remarked on the overlap between those in the professional feminist sector.
    The relationships between the organisations, civil servants and politicians need investigated. How this ideology got a grip across the board in Scottish society so deeply and quickly should trouble all of us.
    Thanks again for all your unpaid labour. Sticks in the craw when you see the funding these orgs get.

  4. Thank you for this comprehensive and illuminating response, and the subsequent replies to this post. I agree with it all.
    It seems to me that the situation in which we find ourselves in as citizens, where far reaching policy decisions are being shaped and informed by unaccountable quasi “autonomous” lobbying groups that are heavily funded by public money, is indicative of a huge error that sits at the heart of policy making in the Scottish Government. Much policy development is taking place behind closed doors and without the necessary scripting that would assure the public that decisions are being taken in the interests of many, and not just the few who find themselves in the enviable position of being both policy advisors and beneficiaries of said policies. I also am not assured of the impartiality of civil seats who are tasked with creating robust and fair policy that takes account of all sectors of our society. Many of the same organisations that sit in these closed rooms “informing” policy, are the very same organisations that are delivering training on their particular ideology to those very same civil servants. So we end up with an echo chamber. Coupled with the extraordinary effective tactics of “no debate” and the liberal insinuation that anyone even asking questions is de facto “phobic”, we have the perfect storm for the creation of poor, biased decision making.
    I would hope that our MSPs call for a root and branch investigation into how exactly policies are being shaped on our Government, – where conflicts of interests are being ignored, the nature of the relationships between lobbying groups and civil servants who are duty bound to maintain impartiality, and the chilling effect of the discourse around “trans rights” whereby even our own elected representatives seem fearful of publicly stepping outside the required dogma.
    This is a matter of women’s rights, and also the very foundation of democratic principles.

Comments are closed.