Women’s Rights Demo, September 2021

Thank you to all who attended our demo at the Scottish Parliament, and to the MSPs who came out to speak with us – we think it was a roaring success!

This page is to bring together the main links for videos and speeches from the demonstration, but please also look on Twitter (under the hashtag #WomenWontWheesht) for many, many more videos and photographs.

Speakers: Marion Calder, Kate Coleman, Rhona Hotchkiss, Lisa Mackenzie, Caroline McAllister, Shereen Benjamin, Susan Dalgety, and Lisa Keogh

Text of our co-director Marion Calder’s speech:

For Women Scotland was formed in the immediate aftermath of the first GRA consultation. At the time, there was little focus on the erosion of women’s rights. So many policy changes had been made by stealth in hospitals, prisons, schools and elsewhere, and the uniformity of opinion within the professional groups in Scotland meant that the voices of ordinary women were not being heard. When we look back at that first meeting of four women who determined that we should not give up the fight it is incredible to think how far we have come. We have grown since that day, but remain true to the principles of grassroots activism: we are volunteer-led and our support comes from all of you here today and countless others like you.

The situation for women’s rights in Scotland is precarious. A century of progress has brought us to a place where, in a few distinct situations, provision is made for people – men and women – based on sex. Where sex matters – in healthcare, for example, or for privacy, dignity and safety – we believe that it continues to matter. No one has yet, convincingly made the argument that women do not need safe space in prisons or hospitals, that teenage girls do not need privacy in changing rooms, or that we can ignore health or equality outcomes. 

Yet, this is what campaigners who have sought to dismantle women’s protections argue. Or rather, they don’t argue, they insist. They brand those who speak out as hateful and they even try to use the law to silence us, to deplatform us or to have us fired from our jobs. This “right side of history” is a cruel and intolerant place, yet one enthusiastically embraced by Scotland’s government.

In our campaigns we have been struck by how dishonestly this government has behaved and how ideology continues to trump evidence and reason.

In 2018, we gave evidence to the committee on the census. All the expert witnesses agreed that the integrity of the sex data needed to be preserved and the committeee agreed with this conclusion. Earlier this year, FPFW won their case against ONS to stop sex being recording on the basis of self ID. Yet, only this week, National Records Scotland announced that they would ignore all that expertise, evidence and the legal findings and press ahead with a measure which will, assuredly, damage the quality of the data.

When we suggested that the committee examining the Forensic Medical Bill should consider referring to sex, rather than the gender, of an examiner – especially in light of statements from ministers that they regarded sex and gender as distinct – the committee unanimously agreed, including members who later, shamefully, voted against Johann Lamont’s amendment. Yet the government refused to budge until the heroic campaign of Johann and the support of so many women, including victims of sexual assault, forced them to back down.

When women overwhelmingly responded to a consultation on the Gender Representation on Public Boards Act to register concerns about the definition of women which reduced women to a name on a utility bill or pronouns on an email signature, the Government ignored it as outwith the scope of the consultation and not consistent with a hitherto unknown government policy, which has no basis in law, that says being woman is simply a matter of self-determination.

This is typical of what we have encountered and continue to face. So you will forgive us if we are sceptical that this government intends to deal fairly with women in any upcoming conversation about the GRA.

Last year, myself and Trina Budge presented Shirley Ann Somerville with a list of questions which ran to 25 pages listing the areas where women would need reassurance about the intersection of women’s rights as defined under the Equality Act and the Government’s determination to introduce self-ID. We never got one answer.

And the First Minister, who seems to have made this policy her priority, will only say that we must trust her because she says she is a feminist who would never harm women. Well, first minister, that isn’t good enough! You have to win the arguments. You don’t get to play games with our lives or the lives of our mothers, sisters and daughters without reason or explanation.

Instead Ms Sturgeon seems determined to rely on her new friends in the Scottish Green Party: a party which includes MSPs who call women “bigots”, “transphobes”, “far right” or “terrorists” for the egregious crime of saying that sometimes women need the protection of single sex spaces; a party who enthusiastically supported a Hate Crime Bill which protects men dressed up on a stag night but not women; a party whose co-leader tweets and retweets abuse of women, including fellow MSPs.

Deeds not words are needed from the FM now and, as a bare minimum, we need to see proper, respectful engagement with critics.

She needs to explain how she squares the circle that means the gov are introducing a women’s health plan based on different health outcomes caused by sex when she refuses to accept that sex matters, refuses to allow accurate data collection, and colludes in allowing patients to change sex markers on their NHS records.

We need an end to the assumption that those who disagree with this government are stupid or prejudiced or extremist. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, nurses, scientists, and yes, civil servants and politicians, did not wake up one day and lose all their critical faculties. Believe us, we have done the work, unlike the anti-women campaigners who have no response beyond sloganeering.

It will be to Ms Sturgeon’s shame and to Scotland’s detriment if poorly conceived, dangerous, regressive assumptions about women are codified into law. Scotland is the land of the Enlightenment but also the witchcraze: this Parliament has to decide if it stands in the tradition of the former and for evidence and science or whether women are, once again, to be persecuted in Scotland. We call upon MSPs to stand up now for what is right because, believe us, women will not wheesht now or ever.

Text of other speeches:

Coverage on BBC News:

Other media coverage:

Selection of photographs:

Some comments from politicians:

And it seems we still can’t have a women’s rights demonstration without anti-women activists intruding into our space and trying to intimidate. Well done ladies in standing your ground!