Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill

Press Statement – Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill – Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee Meeting, Scottish Parliament, 06 December 2018

Forwomen.scot were grateful to the CTEEA Committee for listening to our concerns regarding the proposed changes to the census in Scotland.

We believe that, to be robust, a census must capture the most accurate population data possible. Many of our providers – especially in healthcare and social services – have clear need for the most accurate demographic information. This is especially important when considering the rights of women as they are more likely to access public services in Scotland.

Humans are a sexually dimorphic species and biological sex plays a significant role in the difference in health provision and outcomes and in monitoring equality. As such, we therefore proposed that the question on sex in the census should relate to the biological sex of an individual. However, we do understand that there are many people who feel uncomfortable with the societal expectations that concepts of gender entail. If users find that it would be helpful to have a supplementary question relating to gender reassignment and gender identity then we would support further research in order to identify the best possible means to frame this question from the perspective of those providers.

If the integrity of the sex question is brought into question by, for example, offering three options and allowing self ID, the quality of the information becomes meaningless for planning purposes. The census, ultimately, is a tool for government to provide for a population and not an expensive use of public funds to facilitate an exercise in self-validation.

It is very apparent, that the Scottish Trans Alliance and Equality Network have no real idea of the impact on the general population and women in particular. They have no population data pertaining to Scotland, offering only a survey undertaken in the US. They argue that the small size of the trans community will mean that it is not statistically significant. It has been observed, however, that there is a growing trend amongst the millennial generation to identify as trans (including non-binary): this was exemplified by the recent GLAAD survey in which 12% of respondents in this age group identified as such. Such a proportion would have a material effect on the quality of the data for that age demographic.

They also made the point that as many end users collect data on gender and not sex, self ID would make the census consistent. We would respond that many councils are currently non-compliant with their equality duty in pursuing this course and it is they who should comply with their legal obligations and revert to the definitions under the Equality Act rather than altering the census. We also understand that changing sex markers on health records is causing some costly and at times dangerous errors and delays for the NHS.

Tim Hopkins also advised MSPs that Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis would reassure them that there were no safety concerns regarding including transwomen in their services. It is important to stress that, in response to a recent MSP question on this topic, Christina McKelvie confirmed that applicants to the Equally Safe Violence Against Women and Girls fund are required to prove their LBTI inclusion plan and that applications without this are not considered. In other words funding is directly dependent upon maintaining this inclusion. There is a direct conflict here which has been engineered by groups like STA. It is disingenuous of Mr Hopkins to call upon people whose very income stream depends upon backing his statement. Going foward we hope that this situation can be properly investigated and impartial impact assessments can be carried out to determine how this may affect vulnerable women.

We are very pleased that MSPs expressed concern about the rights of vulnerable women, especially those who were elderly or infirm and receiving intimate care. As was rightly said, the onus should not be on a frail person to defend their bodily autonomy.

The session was productive and informative. We are delighted the complex and wide ranging issues which this debate affects are being properly examined.

Forwomen.scot are keen that any change in the law should be robust and it is reassuring that the Scottish Government apparently shares this concern.