Consultation with Stakeholders

When Nicola Surgeon stated that feminist’s concerns were “misplaced” at a United Nations conference last February we thought it would be an ideal time to try and arrange a meeting to address our concerns and put forward evidence that self ID policies represent a substantial roll back of women’s rights. When that was unsuccessful, we turned our attention to arranging a meeting with Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Cabinet Secretary responsible for reform of the Gender Recognition Act. After all, she had very recently published an article stating “Government has a duty to understand and seek to address the concerns being raised. This is something I have sought to do since taking this post and to which I commit to continue to do”, so we were hopeful of a meeting.

It took in excess of three months to receive a reply (in August) stating “Due to pressures on the Cabinet Secretary’s diary, she is not able to meet with you at this time.” The email trail is detailed below and we note that the email lodging our concerns regarding Engender has not received any attention.

We find it extremely disappointing that Ms Somerville could not find time to speak with the largest women’s rights group in Scotland prior to making a decision on GRA reform, as announced on 20th June, or indeed since that date, particularly when her statement included many promises of “It is important that we listen to and address those concerns”, “I have taken time to listen to and understand those concerns”, “I want to proceed in a way that builds maximum consensus and allows valid concerns to be properly addressed”, “I will continue to engage with and listen to stakeholders”, “it is important that I listen to … women’s groups”.

Yet we note that Ms Somerville managed to find the time to meet with Stonewall Scotland just days after her Parliament statement, and has already fulfilled her promise to “meet members of the trans community again”, as shown in several photograph opportunities, such as this, this, and this, with Nicola Sturgeon also meeting a trans group here.

Ms Somerville’s worthless promises to thousands of distressed and concerned women in this country speaks to a complete lack of confidence we have that our issues will be listened to and addressed as we move forward into the next stage in the process of GRA reform. Worryingly, we are hearing reports that constituents have been informed that self ID will be introduced regardless, which somewhat pre-empts both the forthcoming second public consultation and the ensuing democratic process of any Bill through Parliament.

We look forward to hearing the answers to Jeremy Barlfour MSP’s questions as to just whom Ms Somerville has been meeting with and, more importantly, who she has not been meeting with, and why.

*** Update: answers to the Parliamentary Questions are here. ***


Email trail trying to arrange a meeting with Nicola Sturgeon or Shirley-Anne Somerville:

———- Original Message ———-
From: CabSecSSOP@gov.scot
To: info@forwomen.scot
Cc: CabSecSSOP@gov.scot
Date: 07 August 2019 at 14:35
Subject: CORRESPONDENCE FROM SHIRLEY-ANNE SOMERVILLE, CABINET SECRETARY FOR SOCIAL SECURITY & OLDER PEOPLE

Good afternoon,

Please find attached a response on behalf of Shirley-Anne Somerville, Cabinet Secretary for Social Security & Older People to your recent letter.

Kind Regards,

Jenny Smith
Assistant Private Secretary to Shirley-Anne Somerville, Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People
St Andrews House, Edinburgh, EH1 3DG


———- Original Message ———-
From: “Info forwomen.scot” <info@forwomen.scot>
To: scottish.ministers@gov.scot, cabsecssop@gov.scot
Date: 19 June 2019 at 09:02
Subject: Meeting request

Dear Ms Somerville,

As you can see from the email trail below we have been keen to arrange a Parliamentary meeting to discuss women’s rights since February, and with you personally as the Cabinet Secretary responsible for Gender Recognition Act reform, since April 2019.  We are greatly disappointed that we have had no response from your office at all.

We understand that you have met with several other women’s groups in Scotland to discuss concerns surrounding the reform to the GRA.  As the largest women’s rights group in Scotland we are extremely dismayed that you did not take the time to understand our views prior to pushing ahead with the next stage of reform, particularly given the Government’s poor record on consultation with women thus far.  Given the imminent Ministerial Statement scheduled for tomorrow, can you please explain why we have been denied the opportunity for a prior discussion on the matter?

Please confirm receipt of this email by return with a suggested date for a meeting to take place within the next week.

Kind regards,

Marion Calder, Susan Smith and Trina Budge
on behalf of forwomen.scot


This email was also sent to 
scottish.ministers@gov.scot and 
cabsecssop@gov.scot on 29 May 2019
———- Original Message ———-
From: Info forwomen.scot
To: Shirley-Anne.Somerville.msp@parliament.scot
Cc: Lesley.Cunningham@gov.scot
Date: 28 May 2019 at 11:47
Subject: Meeting request re Engender and women’s rights

Dear Ms Somerville,

We are writing on behalf of the membership of Forwomen.Scot to express concerns about the membership decisions of Engender, who describe themselves as “Scotland’s feminist membership organisation”.

Forwomen.Scot applied to join as an organizational member of Engender on 22/08/18. Some weeks later we were rejected and Engender swiftly updated their membership criteria to read:

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.

A non-feminist or non-women’s group which agreed to some extent with Engender’s political positions could join, but not a group founded on second wave or gender critical principles. Second wave feminism and radical feminism are recognised as valid academic and theoretical positions within feminist philosophy. Our “single-issue”, as Engender characterizes it, is the fundamental feminist philosophy which holds that gender is a harmful construct which imposes damaging stereotypes on men and women; that women and men do not have gendered brains; and that sex is the root of many injustices such as FGM, unequal pay, sexual assault, disparity in healthcare research, force marriage and much more.

The issue of self ID is, of course, hotly contested in feminist circles. It should not be controversial to argue that a theory that rejects the physical reality of sex will not enhance women’s sex based rights. Engender have adopted a position based on political concerns rather than feminist theory and are refusing membership to groups based on the political, anti-scientific and anti-feminist belief that sex is not the cause of female oppression.

It may be that Engender is not, as they advertise, a broad feminist organisation, but rather a third wave liberal feminist group. We would feel that precludes them for claiming to represent the entire feminist movement and should be a point of concern for the government who funds them.

It should also be noted, that Engender decided to support proposed changes to the GRA with no input or consultation with their membership (indeed, they cancelled a meeting which was never rescheduled) instead relying on advice from Scottish Trans Alliance and Equality Network – a group who claim that sex is “on a spectrum”.

When we learned that Equality Network proposed holding a meeting at the Scottish parliament titled “By women, for women” we, and other concerned organizations and individuals, including those working on front-line services, asked if we could attend to hear their proposals – much as Joan McAlpine invited a broad range of organizations to attend her meeting last week. Equality Network, which has no remit to present itself as a group campaigning for women rights, refused all requests.

We believe that the behaviour of Engender, and the groups they choose to ally themselves with, in refusing to allow membership, or to even engage with the views of the vast majority of women in Scotland (over 80%) and a reputable branch of feminist theory, is discriminatory. It is extremely problematic that a group which claims to lobby for equal rights and representation for women cannot even define the term woman – indeed they are on record as stating that they do not represent women. Any organisation in receipt of over £200,000 of public money should be able to define those it apparently exists to serve and it should not act to discriminate against women or groups who insist on the need for evidence, impact assessments and proper data to record the effect of policy on women.

We have an outstanding request to meet with you (see our email to lesley.cunningham@gov.scot on 29 April 2019) regarding our concerns on the debate surrounding women’s rights in Scotland, and we would very much appreciate if this could be arranged as soon as possible.

Kind regards,

Marion Calder, Susan Smith and Trina Budge
forwomen.scot


———- Original Message ———-
From: Info forwomen.scot
To: Lesley.Cunningham@gov.scot
Date: 29 April 2019 at 10:13
Subject: Re: Reply from the Scottish Government – 20190004817.pdf

Dear Lesley,

Thank you for your reply. We are, of course, disappointed that the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is unable to meet with us at this time.

However, we note that the Cabinet Secretary for Equalities, Shirley-Anne Somerville, has recently commented on the debate surrounding the proposed changes to the GRA stating that she has a duty to encourage respectful debate and understand the views of others.  As such it would be beneficial if a meeting with Ms Somerville could be arranged to discuss our concerns.

We have a public meeting organised for the 24th May in Glasgow and are keen to ensure a respectful discussion and avoid the issues that marred our previous meeting in Edinburgh.
(https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/lessons-from-canada-tickets-60344167028)

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Marion, Susan and Trina
on behalf of forwomen.scot


———- Original Message ———-
From: Lesley.Cunningham@gov.scot
To: info@forwomen.scot
Date: 03 April 2019 at 10:09
Subject: Reply from the Scottish Government – 20190004817.pdf

Dear Marion, Susan and Trina

With apologies for the delay, please find attached a reply to your email to of 12 February to the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Yours sincerely

Lesley


———- Original Message ———-
From: Info forwomen.scot
To: CorrespondenceUnit@gov.scot
Date: 22 March 2019 at 10:18
Subject: Re: Acknowledgement from the Scottish Government.

Dear Sir/Madam,

Ref: 2019/0004817

We are following up from our initial request to meet with Nicola Sturgeon as it is now beyond the 20 days in which you hoped to reply.

We appreciate that the First Minister is particularly busy but perhaps it would be possible to provisionally schedule a meeting within the next few weeks.

Forwomen.scot are a group of ordinary women from across Scotland, and the primary motivation for our formation was the growing concern about the Scottish Government’s proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and its potential impact on the hard-won rights and protections of women and girls.

Developments over the last few days has resulted in an Edinburgh transwoman facing criminal charges after tweeting extremely violent threats towards our group, please see the links below.  This escalation of violence is worrying and, as of yet, no trans organisations have condemned these threats. A Parliamentary meeting may be beneficial in finding a way forward from this situation.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

Marion Calder, Susan Smith and Trina Budge
on behalf of forwomen.scot

Times: Singer cancels gig after calling for feminists to be punched
Evening Telegraph: Dundee trans pride headliner dropped after alleged threat to throat punch women’s group


———- Original Message ———-
From: CorrespondenceUnit@gov.scot
To: info@forwomen.scot
Date: 13 February 2019 at 14:42
Subject: Acknowledgement from the Scottish Government.

Thank you for your correspondence. Please see the attached acknowledgement which includes a reference number for future use.
***********


———- Original Message ———-
From: Info forwomen.scot
To: firstminister@gov.scot
Date: 12 February 2019 at 12:35
Subject: Request for meeting

Dear Ms Sturgeon,

In light of your comments at the UN regarding the concerns of feminist women and your acknowledgement that both sides need to be heard, we should like to meet with you and present our concerns.

Far from being “misplaced”, we have a great deal of evidence to suggest that there are significant human rights issues for women and girls and that self ID policies represent a substantial roll back of our rights.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Marion Calder, Susan Smith and Trina Budge
on behalf of forwomen.scot

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