Letter to Prime Minister

We sent the following letter to Boris Johnson MP, Prime Minister, on 19th June, regarding the Sunday Times report on the Government’s plans not to continue with reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

The Rt. Honourable Boris Johnson, MP Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
10 Downing Street 
Cc: The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing in support of the Minister for Women and Equalities’ plan to discontinue with the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA), as reported in the Sunday Times. We also welcome the Minister’s proposal to clarify and strengthen the sex-based exceptions in the Equality Act 2010 (EqA) in order to protect single-sex spaces for women and girls.

For Women Scotland was founded in response to the systematic and comprehensive adoption of practices which undermined these sex-based exceptions, both by the Scottish Government as well as public and private sector organisations across Scotland. These practices, aimed at allowing self-identification of sex without the need for a Gender Recognition Certificate under the existing GRA, and introduced without public consultation or the legally mandated Equality Impact Assessments, have resulted in grave consequences for Scotland’s most vulnerable women and girls.

The Scottish Government has been instrumental in promoting and supporting this development, requiring for instance applicants to the Equally Safe (Violence Against Women and Girls) Fund to provide their LBTI (trans) Inclusion Plan as part of their application, detailing how male service users who identify as transwomen will be catered to by organisations set up to support female victims of male violence in a female-only environment. This change in funding requirements was again introduced without consulting the public or even the organisations working in the sector, and without considering its impact on the women and children they support.

Applicants without these plans in place are not considered and hence there is no government funding available for female-only services tackling violence against women and girls. This has profoundly changed the nature of the women’s sector in Scotland and resulted in the gradual change of previously female-centred organisations to organisations endorsing and promoting transgender ideology and legislation without any thought given to how these may conflict with women’s sex-based rights, indeed denying any such conflict exists and seeking to silence those of us who object.

There is now no government funded women’s organisation left in Scotland that is solely and exclusively concerned with the rights and needs of women and girls and none that advocate for the rights of the female sex class provided for in the EqA. Although many frontline workers are deeply concerned about this, both boards and management of these organisations are – often publicly – prioritising their ideological preferences over the rights and needs of vulnerable women and girls.

This complete lack of any government-funded organisations advocating for the rights and needs of women and girls in Scotland has resulted in a new government strategy to tackle bullying and harassment in Scottish schools that has not mentioned, let alone proposed ways to address the endemic sexual harassment of and sexual violence against female children at our schools; school guidance on transgender policies funded and endorsed by the Scottish Government that effectively removes girls’ rights to single-sex spaces, initiatives and sports; and a new law aimed to remedy the underrepresentation of women on public boards that openly contradicts the EqA and accepts any and all men as female board members by virtue of a simple verbal declaration of identity.

As the single-sex exceptions in the EqA have been systematically misrepresented by almost all public and private sector organisations in Scotland, they are now rarely applied at service level. Thus, Scottish Councils are increasingly opening up female-only provisions and spaces to males on the basis of self-identification of sex, including toilets, changing rooms in leisure centres and school facilities; Scottish NHS boards are not guaranteeing single-sex wards or female health care provisioners even when requested; and vulnerable women and girls are now excluded from much-needed services, as seen in the case of a deeply traumatised 14-year-old girl whose parent was advised that Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS) considers a male who identifies as trans as female and could not therefore guarantee that the child would have access to the female-only therapeutic environment she needed to recover.

That Rape Crisis Scotland refuses to guarantee such a female-only service as a matter of principle was confirmed during a private meeting with survivors and justified by a complete rejection of the Equality Act’s sex-based exceptions as reasonable and legitimate by a legal expert invited to the meeting by RCS – applying the sex-based exemptions as written would violate the human rights of males who identify as trans. That traumatised women and girls unable to recover in a mixed-sex environment would therefore be excluded from its services was regarded as unavoidable collateral damage.

As seen from the abuse received by JK Rowling, even survivors themselves who are raising concerns about the needs of vulnerable women and girls for female-only services are decried as transphobes and accused of “weaponising the trauma of female victims of male violence”. But protecting our female-only spaces is too important for too many of us to allow ourselves to be deterred by the relentless abuse we receive for defending our sex-based rights.

Unfortunately, given the ideological views of the responsible ministers in Scotland, it has proven near impossible to raise our concerns with the Scottish Government. That’s why we particularly appreciate the news that Liz Truss is planning to protect the single-sex spaces women and girls need for their privacy, dignity and safety. We also agree with the Minister that it is necessary to strengthen the sex-based exceptions in the Equality Act and to provide much needed clarification as to how and when they are applied.

Yours sincerely,

Trina Budge and Marion Calder
Co-founders of For Women Scotland

For Women Scotland has no religious or political affiliation. We represent a large group of women, of all ages, sexual orientations, political persuasions and from all backgrounds.

Update 04 August 2020: We received the following reply from the Government Equalities Office:

Thank you for your letter of 19 June, addressed to the Prime Minister, about the Gender recognition Act 2004 (GRA), the Equality Act and women’s rights. I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Women and Equalities.

This Government is absolutely committed to championing the rights of women and girls and our work in this area is extensive. From taking action to help victims of domestic abuse, to supporting female entrepreneurs, from gathering evidence on sexual harassment, to tackling gender norms and stereotypes; the Government believes that all people should have an equal opportunity to succeed in life, regardless of their gender or background.

The Equality Act requires people providing services to the public to do so without discriminating against people because of their sex or because of their ‘gender reassignment’. Exceptions in the Act allow provision of services to one sex only (for example men’s or women’s toilets or changing rooms). Exceptions in the Act also allow for the exclusion of transgender people from single-sex facilities where this is necessary and proportionate.

The Minister for Women and Equalities has emphasised her commitment to maintaining single-sex spaces and has stated this as a priority.  We know that some stakeholders have highlighted a desire for greater clarity from the Government about the law and guidance on single-sex spaces and we are looking into how we might provide greater clarity in this area as part of our response to the GRA consultation. We have listened closely to all those who engaged with our consultation on the GRA, and we will announce next steps in due course.

You have mentioned, in your letter, the way this discourse has been playing out online and in the media. The Government firmly believes that freedom of speech and diversity of thought are important. The issues raised by the consultation on reform of the GRA have generated strong views and profound differences of opinion, but you are right that any debate on reform should be conducted in an environment of respect and openness, with the discussion being grounded in facts.

Thank you for writing to us to share what these topics mean to you. We appreciate the strength of feeling on these important issues and wish to assure you that the safety and wellbeing of all people is our top priority in the work we do.

Government Equalitites Office
Correspondence Team