It’s a start

Forwomen.scot was formed on the 20th of June 2018 and it’s rather fitting that, exactly one year later, Shirley-Anne Somerville’s statement in Parliament on the reform of the GRA gave recognition to many of the issues on which we campaign.
(Video and official report)

We are delighted that the rush to introduce self-identification of sex has been tempered, and the time and space created to have a full and proper consultation with women, and men, from across Scotland. Our profuse thanks go out to every individual, every group, every politician, and to every contribution, large and small, that got us to this point: it’s a huge achievement!

Photo credit: Jamie Hunter

It does feel like it’s the ‘end of the beginning’ though, rather than the ‘beginning of the end’. We still have a long way to go and will be campaigning and working to ensure that women’s voices are heard throughout the forthcoming consultation and legislative processes. Please join us by signing up for our newsletter here.

We are very much in agreement with the words of the wonderful Joan McAlpine:

There is much to welcome in Shirley-Anne Somerville’s statement on reforming the Gender Recognition Act. It is a significant win for the independent grassroots female rights groups who have worked so hard to point out the flaws in the rush towards “sex self-identification”. Women and Girls Scotland, Susan Sinclair of Scottish Women and For Women Scotland should all take credit for campaigning so hard, with no funds at all, to achieve some of these concessions. It was a real David and Goliath struggle when you consider that they were up against professional campaign groups who receive six figure funding packages from government.

It’s very good news that the draft bill will be subject to a full consultation including, crucially, a full Equality Impact Assessment. The “partial” EQIA for the previous consultation was described as “very poor”. In my experience, Equality Impact Assessments are variable in quality. This one needs to be rigorous and look carefully at the impact of women through the protected characteristic of sex. The EQIA should also look at how the protected characteristics of religion and belief and sexual orientation might be impact by changes in the law. I am thinking particularly of religious women and lesbian women who wish to exclude people born male from social activities. I also welcome the government’s decision to replace the LGBT Youth Scotland transgender guidance for schools, which was shown to have a negative impact on the privacy and dignity of girls, as well as the government’s recognition that statistics on sex matters. For too long public authorities have failed to distinguish between sex and gender and this must change. I hope the working group set up to consider this will advise a change in the collection of crime statistics according to sex self-identification. It should be possible for people to choose a gender marker in addition to biological sex.

I continue to oppose the proposal that will allow any man to identify as a female, without the current medical diagnosis, and change the sex on their birth certificate. Most people identifying as “transwomen” still have male genitals. I asked the Cabinet Secretary if this would mean that someone with a history of violence against women could change sex and she seemed to indicate that he could. I think most women will find this offensive. The GRA gives such people privacy protections. While the Cabinet Secretary pointed out that disclosure certificates would legally oblige someone who committed a crime under a previous gender identity to reveal this, that is only in certain circumstances, such as applying for work. Such a person could still present themselves as female in many other aspects of life.

The Cabinet Secretary pointed out that gender recognition has been around since 2005 and did not require medical treatment. This is quite correct, but it was intended for transsexuals, which is what the European Court of Human Rights ruling of 2002 on which it was based actually spelled out. It did not insist on hormones or surgery because it was argued that some people may not be able to do that for health reasons. The gatekeeping of a medical diagnoses was and is an appropriate safeguard. The Cabinet Secretary talked about the penalties for someone falsely declaring themselves transgender. But since we no longer have any definition of transgender, as there is no diagnosis or evaluation process, I cannot see how this would work.

I am pleased the Cabinet Secretary emphasised that the Equality Act 2010 Single Sex Exemptions for women would remain in place. These exemptions are wide ranging. However, her emphasis on this was very different from the message being put out by the government’s third sector Equality partners. Scottish Trans Alliance, The Equality Network and their supporters have repeatedly said that transwomen can access single sex spaces already, and the exemptions are extremely limited. The TIE letter, which was widely publicised, also made this erroneous claim. This is wrong as many lawyers have pointed out. I hope they will now heed the Cabinet Secretary’s statement that women have a legal right to their own space and services. This is not just to ensure safety, but privacy, dignity and personal choice. Unfortunately, because of a long running misinformation campaign, most organisations do not understand single sex exemptions and do not enforce them, hence the ludicrous guidance in Glasgow about allowing cross-dressing males to access female classes and changing rooms. I asked the Cabinet Secretary to review how the Equality Act works in Scotland and to issue guidance. She pointed out it is reserved, which is quite right. But there is no reason why the government cannot review how it operates to ensure women’s sex-based rights are honoured. I intend to follow up on this point in writing.

I hope the consultation examines the term “international best practice”. This term has been defined by trans activists, not women. Who decides best practice? Some of the countries that have introduced self ID do not have strong women’s movements or women’s rights. For example, Malta and Argentina have very restricted access to abortions. Ireland has extensive opt-outs from self ID on the basis of sex. All this needs to be forensically examined. What we do know is that “internationally” women are only now fighting back against creeping sex self-identification caused by well-funded lobby groups capturing policy at high levels. The fight against this by women has just begun and Scotland is at the forefront.

Feminists believe gender is a social construct, not an inner feeling in one’s head. People should be able to express their gender in any way they wish, but their biological sex is immutable and important for all sorts of things, not least healthcare. But there is a more fundamental reason still why women have concerns. Gender identity presumes a set of stereotypes linked to sex, the idea of “boy things” and “girl things”, which is not progressive. Women cannot identify out of FGM or maternal mortality or the gender pay gay gap. Neither are we defined by our sex. One of the strengths of feminism since the 1960s has been women’s ability to organise as a sex class by excluding men. That could be everything from consciousness raising, assertiveness training, to political or cultural activity. Including males in these groups can change the dynamic as they have been socialised in a different way, have different experiences and, to put it bluntly, they can dominate. That does not necessarily change if they identify as female. If women wish to welcome trans identifying males into these circles then that is, of course, fine. But they must also have a right to exclude them if they wish. Women are socialised to be passive, accommodating and nice. They are pressurised to do things that make them feel uncomfortable. Feminism is about telling women to be assertive and stand up for themselves. We should not be “gaslighted” into putting male feelings before female rights. And they should certainly not be pressurised into believing that a man who says he is a woman is somehow more marginalised than women themselves. That just turns oppression on its head.

Joan McAlpine, MSP