We are pleased that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has intervened to draw attention to concerns around current plans for reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) in Scotland, and to advise that “more detailed consideration is needed before any change is made to the provisions in the Act”. We agree with the EHRC that there should be a balanced legal framework that protects everyone.
Despite a clear commitment in the SNP’s 2021 manifesto to work with different interest groups on GRA reform, from the election to the end of 2021 the Government spoke only to groups it funds and agrees with. It spoke to no women’s groups.
A handful of meetings have taken place in the last two weeks, but only after the Government’s one-sided process came to light in the media.
These have been brief and disappointing. The Scottish Government has had access to over 17,000 consultation responses setting out detailed concerns about its plans since March 2020, many repeating points unaddressed from the previous consultation.
We have now witnessed that the Scottish Government remains unable to answer fundamental questions about the potential impact of its reforms on women’s existing sex based rights and on young people experiencing gender dysphoria. It is passing responsibility for managing the impact of its plans on single-sex services and spaces upwards to the UK Government and downwards to local providers. This is not good enough. Scottish Ministers are deflecting to guidance on single-sex spaces which the EHRC has yet to issue and whose contents they appear not to know.
Despite all this, Ministers seem determined to bring forward a draft Bill to reform the GRA within weeks, leaving the Scottish Parliament to pick up the pieces.
The Scottish Government has recently claimed in statements to the press that it has “always been keen to seek consensus where possible” on reform of the GRA. This is an attempt to rewrite history.
The Cabinet Secretary deserves credit for being willing to meet some of her critics now, but the Scottish Government has never reached out to groups or individuals with concerns about its proposals. Even these brief meetings – in some cases, offered with just a few days’ notice – have only been with groups which took the initiative to contact the Government. Some requests for access to the Minister have been rejected. The difficult atmosphere on this topic has been made worse by the Government rejecting responsibility for providing leadership and building consensus at any stage.
We call on the Scottish Government to accept the EHRC’s offer to work with it and other interested parties to support a careful and respectful discussion of potential changes to the law, and thus deliver the SNP manifesto commitment. The Scottish Parliament should only be asked to consider legislation here once the Government has engaged fully and in good faith with those raising concerns about the practical impact on women and on vulnerable young people of its commitment to legislate for the self-declaration of sex.
Bayswater Support Group
Fair Play For Women
For Women Scotland
Keep Prisons Single Sex
LGB Alliance Scotland
Safe Schools Alliance
Scottish Feminist Network
Women Voting With Our Feet
Woman’s Place UK
Women and Girls Scotland
Women Speak Scotland