The Scottish Government funds organisations working towards the outcomes in their Equally Safe policy for eradicating violence against women and girls. Funds were last awarded in 2017 for a three year period to 85 organisations, including 33 Women’s Aid groups across the country, who each received an average of £148,000 per year.
The second image clearly states: “To be eligible for funding, applicants are required to demonstrate the following in their application…Ensure that your service is inclusive to lesbian, bisexual, trans and intersex (LBTI) women. An LBTI Inclusion Plan should be submitted along with your application.”
To be eligible for funding…ensure your service is inclusive to trans women.
This condition is extremely problematic to organisations such as Women’s Aid who have traditionally been proud to run a by-women-for-women service, and they rely on the single-sex exceptions (Schedule 3, Part 7, 26-28) and the Genuine Occupational Requirements (Schedule 9, Part 1, 1) in the Equality Act to do so – these allow for the exclusion of all men, if it can be objectively justified, also excluding transwomen (with or without a Gender Recognition Certificate). Examples given in the Explanatory Notes specifically mention women-only domestic abuse units and sexual assault counselling services as being legitimate uses of the single-sex exceptions.
This leads to the very concerning situation of organisations compelled to either forego applying for essential funding if they wish to remain women-only, or cede their rights to use an important part of UK legislation.
We raised these concerns, and submitted the above Eligibility Criteria as evidence, in our written submission to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee who were looking at funding to third sector organisations as part of the Draft Budget Scrutiny 2020-21. It was then discussed when we attended the Committee meeting on 26 September 2019 where Angela Constance MSP implied that such a funding condition would be outwith the law.
Ms Constance’s apparent confusion over our ‘allegation’ is hard to understand, particularly as she was the co-chair for the Equally Safe Joint Strategic Board and, as such, responsible for the original implementation of the fund – so should have long been aware of the possible illegality of the conditions, particularly as the purpose of this fund is to exclusively help women and girls.
The Minister for Older People and Equalities, Christina McKelvie, subsequently wrote to the Committee on 06 October 2019, dismissing our evidence as inaccurate and that “grant recipients…can therefore of course use the exceptions for single-sex services.”
While we are pleased to hear Ms McKelvie say that organisations can indeed be single-sex, it does not explain, or rectify, the Scottish Government’s own documentation that quite clearly says otherwise.
We then approached a MSP from an opposition party to request that a Parliamentary Question be submitted to clarify this discrepancy, and a commitment sought for it to be removed from the Eligibility Criteria for the next round of funding applications in early 2020.
However, Rhoda Grant MSP refused to ask this question of the Government citing her support of transwomen inclusive women services. We note this is in direct contradiction to the updated Labour manifesto (pages 65-66) which aims to “Ensure that the single-sex-based exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2010 are understood and fully enforced in service provision.”
Instead Ms Grant chose to try and make the point that men who identify as women suffer more violence and need women’s facilities most – which ignores the fact that women are currently suffering a national epidemic of violence with women murdered by intimate male partners at a rate of one every three days in the UK, compared to a total of seven transwomen killed in the last decade, and Scottish Women’s Aid acknowledgement that they have very little experience of providing transwomen services. In comparison, demand for women’s abuse support services rose by 83% in the 10 years up to 2017.
It would be helpful to the rights of the female 51% of the voting population if there were Members of the Scottish Parliament in the opposition parties who are willing to hold the Government to account, particularly when they appear to admit to breaking, or acting ‘outwith’, the law.
Which brings us to the recently published consultation paper for the Gender Recognition Reform draft bill which, in a bizarre attempt to address the problem manages instead to fudge it completely, by stating that organisations can somehow simultaneously include and exclude transwomen!
It would be a huge relief and greatly appreciated if our Government could actually address women’s reasonable concerns, and abide by their promise that women’s rights under the Equality Act will be maintained and upheld. If the Scottish Government cannot uphold the terms of the Equality Act in their own institution then women simply cannot have any faith in the Cabinet Secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville’s, assurances that other public bodies will somehow manage to do so – particularly in the face of proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act.