FWS Statement on Justice Committee meeting today

We were disturbed, but sadly unsurprised, that, once again, the Committee passed-up the chance to add sex to the Hate Crime Bill while failing to progress on free speech amendments which might have protected women speaking out against sexism and misogyny.

We agree with the Convener that the events and reactions of recent days have made the need for clarity around free-speech more, not less, acute. We would also say that they indicate the frightening pitch which some activists have reached, and their often barely concealed hatred of women.

To add insult to injury, the Cabinet Secretary remains determined to include “cross dressers” under this bill citing anecdote and supposition as “evidence”: “One of those examples is that a man who is not a transwoman who is dressed for say a drag performance…could be at high risk of transphobic hate crime. It is very likely that a perpetrator could later claim that they had no issue with a transwoman who is really transitioning and only had a problem with men dressing up as woman without transitioning.” (our emphasis).

We do not know how many men have been the victim of crime while on the way to a drag show. We do know there were only seven hate crime convictions under the transgender aggravator (it is unknown how many of these related to cross dressers) in 2018/19, so the evidence does not appear to support the scenario envisaged by Mr Yousaf.

However, we do know that thousands of women are routinely harassed and abused – many because of what they were wearing.

The Committee cited witnesses who were opposed to “gender neutral” legislation when considering the characteristic of sex. Ironic, then, that the bill as it stands is skewed to affording greater protection to men and none to women.


Justice Committee meeting re Hate Crime Bill: Video and Official Report.

Clip of Humza Yousaf defending the inclusion of cross dressers in the Hate Crime Bill is here.


FWS Statement on Nicola Sturgeon’s video

We should like to address the film released tonight by Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, at the height of a national health crisis.

As women’s rights campaigners we are all too aware that the burden of this crisis has fallen on women: in jobs lost and in additional duties shouldered. We know that the most vulnerable have been the most affected. We do not live in an echo chamber but in the often brutal real world.

We know that the most at-risk children are suffering from lack of adequate education, trapped in sometimes desperate family situations. We know that lockdown has accelerated domestic abuse. We know that the effects of this collapse will hang over us for a generation.

Women are the most likely to be caring for loved ones, to have lost a job and had their finances ravaged by the economic impact. Children are isolated from friends and missing vital schooling, and students are watching a future recede.

Yet, tonight, the First Minister chose to respond to none of that. Instead she sought to reassure an increasingly angry and emotional niche group in her party wedded to identity politics.

Scotland today is beset. This is not entirely the fault of the First Minister. However, she is answerable for serious failures and concerns in the party and in Government. The decision to make this film will be judged as illustrative of her priorities and principles and will not reflect well upon the First Minister, her party, or on Scotland.

To put this in context, the Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has repeatedly dismissed concerns that women who wish to debate proposed Gender Recognition Act reforms and the impact on women’s rights would be criminalised in hate crime law. Today, he proposed the most minor amendment to the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill to allow women the right to continue to debate the implications.

The furious reaction of certain activists confirmed all our fears that many were planning to use this new blasphemy law to persecute women for the crimes of discussing women’s health, rights, bodies and safe spaces. Our worst fears realised.

Some time ago, Women’s Spaces in Scotland asked the Scottish Government to provide guarantees that women would be able to continue to have this conversation. Despite soothing words from civil servants, nothing concrete was forthcoming.

In the run up to the last consultation, For Women Scotland, the largest women’s rights organisation in Scotland, repeatedly asked if we could meet the First Minister – who claims that she supports open conversation on this topic – to discuss the impact of self-ID. She would not meet us.

Ms Sturgeon has chosen to frame her remarks as a response to “transphobia”, but no transphobia that would be covered by her party’s own Bill has been evidenced by the First Minister. Of course we can understand a leader’s desire to placate younger, fiercer members of her party, but she has an equal responsibility to listen to her female members and to denounce the young party members who openly abuse women on social media.

Our offer to meet – under the current difficult circumstances over Zoom might be best – remains open.

Women want better.

George Watson’s College – Staff Transgender Training

A member of the public recently attended the school’s transgender training webinar for teachers. As expected, much of the content is of concern, in that it unquestionably affirms gender identity ideology and breaches the Equality Act provision for single-sex facilities. The host from LGBT Youth Scotland also revealed that the long overdue replacement transgender guidance for schools will be published shortly and that, contrary to the Cabinet Secretary’s statement, it has not been written by the Scottish Government, but is an extension of LGBT Youth’s current guidance – which was previously deemed “not legal” by Ministers.

We were also rather surprised to see several pupils on the webinar video, given that it was a staff training session. This was particularly worrying given the lax security around signing up for the webinar.

The transcript is as follows:

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FWS Statement on the Vote for Lamont Amendment

FWS are delighted by Jeane Freeman’s decision to back Johann Lamont’s amendment to the Forensic Medical Services Bill. This Bill provides for improved services and much needed support and reassurance for survivors of sexual violence. It was overwhelmingly clear from the powerful testimony given at Stage 1 that one of the most crucial things for survivors was the ability to request a female examiner. 

During this period, FWS noticed a detail which we felt required attention: while the documents accompanying the Bill, including the SPICe Briefing and the Policy Memorandum refer to the sex of the medical examiner, the Bill’s Explanatory Notes stated that a victim could request that the person carrying out the medical examination be of a specified gender. This originates from Section 9 of the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014:

We therefore submitted a letter to the Health and Sport Committee suggesting that clarity would better be achieved by substituting the word sex for gender and the Committee agreed with our recommendation.

At a time when the Scottish Government was considering definitions of sex and gender, we felt it was crucial that this Bill was not, retrospectively, held to mean anything other than allowing women the right to request a female examiner. We also believed that if sex, which is a protected characteristic, were specified it would put an obligation on employers to ensure they used the genuine occupational requirement to recruit female staff.

The subsequent campaign for this amendment has been inspired by the outstanding women who gave evidence and those who wrote yesterday to MSPs. We know how difficult this has been and how much it has cost them to relive their experiences. In legislation and services which deal with the impact of such violence, these women’s voices should always be heard. This campaign has never been about politics or linguistic quibbles – it has, first and last, been about them.

We are also so grateful to Johann Lamont who went into battle for these women and we are thankful to the Health Secretary and all the parliamentarians who decided that six words “for the word gender, substitute sex” could make a world of difference.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Dear MSPs…from survivors

The following letter was sent to all MSPs on 09 December, regarding the Lamont amendment to the Forensic Medical Service Bill to ensure survivors of rape and sexual assault are afforded the right to choose the “sex”, and not “gender” of their medical examiner:

Dear Members of the Scottish Parliament,

We are a group of female survivors of male sexual violence and we are writing to you all to express our support for Johann Lamont’s amendment to the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) Bill and to share our disappointment that Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS) has submitted a briefing opposing this amendment. In our view this briefing misrepresents the importance of the amendment and survivors’ understanding of the bill.

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Reaction to Lamont amendment

The following was taken from our Twitter thread:

Sadly, today we have seen something of a push-back on Twitter to the amendment to the Forensic Medical Services Bill, including some unpleasant comments or misrepresentations of the motivation of the brave women who raised this as an issue in the first instance.

One of these dirty tactics has been to suggest this is an attempt to derail the whole bill. This is disgraceful fear mongering. The bill is, in the main, excellent & will make things a little easier at a terrible time. No one wishes this not to pass – they just want it perfect.

It has also been said that it doesn’t matter if sex or gender is used. In fact, sex is legally defined and gender is not (although orgs and Gov accept it is distinct from sex), so, if you want legal clarity and for the bill to be future-proofed, it really does matter.

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#SixWords

This is the proposed six word amendment to the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill which will be heard in the Stage 3 debate on Thursday 10th December.

The Bill aims to improve services for those who have experienced rape or sexual assault by allowing access to a forensic medical examination without the need to report to the police. It was clear from the evidence given to the Health and Sport Committee at Stage 1 that it was very important to victims to be able to access a female medical examiner.

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History of Women and Hate Crime Law

A gender aggravator to crimes was first mooted in the Draft Criminal Code for Scotland some seventeen years ago. Later the same year Robin Harper MSP lodged an amendment to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 to make provision for offences aggravated by disability, sexual orientation, age and gender. Mr Harper’s amendment was not accepted but did lead to the establishment of a Working Group to further consider what improvements could be made to hate crime legislation.

Members of this Working Group included representatives from Equality Network, Stonewall and Engender. 102 individuals and groups responded to the main consultation (although both Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid withheld their submissions from publication). A Hate Crime Report was published in October 2004 detailing 14 recommendations for the Government – protection for transgender identity was in, along with sexual orientation and disability, but women were out.

The minutes of the meetings of the Working Group seem to be lost to the archives but the final report does indicate that a number of women’s groups called for the characteristic of gender to be added, in opposition to the views of the Scottish Executive’s Violence Against Women Unit:

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Women and the Hate Crime Bill: Nothing about us without us

On Tuesday 24th November For Women Scotland will give evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee on the controversial Hate Crime and Public Order Bill.

In our written submission, we made clear our objection to Part 2 of the bill, which seeks to extend the offence of stirring up hatred, but also our objection to the non-inclusion of ‘sex’ as a protected characteristic.

There have already been three oral evidence sessions and we have been closely monitoring the discussions.

Across the three sessions, there have been a total of 32 witnesses, two thirds of whom were men. The Committee, of course, has limited control over the make-up of the panels, but we note that, once again, women have been outnumbered in discussions about an important aspect of law reform that will impact them.

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Letter to Health and Sport Committee

Following the confusion about sex and gender after media reports on the Committee’s meeting to scrutinise the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill, we wrote the following letter to the Committee on 26th June. It has now been published on the Committee’s page. A copy has also been sent to the Sex and Gender in Data Working Group.

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