A joint statement by Scottish women’s organisations on women’s sex-based rights and the Scottish Government’s proposal to reform the Gender Recognition Act
This statement has been issued by 14 Scottish grassroots feminist and women’s rights organisations in response to the Scottish Government’s announcement that it intends to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). The First Minister offered an assurance that this new legislation will “not… remove any of the legal protections women currently have”. We welcome that commitment to women’s sex-based rights. However a central feature of the proposed Bill is the introduction of sex self-ID and we do not believe that this can be compatible with the retention of existing women’s rights and protections under the Equality Act 2010. We use the term sex self-id instead of gender self-id because the most significant aspect of obtaining a gender recognition certificate (GRC) is that it allows people to engage in the legal fiction that they have become a member of the opposite sex, despite the biological impossibility of such an action. This contributes to widespread confusion, which makes it increasingly difficult to name, define or identify women, or to protect our single-sex spaces. We therefore call on all MSPs to reject this Bill in its entirety.
We would like to take this opportunity to make clear what the Scottish Government would need to do to ensure this commitment to women is kept.
We demand that women’s voices and experiences are heard and inform any legislative change.
To date the Scottish Government has predominantly engaged with a small selection of publicly funded trans-rights and women’s sector organisations, none of which consult with or claim to represent women’s views. Any legislative change must include meaningful engagement with a wide range of grassroots women’s rights organisations and take fully into account the needs of women.
Any changes to legislation must ensure that protections for women on the basis of our sex are strengthened, rather than weakened.
We oppose sex self-ID as it is detrimental to the overall interests and the sex-based rights of women. It would fundamentally transform our legal, political, social and cultural landscape with no objective assessment or analysis of the consequences for women and girls (or boys).
Removing any medical requirement from the process of obtaining a gender recognition certificate (GRC) would open up the process to abuse. It would be at best naïve and at worst criminally negligent to deny that predatory men will take advantage of any opportunity to gain access to women and girls when they are at their most vulnerable.
Additionally, removing medical diagnosis would remove protections and essential support to individuals considering transition but for whom this may not be the right course of action to deal with the distress they are experiencing.
In recent years, the Scottish Government and many other public organisations, including Police Scotland, the Scottish Prison Service and the NHS, have operated an informal process of sex self-identification, effectively turning single-sex spaces such as hospital wards, prisons, youth hostels and changing rooms, sports, awards and women-only shortlists into mixed-sex provision. These decisions were undertaken with little or no consideration for the effect on women, especially in prisons. The Equality and Human Rights Impact Assessments in these cases are usually not fit for purpose.
Increasing amounts of official data, which ought to record the protected characteristic of sex, are now being collected on the basis of someone’s self-declared gender identity (for example, Police Scotland recording male rapists and sex offenders as ‘female’). This seriously compromises the integrity of the data and makes it even more difficult to develop policies to overcome the disadvantage, oppression and discrimination faced by women.
This self-ID by stealth ignores and undermines the protections offered to women by the Equality Act, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, CEDAW and elsewhere.
We believe everyone should be able to live their lives in safety, free from discrimination or harassment. However, we oppose the introduction of any measures increasing the rights of males who identify as women or other genders to access women’s spaces, services and occupational roles on the basis of such professed identity as this is incompatible with the sex-based rights of women.
The Scottish Government must maintain single-sex spaces for the dignity, privacy, physical, emotional and psychological safety of women and girls.
There has long been a widespread recognition of the need for women-only spaces and facilities. Excluding the entire sex class of males from such provisions for women has, until recently, been entirely uncontroversial, despite the fact that not all males are predatory, violent or present a danger to women. It is a proportionate way to protect women and girls from the minority of males who do present a threat. Furthermore, the exclusion of all males as part of helping traumatised women is a proven feminist approach within the MVAWG (Male Violence Against Women and Girls) sector.
Some males who say they are not men now wish to be given an exemption from this general exclusion. Yet male patterns of offending behaviour do not vary according to gender identity and trans-identified males also retain male physical and social advantages. We believe this is neither fair nor safe for women, and therefore there is no case for allowing them privileged access to women’s spaces and facilities.
The Scottish Government must therefore:
ensure single-sex spaces, facilities and other provisions are fully protected;
strengthen the rights of women to create and access them through clear guidance;
ensure in-depth and thorough Equality and Human Rights Impact Assessments are carried out, especially in sectors and services where sex self-ID has been introduced by stealth ahead of legislation, so that public bodies in Scotland are not potentially in breach of their Public Sector Equality Duty.
The Scottish Government must guarantee that the human rights of women, including those to freedom of speech and assembly, are not adversely affected by legislative change.
We believe all people should be free to define themselves in whatever way they choose. But we reject the demeaning implication, outlined for example in the Gender Representation of Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018, that being a woman can be reduced to a series of pronouns, the name on a utility bill, a haircut or a dress.
Whatever label an individual chooses, the law must acknowledge that men cannot literally become women and women cannot literally become men. Women should not be compelled to act as though this is so, whether in our personal, professional, social or sexual lives.
We call on the Scottish Government to drop its plans to introduce sex self-ID and ask all MSPs to vote against such a Bill as it would have a hugely detrimental impact on women’s rights to safe single-sex spaces and freedom of speech.
“I fully support this statement and commend all the organisations for working closely to send this strong statement. I hope Scottish Government takes note.”
“I wholeheartedly support these women’s organisations in asking the Scottish Government to look again at the SelfID proposed under a review of the GRA. 51% of the electorate in Scotland are women – adult human females and I absolutely object to the definition of my sex category to behind redefined to include men who insist on being called women, even though there is no biological evidence to prove this . Dressing up as a woman will never make them women but they want access to women and girls spaces, Women/females absolutely object to this. If you were so certain that the women of Scotland will agree to this then why don’t you do a consultation with adult female women who live in Scotland, not organisations and individuals with vested interests. Women are not giving up on this and your party will be very foolish to pursue a policy that WILL put women at risk.”
“I will be proud to sign this declaration calling on our elected representatives to scrap the GRA review. I believe the introduction of ‘self-id’ is dangerous in many respects. I expressed this in my response to the consultation exercise on the GRA reform. It does nothing to help people with gender dysphoria who need specialist mental health care and not immediate affirmation. Autogynephilia among men is a condition that needs to be more widely recognised and treated. The fact that the cult of trans ideology seeks to stymie any discussion should be enough of a red flag to our government to halt the Bill and take much more time to explore the potential consequences. There are plenty of cases in Canada and America to be examined. Cases of men self-identifying their way into women’s prisons and shelters where they go on to assault and rape female inmates.”
Women Speak Scotland is publishing a ‘Manifesto for Women’s Rights in Scotland’ on International Women’s Day (8 March) ahead of the Holyrood election on 6 May. The Manifesto demands the protection and implementation of women’s human and legal rights. WSS will invite all parliamentary candidates to support it.
The Manifesto affirms women’s sex-based human rights, which are enshrined in international treaties and national legislation. It includes rights related to:
Safety and Privacy
Health and Bodily Autonomy
Freedom of Speech and Association
Fairness in Sport
Freedom from Male Violence and Exploitation
Young Women and Girls
WSS says the Scottish Government must make a commitment to uphold women’s rights, regardless of which party/parties form the next administration. WSS believes the Manifesto is necessary because recent years have seen the gradual erosion of women’s rights. A spokeswoman for the group said “Women have been fighting for our rights for over 100 years but now we are facing a serious backlash. We are seeing the advances we’ve made being watered down or removed one by one. Public bodies and organisations too often dismiss women’s concerns. Many organisations now routinely confuse ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ which has the effect of reducing or removing women’s rights.
“The Scottish Government appears to be mounting an attack on women’s rights. For example, it has recently redefined the term ‘women’ to include men in relation to the Gender Representation on Public Boards Act. The Act was intended to address the historical under-representation of women on these boards, but is seriously undermined by allowing males to take places designated for women.
“The Hate Crime Bill proposed by the Scottish Government is in its final stage and will be debated at Holyrood on Wednesday. WSS is very concerned that the Government is refusing to offer protection to female victims who are attacked because of their sex despite widespread support for this measure. As it stands, the Bill will criminalise women advocating for our sex-based rights, including the maintenance of existing legal rights. So the WSS Manifesto demand for the protection of the right to freedom of speech is essential.
“We seem to be on a slippery slope which risks making women invisible both to the law and in national statistics. For example, there is a suggestion that the next Census in Scotland will not record the population according to our sex, even though this is crucial for planning many services, or identifying inequalities such as the sex pay gap. WSS is determined to reverse this trend and make sure the voices of the majority of women in Scotland are heard.
“Scottish Parliamentary candidates should be aware that women’s votes count – we are nearly 52% of the electorate – and we intend to make sure that women’s rights and concerns are not ignored during this election, nor by the incoming government.
“We also hope the Manifesto will empower those women who aren’t yet confident being involved in politics or activism, to feel able to engage in conversation with candidates in their constituencies, by providing information about some of the most important issues facing us at present.”
Copies of the Manifesto can be downloaded from the WSS website from 8 March onwards.
Wonderful messages written on slates have been appearing all over Scotland, thanks to some adventurous women. Do you think you can spot some of the slates for yourselves? If you do, share your pictures on Twitter with the hashtag #WomenWontWheest.
You can view all the pictures on our Flickr photostream and we have also grouped many of them into albums by areas around Scotland. WSS takes no credit for the Slate Women campaign. We are simply collecting together images of the efforts of women taking action by themselves and with others.
You can join the campaign too! Scotland is never short of slates. Find a few pieces, give them a good clean and then write messages on them using paint. It can be about women’s rights, freedom of speech, quotes from books, or your thoughts and concerns in your own words. Place the slates in locations where you think other people might come across them. If you are able to, you can drill some holes around the edges of the slates so they can be secured with plastic ties to help them stay in place.
Take pictures of your artistic accomplishment (make sure you zoom in so the written message is easy to read) and send them to us at email@example.com with a rough idea of the location. We will add it to the rest of the online collection.
There is a template available at the For Women Scotland website to help parents write their own emails to John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Education, about several concerning aspects of the Relationship, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) material.
It would be great if as many parents as possible were to do this. The example letter does a great job of outlining the main issues – and they are pretty worrying.
To those in Scotland – please email your MSPs as a matter of urgency.
MurrayBlackburnMackenzie have summarised the current state of issues around the upcoming census in March 2021 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and March 2022 for Scotland.
To quote from their blog post:
All three census authorities have committed to the longstanding, compulsory sex question, which will continue to enable respondents to answer either ‘female’ or ‘male’. In addition, the census in England, Wales and Scotland will carry a new, voluntary question on gender identity.
The three census authorities also intend to include accompanying guidance which advises respondents to answer the sex question based on their self-declared gender identity, not their sex.
The sex question guidance in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has not yet been finalised, and is currently subject to further testing by ONS. But, whilst the census has been delayed in Scotland, the National Records of Scotland (NRS) appear to be treating the guidance as a done deal. Whether the recent assessment by the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) will prompt NRS to reopen discussion on the guidance remains to be seen. There is still also the possibility of ONS either altering or dropping its guidance as a result of further testing, which NRS will need to factor into its decision-making.
WE NEED TO EMAIL OUR MSPS
Lisa Mackenzie (from MBM) emphasised we have a very tiny window available in Scotland as the guidance was meant to be completed by the “end of the summer”, but she hasn’t seen anything yet. So, it is worth us emailing our MSPs now as a highest priority. It is possible we may just have weeks to comment on the guidance and get it changed (apparently it is not covered by legislation so should be “easier” to influence if our interpretation is correct).
Woman’s Place UK have a template to help guide people to write to their MPs, the ONS and the UK Minister for Women and Equalities about the proposed guidance to accompany the sex question in the census. You can use it as a starting point to email your MSPs.
Some further points that you could include and expand in your own words:
It is vital that all census data should be accurate and consistent across the UK. We should know that sex in England and Wales and Northern Ireland means the same thing in Scotland, otherwise provision of services, funding, health initiatives, etc in one nation cannot be compared to the others in the union. The data gathered will be meaningless if we all mean different things, and trying to combine data from all nations into UK wide statistics will be a pointless exercise.
A census is an exercise in accurate data collections and knowing what you are measuring is vital. Any confusion or ambiguity helps no-one – robust data will help trans people too as it will give policy makers and researchers a better understanding of the demographics involved and where there might be gaps in the provision of services.
It is said that some trans people, or at least those that claim to be speaking for them, do not want to admit they are trans, so filling in their sex accurately is associated with the unpleasant emotions it provokes. The ONS and NRS have responded by changing the guidance so you can basically declare whatever sex you want. However, if a census is a data collection exercise and a group of people don’t want to be measured then we shouldn’t be measuring them if the consequence is ruining the accuracy of the data.
The state should not be actively guiding people to answer sex as gender identity – we need robust, high quality data for men and women to address any discrimination and disadvantage experienced on the basis of sex. As seen with COVID-19, men may be dying at higher rates as a result of the virus, while women may suffer as result of policy consequences due to the pandemic. Sex is a significant measurement of disadvantages and discrimination. It is unethical to collect inaccurate data – we need to be able to understand differences of outcomes in people’s lives, we need to be able to monitor trends between sexes, to design evidence-based policies and determine if such implemented polices are successful.
You can use the WriteToThem website to email your MSPs.