Scottish feminist group says transgender laws risk women's rights
For Women Scotland says government is sleepwalking’ towards erosion of rights
The Scottish government risks sleepwalking towards a significant erosion of women’s rights, according to a group of feminist activists and academics that held its first public meeting in Edinburgh on Thursday evening to discuss proposed changes to transgender legislation.
The group, For Women Scotland, claims that it has support from MSPs across the political spectrum who share their concern that the SNP government is failing to consider adequately the implications for the rights of women and girls of proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004, such as allowing individuals to change their legal sex by means of self-declaration.
When the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, originally pledged to radically reform gender recognition law for trans people in 2016, she said that the move would be as important in her next parliamentary term as equal marriage was to the last. But the proposals were not included in last autumn’s programme for government, which has been taken as an indication of the concern within the SNP.
The intersectional feminist activists Sisters Uncut Edinburgh organised a protest against the meeting, stating: “While For Women Scot do a sterling job of making transphobia look respectable, their actions and statements do real damage to Scotland’s trans and non-binary community.”
Among the 40-strong protest, Red, a charity worker, said: “Groups like this are selling a very weighted narrative, and obscuring the facts. For example, they say that changes to the GRA will allow trans women into women’s spaces, when actually they were allowed before. They are trying to make it seem an immediate and sudden threat.”
Another protester, Cathy, said: “As a trans woman, I feel this whole event is designed to make transphobia appear respectable, and it’s very disingenuous. If a debate is what these people want, then there needs to be mutual respect.”
Speaking to a largely female audience of about 150 within the meeting venue, Susan Smith, of For Women Scotland, said: “We are concerned that the Scottish government is sleepwalking towards a significant erosion of women’s rights, both in terms of proposals to reform the GRA to allow self-identification and the failure to prevent other organisations running ahead of the law and adopting policies which are in breach of the Equality Act.
“We’re not here to quibble about toilets and we’re not here to create trouble for those who have battled crippling gender dysphoria. We welcome extra provisions for other vulnerable groups that don’t involve dismantling existing rights. If we cannot see sex, then we cannot see sexism, we cannot define sexuality, and it is the most vulnerable women who will suffer from this.”
Thursday’s meeting marked the most public expression in Scotland of increasingly vocal concerns around transgender issues.
The meeting also discussed concerns about guidelines for schools, contained in a document, Supporting Transgender Young People, and written in partnership with LGBT Youth Scotland and Scottish Trans Alliance, which say that schoolchildren should be able to compete in the sports events and use changing rooms and toilets for the gender they identify with.
Another feminist campaign group, Women and Girls in Scotland, published their own children’s rights impact analysis earlier this week. It argues that the guidelines undermine 10 articles of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.
On Tuesday, a group of 25 academics, activists and former MSPs signed an open letter calling on Sturgeon to commit to carrying out a full equality impact assessment of the proposed reforms to the GRA. It noted: “Many individuals responding to the consultation raised concerns about how the proposals could affect the practical operation of the single-sex protections under the Equality Act 2010.”
Last month, the Guardian reported on concerns amongst data experts that proposed changes to the question about sex, to be asked in Scotland’s next census, risk undermining the reliability of the survey and set a difficult precedent for equalities protection.