This article is part of a series of interviews featuring international perspectives on the ramifications of the concept of ‘gender identity’ within public policy. We are grateful to all the women who have agreed to be interviewed. Their perspectives will sometimes disagree, which enriches the series. Most importantly, thank you to Dominican newspaper El Caribe for its commitment to support women’s right to discuss public policy openly and without censorship.
November 25th is fast approaching. The Proyecto de Ley que crea el Sistema Integral para la Prevención, Atención, Sanción y Erradicación de la violencia contra las Mujeres (a violence against women law Project), put forth by senator Felix Bautista, has been in the works for the past eight years. It promises, among other important women’s rights advancements, to enshrine the rights of Dominican women, on the basis of sex, into law. Inches away from approval, it is the transparent fruit of consensus and highest ideals our National Congress should aspire to.
That being said, this is not the law project that the government, several sectors of civil society nor international organisations are interested in. As evidence, we have the Gender Commission at the Chamber of Deputies, which has recently decided to introduced the exact same law project, from scratch, with the difference that their law project imposes women’s rights based on ‘gender identity’.
In the coming days, when the depressingly familiar, yearly programming around the International Day to End Violence Against Women begins in full swing, I wonder: which version of the law project will the women’s organisations decide to promote?
Let’s hear from two political campaigns which exist precisely to stand up to their respective governments in their attempts to impose the concept of ‘gender identity’ within public policy and national laws, without public debate or consensus. We are referring to New Zealand’s Speak Up for Women and Australia’s Victoria Women’s Guild.
Raquel Rosario Sánchez: Dear colleagues, thank you for this interview. How did your political campaigns come about and who are the members involved?
Speak Up for Women: We are a diverse, and non-partisan group of ordinary New Zealanders. We have a range of people involved including teachers, nurses, mothers, doctors, lawyers, students, artists, people in communications and marketing, academics, retired workers, unemployed workers, journalists and unionists.
Victoria Women’s Guild: Twelve of us formed the Victorian Women’s Guild this year. Since then, we have made quite an impact in a very short time and with very small numbers! Most of us, but not all, are university educated. We have a practicing lawyer, an academic in philosophy, qualified social workers, teachers, straight women, lesbians, long term political activists for women, the environment and indigenous rights. Our ages range from 30s to 70s – so quite a diverse group of women committed to radical feminist ideals.
RRS: My understanding is that a similar Birth, Death and Marriage Registration bill was a major cataclysm for both New Zealand and Australian feminist activism, on different sides of the debate. How did you all meet each other?
SUFW: Many of us connected through social media (seeing comments and discussions on Facebook and Twitter), as well as through social and political connections. We began with a shared concern about the impact of gender identity politics (including sex self-identification) on the rights of women and girls. We are very conscious that there is no one advocating for women across the board. Traditional women’s groups now focus heavily on gender identity and there is a lack of services and advocates for women.
VWG: The Victorian Women’s Guild formed out of a group of local radical women who had been conversing via the Australian Radical Feminist Facebook Page, which has been running for a few years. But yes, we were propelled into group organizing with a sense of urgency around the proposed Victorian Government 2019 amendments to the Birth, Deaths and Marriages Registration Bill.
RRS: Now, why organise a political campaign? Did you try approaching legislators and policy makers individually to express your concerns? If so, what was their response?
VWG: Unfortunately, the Bill passed in Victoria this past September with full amendments. That being said, we were the only voice questioning and making people think more deeply about the implications. We mobilised and organised within a few weeks and in that time achieved:
- Individual and VWG letters to every Victorian politician
- Meetings with politicians who agreed to see us, either as individual constituents or as representatives of VWG. The politicians who listened were educated in ways they hadn’t considered. This resulted in concerns regarding the proposed Bill, which were raised in parliament
- We organised a forum at the University of Melbourne with key academic experts to speak to the issues raised in this proposed Bill amendment. “ARE WOMEN’S RIGHTS BEING RAISED? The Future of Sex-Based Rights” was held on 8 August 2019. Over 200 members of the public attended, including two politicians. Thanks to the approximately 100 pro-trans rights protestors outside, the Victoria Women’s Guild were highlighted in the state and national media.
SUFW: Speak Up for Women began specifically to oppose sex self-identification legislation and we knew it would take an organised campaign to succeed. These changes were not signaled when the Bill was first introduced to Parliament, and were not subject of proper policy analysis, impact studies or public consultation. As individuals, we had limited traction with MPs regarding the dangers of the proposed Bill, so we campaigned to raise public awareness in order to pressure the government to respond. And it worked.
RRS: What were your concerns about the proposed reform of the law?
VWG: We are concerned that it would allow people to change the official record of their sex by making a statutory declaration that they believe their sex as to be nominated. Moreover, nominated sex is not limited to ‘male’ or ‘female’; it could be any term, as long as it is not offensive or too long. We questioned what this change would mean for data collection? For example, tracking sex equality outcomes, or for crime statistics? What would be the implications for access to women’s single-sex spaces, or for measures put in place to tackle women’s underrepresentation? Similar amendments are being considered state by state in Australia, so it’s a state by state issue rather than a Federal battle. Victorian women had not even been consulted on these proposed changes.
SUFW: Our concern was that it would have meant that any person could change the sex recorded on their birth certificate, by a simple administrative process. There would be no need for any medical evidence or even a change in appearance. We argue that this would produce unintended consequences for women and girls. For example, in relation to: access to single-sex spaces and services (changing rooms, schools, Girl Guides, prisons, shelters and crisis centres); meaningful records and statistics (crime, health, employment, pay gap); female sports; and female scholarships and quotas.
RRS: As a women’s rights organisation, how would you describe the state of women’s rights in your country?
VWG: In Australia, women’s rights have definitely taken a backwards step as result of this amended Bill, which has been the result of trans ideology becoming mainstream and insisting on erasing women’s language and rights to safe same-sex spaces. (Note: this particular Bill is a State by State issue rather than National, with Tasmania having already passed the Bill prior to Victoria).
For example, women’s health organizations are changing their language to accommodate those who may not be women but who identify as women, or women who identify as men but still menstruate and can bear children. Language like ‘chest feeding’, ‘menstruating people’ etc. Many public buildings have done away with sex segregated toilets. The context for this erasure is that at least one woman a week is killed in Australia, usually by a domestic male partner. As with women the world over, whatever we gain, we have to continue to fight to maintain.
SUFW: In law, women have formal equality in New Zealand but in practice there is still inequality. There is still a pay gap of around 10 percent and women still do most of the unpaid work in society. Our abortion law is antiquated but is likely to be significantly improved by the current government. Compared to other developed countries there are high rates of violence against women in NZ. Between 33% to 39% of New Zealand women experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.
RRS: Around the world, the irony seems to be that the task of dismantling women and girls’ sex-based rights has been handed to the established feminists organisations who appear hellbent on promoting these set of policies. What do you make of that?
SUFW: Correct. There have been many women’s groups in New Zealand who have gone along with this ideology, from university student feminist groups to the long-established National Council of Women. This has not been a democratic or deeply considered process, it has been a fairly rapid turnabout. There are several factors at play, but third wave feminism with its focus on individualism and boundless intersectionality, has adopted much of gender ideology’s dogmas.
RRS: Would the amendments to this bill, and presumably similar public policy, have implications for children? If so, do you see any harm in the narrative that some children are “born in the wrong body”? Some parents would argue that their child was born trans (for example, a boy who was keen on so-called girly toys or vice versa).
VWG: Yes, of course. Now this Bill has been passed, there is a push for children to be able to access hormone treatment without parental consent. The increase in girls wanting to transition in Victoria had risen 41% in the last two years. As in the UK, some psychologists are standing up to this alarming trend. The whole medical profession, connected to transgender services, are being advised to positively go along with a young person’s perceived gender identity without question. Examining co-morbidities is discouraged. Puberty blocking is seen as necessary to a child’s mental health. Any questioning of trans ideology by any individual or group is viewed a transphobic by the trans community, the most vocal coming, not surprisingly from transwomen i.e. men.
RRS: But what would you suggest to parents whose child experiences distress about their sex and worry that if they don’t comply with puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, their child might harm themselves or worse?
SUFW: That thinking is already widespread in the health and education sectors, although most of the public are unaware of the ideology and how far it has permeated the institutions. There has been a dramatic rise in the number of children being identified as trans. In one region, the number seen at the Endocrine Clinic rose from 2 children in 1990 to 92 children in 2016.
There is growing evidence that this is social contagion and we are also concerned that self-diagnosis of being transgender is highly correlated with untreated serious mental health conditions, and that a significant number of these children are on the autistic spectrum. Puberty blockers are already being used in New Zealand in the Public Health System on children 10 years old and over. New Zealand teenagers and young people are being prescribed cross-sex hormones, and even surgery, well before they have any real understanding of the decisions they are making.
Cross-sex hormones make life long changes to secondary sexual characteristics and, of course, surgery on healthy body parts is both invasive and permanent. For many young people a temporary belief that they are the opposite sex is a developmental phase, and most become lesbian or gay as adults.
VWG: There is scientific proof that the great majority of children, if kept away from puberty blockers, go through their biological puberty and come out the other end less harmed than they would have otherwise. Being unsure of one’s identity and where one ‘fits in’ is a natural part of growing up. Children’s and adolescent’s brains are not mature enough to make such irreversible decisions. Statistics also suggest that gender transition does not cure suicidal ideation. Also, the result of hormones, especially those taken before puberty, have irreversible consequences and can result in serious medical side effects, such as low bone density.
RRS: Tell us about the censorship you experienced early on in your campaign, when your promotional posters got taken down. What was the response from the public to your campaign, both pre-censorship and after the news got out that your posters were taken down?
SUFW: It’s not just the posters. Gender identity activists have tried to deplatform us and stop us holding public meetings. We have had to change venues on several occasions. Some Green MPs have sought to shut down the debate by demonising critics in inflammatory terms, using manipulative and irresponsible references to suicide, and by misrepresenting Human Rights law. But you are right, over a hundred of our posters raising awareness of our campaign were taken down, following complaints orchestrated by gender identity activists to the media owner who printed them. There have been threats of physical and sexual violence via social media for speaking out about the implications of sex self-ID.
RRS: Do you have any theories about why this current push to suddenly enshrine ‘gender identity’ into legislations is so forceful worldwide?
VWG: Trans lobbyists are and have been, for the most part, powerful, rich men who have been working at this for years by stealth. The public has only been hearing one side of the story and legislation has been quietly passing in their favour without public scrutiny – until now. As a feminist campaign, we are in the minority and we have a lot of catching up to do. We are up against both patriarchy and capitalism. Pharmaceutical companies, which produce the hormones a trans person must take for the rest of their life, and the surgeons who are experimenting with better ways to modify a body to present as the opposite sex are in it for the big dollars.
SUFW: The trend began in the US and has spread throughout much of the world. Gender identity ideology is strongly influenced by postmodernism and denies material reality. It rides on the success of the gay rights movement and it was promoted as the next big human rights issue. But it was done without thought for women.
The push to enshrine gender identity is also connected to the adoption of a form of ‘privilege theory’, which divides society into an endless number of rankings of individuals based on perceived privilege. This and the growth of identity politics has prepared the ground for gender ideology. In New Zealand, the Green Party has been the main sponsor of this ideology and wants to bulldoze through law changes and to shut down any debate. They have refused to listen to the concerns of women, or to acknowledge that there is a conflict of rights. Most parliamentarians have, with a few notable exceptions, gone along with this.
The way that so many young woke males have taken to this ideology shows how ingrained misogyny is, in society. They get to feel good and progressive while putting the boot in to women. It also creates a market of consumers who will be on lifelong hormones, leading to surgery and medical interventions. We also need to think about that aspect, as well.
RRS: If you could speak to (and they were to listen), what would you say to the political left regarding the way it has handled this issue?
VWG: In Australia, the political left has unquestioningly embraced trans ideology as a human rights issue. They don’t see the danger it poses to women and children’s rights. Those of us with leftist leanings who have also educated ourselves around the dangers of trans ideology are very distressed by this. Our arguments are not listened to because we are immediately labelled as transphobic and ‘violent’ while radical women who march for women’s rights are violently attacked by the trans lobby. The Victorian Greens were wholeheartedly behind the Births, Deaths and Marriages amended Bill. Many leftist liberal women cannot see how their own rights are being erased. Over time, they will see how it plays out for women’s rights.
SUFW: Much of the left, from social democrats to people and groups who formally identify as Marxists, have uncritically adopted gender ideology. To them, we would say: “you have abandoned the cause of women’s liberation.” But there are exceptions and some on the left are defending women’s rights, such as Redline which is a Marxist blog collective, and individual bloggers such as A Communist at Large, Te Whare Whero and Against the Current. There are also feminists such as Broadsheet, a feminist magazine archiving project.
There are significant numbers of people on the left who privately oppose gender ideology but are too afraid of political harassment and ostracism to speak openly. Not a single union leader has spoken up in support of Speak Up for Women or even opposed the threats to women’s rights. Given that context, it is remarkable that we have so far succeeded in getting the government to stop pushing this through and to rethink their ideas about self-ID. We have also managed to stop moves to ban counselling for trans identifying youth.
RRS: Have you suffered any professional or personal repercussions for your activism on this issue?
VWG: Yes, some of us have: from vilification, being blocked on social media, threats to our jobs and even death threats.
RRS: Do you feel like you risked your career or personal reputation by speaking out? If so, what compelled you to voice your opinion?
VWG: Yes, we do. But we are passionate about voicing the dangers posed to women and children. It is our democratic right to stand up for what we believe and this is important. Now more than ever when Australian, and other democracies around the world, are seeing the increasing erasure of human rights on many fronts.
SUFW: Two outspoken members of SUFW have been targeted by gender identity activists and are subject to threats to their employment. There are others who have been outspoken and not faced employer harassment but a lot of personal abuse from people in their social networks. We speak out because gender identity policies are authoritarian and harmful to women and society.
Thank you very much to political campaigns Victoria Women’s Guild in Australia and Speak Up for Women in New Zealand for their contributions. Our next set of interviews will focus on sex-based discrimination.
Raquel Rosario Sánchez is a writer, campaigner and researcher from the Dominican Republic. She specialises in ending male violence against girls and women and is currently pursuing a PhD with the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol.
The original, shorter version of this interview was published by Dominican newspaper El Caribe on November 11th, 2019. You can read it in Spanish here.
Read all the interviews in the El Caribe series on sex and gender identity here