The fight by women has just begun and Scotland is at the forefront

The rapid growth of a vibrant movement of women in Scotland has been inspirational, and to see that movement properly represented by incredibly brave politicians moves us beyond words. We recall our Edinburgh meeting held in association with Women’s Spaces in Scotland in February 2018, outside of which transactivist protestors banged pots and pans, in an effort to drown out women’s voices, including those of survivors of sexual abuse. 

We are therefore delighted to publish the statement of Joan McAlpine MSP on the announcement in Holyrood on Reforming the Gender Recognition Act:

 

There is much to welcome in Shirley-Anne Somerville’s statement on reforming the Gender Recognition Act. It is a significant win for the independent grassroots female rights groups who have worked so hard to point out the flaws in the rush towards ‘sex self-identification’.

Women and Girls Scotland, Susan Sinclair of Scottish Women and For Women Scotland should all take credit for campaigning so hard, with no funds at all, to achieve some of these concessions. It was a real David and Goliath struggle when you consider that they were up against professional campaign groups who receive six figure funding packages from government.

It’s very good news that the draft bill will be subject to a full consultation including, crucially, a full Equality Impact Assessment. The ‘partial’ EQIA for the previous consultation was described as “very poor”. In my experience, Equality Impact Assessments are variable in quality. This one needs to be rigorous and look carefully at the impact on women through the protected characteristic of sex.

The EQIA should also look at how the protected characteristics of religion and belief and sexual orientation might be impacted by changes in the law. I am thinking particularly of religious women and lesbian women who wish to exclude people born male from social activities.

I also welcome the government’s decision to replace the LGBT Youth Scotland transgender guidance for schools, which was shown to have a negative impact on the privacy and dignity of girls, as well as the government’s recognition that statistics on sex matters. For too long public authorities have failed to distinguish between sex and gender and this must change. I hope the working group set up to consider this will advise a change in the collection of crime statistics according to sex self-identification. It should be possible for people to choose a gender marker in addition to biological sex.

I continue to oppose the proposal that will allow any man to identify as a female, without the current medical diagnosis, and change the sex on their birth certificate. Most people identifying as ‘transwomen’ still have male genitals. I asked the Cabinet Secretary if this would mean that someone with a history of violence against women could change sex and she seemed to indicate that he could. I think most women will find this offensive.

The GRA gives such people privacy protections. While the Cabinet Secretary pointed out that disclosure certificates would legally oblige someone who committed a crime under a previous gender identity to reveal this, that is only in certain circumstances, such as applying for work. Such a person could still present themselves as female in many other aspects of life.

The Cabinet Secretary pointed out that gender recognition has been around since 2005 and did not require medical treatment. This is quite correct, but it was intended for transsexuals, which is what the European Court of Human Rights ruling of 2002 on which it was based actually spelled out. It did not insist on hormones or surgery because it was argued that some people may not be able to do that for health reasons. The gatekeeping of a medical diagnoses was and is an appropriate safeguard. The Cabinet Secretary talked about the penalties for someone falsely declaring themselves transgender. But since we no longer have any definition of transgender, as there is no diagnosis or evaluation process, I cannot see how this would work.

I am pleased the Cabinet Secretary emphasised that the Equality Act 2010 Single Sex Exemptions for women would remain in place. These exemptions are wide ranging. However, her emphasis on this was very different from the message being put out by the government’s third sector Equality partners. Scottish Trans Alliance, The Equality Network and their supporters have repeatedly said that transwomen can access single sex spaces already, and the exemptions are extremely limited. The TIE letter, which was widely publicised, also made this erroneous claim. This is wrong as many lawyers have pointed out. I hope they will now heed the Cabinet Secretary’s statement that women have a legal right to their own space and services. This is not just to ensure safety, but privacy, dignity and personal choice.

Unfortunately, because of a long running misinformation campaign, most organisations do not understand single sex exemptions and do not enforce them, hence the ludicrous guidance in Glasgow about allowing cross-dressing males to access female classes and changing rooms. I asked the Cabinet Secretary to review how the Equality Act works in Scotland and to issue guidance. She pointed out it is reserved, which is quite right. But there is no reason why the government cannot review how it operates to ensure women’s sex-based rights are honoured. I intend to follow up on this point in writing.

I hope the consultation examines the term “international best practice”. This term has been defined by trans activists, not women. Who decides best practice? Some of the countries that have introduced self-ID do not have strong women’s movements or women’s rights.  For example, Malta and Argentina have very restricted access to abortions. Ireland has extensive opt-outs from self-ID on the basis of sex. All this needs to be forensically examined. What we do know is that “internationally” women are only now fighting back against creeping sex self-identification caused by well-funded lobby groups capturing policy at high levels. The fight against this by women has just begun and Scotland is at the forefront.

Feminists believe gender is a social construct, not an inner feeling in one’s head. People should be able to express their gender in any way they wish, but their biological sex is immutable and important for all sorts of things, not least healthcare. But there is a more fundamental reason still why women have concerns. Gender identity presumes a set of stereotypes linked to sex, the idea of ‘boy things’ and ‘girl things’, which is not progressive.

Women cannot identify out of FGM or maternal mortality or the gender pay gap. Neither are we defined by our sex. One of the strengths of feminism since the 1960s has been women’s ability to organise as a sex class by excluding men. That could be everything from consciousness raising, assertiveness training, to political or cultural activity. Including males in these groups can change the dynamic as they have been socialised in a different way, have different experiences and, to put it bluntly, they can dominate. That does not necessarily change if they identify as female.

If women wish to welcome trans-identifying males into these circles then that is, of course, fine. But they must also have a right to exclude them if they wish. Women are socialised to be passive, accommodating and nice. They are pressurised to do things that make them feel uncomfortable. Feminism is about telling women to be assertive and stand up for themselves.

They should not be ‘gaslighted’ into putting male feelings before female rights.

And they should certainly not be pressurised into believing that a man who says he is a woman is somehow more marginalised than women themselves.

That just turns oppression on its head.

Joan McAlpine MSP

 

WPUK share the concerns of Joan McAlpine MSP that single-sex exemptions are underused and inadequately understood and that ‘international best practice’ has been used in an effort around the world to introduce legislation without adequate scrutiny .

We are pleased to hear the Scottish Government commitment to proper scrutiny and consultation. As McAlpine says, “it is a significant win for the unfunded independent grassroots female rights groups”.

Scottish women made this happen and all major political parties should pay attention to the strength of feeling amongst women voters.

Find out more about the grassroots female rights groups in Scotland:

Women and Girls Scotland

For Women Scotland

Scottish Women

Read the WPUK submission to on the Scottish GRA Consultation

 

WPUK & Toilets

There has been much speculation about the expectations we have for the use of toilets at our meetings.

Below is the explanation we gave to Norwich Quakers when they asked us to clarify our position:

“There is no specific law relating to the provision of single sex toilets for adults.

However, provisions in the Equality Act 2010 allow for the application of single sex exemptions if it is “a proportionate response to a legitimate aim”.

Our position on the use of toilets is to ensure that everyone should have access to facilities that they feel safe and comfortable in.

This paragraph from the Quaker Life Central Committee (QLCC) draft discussion paper is in line with this position:

“We note that shared spaces such as toilets, changing and sleeping areas can cause anxieties and concerns for people. We believe that no-one should have to use shared spaces which do not feel comfortable to them. In a context of systemic male violence, particularly towards women, we are especially minded to examine the potential adverse impact of any policy on women and girls and to make efforts to remedy this. All Quaker premises and events ought to provide facilities which everyone feels safe and comfortable using. The usage of these facilities must be clearly defined and communicated and must offer choice for the individual.”

We ask attendees to use the toilets relating to their sex.

There are many reasons why women in particular expect to access single sex provision and, as a women’s rights group, we feel it is important to demonstrate the right women have to establish clear boundaries.

However, this became a particular priority after representations made to us by female survivors of sexual and domestic violence attending our events who were distressed at sharing toilets with people they experienced as male. As statistics show that 1/5 UK women have suffered sexual violence, this is a matter of real concern to us.

We therefore make sure that the venues we book offer either single occupancy unisex toilets as well as those designated male and female such as is available at the Norwich Quaker’s House.”

Also read:

Why ‘gender-neutral’ toilets don’t work for women

Mixed-sex toilets in schools

 

 

 

Stand up, speak out: Julie Bindel

Julie Bindel is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and researcher active in the global campaign to end violence towards women and children since 1979. She is talking here at the 22nd meeting of Woman’s Place UK.

Watch the film of Julie speaking at #WPUKLondon

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I want to first give a big shout out to Woman’s Place, one of the most principled feminist organisations anywhere.

And my next point is about the female penis. Last year I was in Australia doing a book tour. So there were feminists were at the book tour and those Australian feminists say it as it is.

We were complaining about the liberal press and in particular one feature in one particular liberal broadsheet. They were reporting on the case of Karen White, the sex offender, child abuser, natal man who suggested to the prison service that he was in fact a transwoman and ended up assaulting, sexually assaulting, women in prison. These are the most vulnerable, assaulted women on the planet. One line stood out for me: “Her erect penis was visible above her tights.” And this Australian full-on lesbian turned to me and said, “The only time that her penis should be used in a sentence is when a woman has castrated her rapist and she’s holding it up.”

So I want to start a brief whistle-stop tour of my experience with the “trans Taliban”. It was in 2003, when I wrote my first article and the year before the Gender Recognition Act.

In 2003 I saw a small report in a tabloid newspaper about a teacher who had left her primary school as Miss, and was returning the following term as Mr, having gone through sex reassignment surgery. The press said she had had a sex-change and I realised I had not read anything in the British press about the misdiagnosis or the madness of transgenderism. I decided, having found absolutely nothing in the press about it to date, to write a feature on the diagnosis of transsexuality, and how misogynistic psychiatrists in the 1950s had come up with the notion of being “trapped in the wrong body”.

They were, as we know, anti-gay and anti-lesbian and totally reliant on sex stereotypes
In the piece I quoted a forensic psychiatrist called Fiona Mason, who I knew to be a feminist and who was expert on the effects of sexual violence on women and girls. She said:

‘I can’t imagine assessing anyone suffering from a serious disorder in under three hours. It can take three years to assess patients with complex problems. The trouble with some private clinics is that the patients are just given hormones after an hour-long appointment, which can have an irreversible effect on the body.”

I quoted the best known psychiatrist for diagnosing transsexuality, Russell Reid, who some years later would end up being forced to stop practising by the General Medical Council after it was discovered that he took approximately 45 minutes to diagnose someone as transsexual, before referring them for surgery and hormones. Many of his former patients regretted going through sex change surgery, including my friend Claudia, a great ally, who was one of his victims back in the 1980s.

And here I have to say that we cannot possibly ignore the fact that many natal males who live as the opposite sex – with hormones and surgery – are also victims of this hideous medical malpractice based on women’s oppression. Some suffer through this, and I hate hearing language used to demean people who’ve been through this – who are, to some degree, victims of patriarchy.

I wrote:

“In 2000 Reid was involved in controversy over the condition known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), where sufferers can experience a desperate urge to rid themselves of a limb. Reid was one of the psychiatrists who referred two patients with BDD to a surgeon for leg amputations. ‘When I first heard of people wanting amputations it seemed bizarre in the extreme,’ he said ‘but then I thought, “I see transsexuals and they want healthy parts of their body removed in order to adjust to their idealised body image”, and so I think that was the connection for me. I saw that people wanted to have their limbs off with equally as much degree of obsession and need.”

In the 2003 piece I also mentioned children. I wrote:

“Particularly disturbing is the apparent impunity with which children are diagnosed with ‘gender identity disorder’. Mermaids, a support group for children and teenagers with GID, has seen a dramatic increase in enquiries since it opened its doors in 1993. Children as young as 14 are receiving sex-change treatment, including being prescribed drugs to block the onset of puberty. Transsexualism is the only psychiatric or medical condition where the patients can, to all intents and purposes, diagnose themselves.”

The next year I left my job in academic research to do journalism full time and was asked to write a couple of columns for the Guardian weekend magazine. I had heard about the hellish legal case that Vancouver Rape Relief had been going through for 10 years that had recently concluded in their favour. A transsexual male called Kimberley Nixon had taken out a case against this absolutely superb organisation and on a “human rights” ticket, claiming to have been discriminated against because he wasn’t being invited to counsel rape victims because he had decided that he was a woman.

It was clearly a setup because the day after it was politely explained to him that he could not play this role, the human rights organisation in British Columbia issued proceedings against Vancouver Rape Relief.

So when I wrote this column I was angry and I went berserk about the diagnosis of transsexualism, male entitlement and the sex stereotypes that transsexuality promotes. It was shared worldwide amongst trans activists on personal blogs and list serves. It was before Facebook and Twitter. A forum, Gingerbeer, which described itself as an online social group for lesbians to chat and share information in the UK, had a policy of including transsexual males who identified as lesbians.

My article was a hot topic of discussion for at least a year. I could see, on visiting the site that the trans lobby had plans to come after the feminists. The Guardian received 200 letters of complaint about the column and the reader’s editor wrote his own weekly column on the issue saying that it was wrong to have published it. My editor, Katharine Viner, defended both me and her decision to publish it.

The gay press began to vilify me. I received hate mail and death threats on a weekly basis from all sorts of quarters. It was also the misogynistic gay male movement that ran the gay press. This harassment culminated in 2008 in a 200-strong demonstration against me outside the Victoria and Albert Museum where Stonewall was holding its annual awards ceremony. I had been nominated for journalist of the year, and quite frankly had it not been for the fact that I found out about the nomination via Pink News – or Penis News – in a “shock, horror – vile transphobe Bindel is up for an award” I would have not even attended the event, being no fan of Stonewall.

I happened to be escorted from the tube to the venue by Brian Padick, now a Lib Dem peer but a whistle-blowing police officer, past the 200-strong crowd calling for my blood, death, rape, whatever.

I didn’t win. But I had already found out from one of the judges who was appalled at what had happened that I was a clear winner, but that they did not dare give me the award in case the trans-activists stormed the museum. So instead it was given to a heterosexual agony aunt who had never been a journalist. A fair alternative, no?

That demonstration galvanised the transgender movement in the UK. From then on, everywhere I went to speak about violence against women and girls, there would be some kind of protest, picket, or attempt to disinvite me. Not me speaking about transgender issues – though I did try and on occasion succeeded in having a discussion with transpeople who wanted a reasonable conversation.

In 2009, I was given the honour of being the very first individual to be officially no platformed by the National Union of students alongside five fascist groups. The motion at the conference that decided my ban contained the sentence, “Julie Bindel is vile”. My name was misspelled – who says we are not paying for a decent education.

In 2010 I accepted an invitation to speak at an event called “Queer Question Time” at a notorious “queer” venue called the Vauxhall Tavern in London. There I was. Dozens of them turned up outside screaming and shouting that I was a Nazi, a bigot, a fascist, etc, etc. That I was Hitler (it’s always Hitler, never Pol Pot. None of your mid-range dictators ever get a look in).  And then they came into the venue itself, shouted and heckled all the way through my presentations, with one trans activist throwing an object at me on stage whilst screaming in my face. I thought – I’m just walking out. The videos can be found on YouTube.

As I walked out there was a queue of gay men saying they agreed with me and I was right to speak up.

It happened outside of the UK also, such as when Janice Raymond, heroic feminist and author of the 1979 classic The Transsexual Empire and myself spoke at a conference in Denmark in 2011 about the abuse of women and girls in the global sex trade. The pro-prostitution lobby, which is indivisible from the trans-Taliban, turned up at the event.

Outside of the venue they screamed and shouted about how bigoted, violent and dangerous we were, and proceeded to bang on the windows whilst a sex trade survivor was speaking about being pimped age 15.

You know if you took the words “actual” and “literal” out of their rhetoric there wouldn’t be much left.

In 2014 I did a debate at Essex University on pornography organised by academics, so the NUS was not involved.

It was with Jerry Barnett, producer of some of the most vile and racist pornography – including a parody of the taxi-drive rapist John Worboys.

I was screamed at as a fascist who was “causing actual, literal harm to transgender students” and biphobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, homophobic and not a real lesbian.

He got a free pass. That’s when I started to use the word Orwellian.

Probably their lowest point was when they attempted to get me disinvited from a talk I had been asked to do in 2017 at the Salford Working Class Library, the only venue of its kind in the country, on growing up a working-class lesbian in the north-east of England. They hounded and harassed the volunteers at the library, blocked their phone line, targeted all of their sponsors and supporters, tried very hard to get their funding pulled, and when they failed, turned up on the day to scream and shout. Leftist poster-boy Owen Jones was asked politely to give support to the library and denounce the bullies, but he declined. The brilliant Lucy Masoud has named him Talcum X. Faux working class, or rather: woking class.

The Working Class Library, because it is run by brave and principled people, did not for one second consider cancelling the event or replacing it with another speaker.

Which leads me to my key point. We saw this coming a long time ago. Those very few women you could count on one hand, with high profiles in the women’s movement, warned of this.

Some of you were not involved because you are too young or because of circumstances. But you are all here now. And that that, in and of itself, is a brave position.

I mean, I heard about Nina Power. This is someone who at the time went along with “transwomen are women” and signed a letter denouncing some of us.  Now she is being attacked for, I quote, “uncritically attended a Woman’s Place meeting”.

During the time I was being publicly and visibly harassed and abused, aside from my brilliant and close circle of friends, most people kept their heads down. I would get emails from feminist after feminist telling me they agreed with what I had said. They shared my position, but of course dared not say anything because they would come in for the same treatment as me.

I would then get the liberals telling me, an out lesbian since 1977, that they could not possibly support my position against transgender ideology, because the trans-rights movement, as they saw it, was exactly the same as the lesbian and gay liberation movement back in the 1970s. They refused to accept that this was a men’s rights movement, underpinned by the most pernicious misogyny, and supported by men who could scream “bigot, transphobe” and the likes at me and still be seen on the side of the progressives.

And then there were the free-speech warriors who told me that although they personally despised my transphobia, they defended my right to say it.

There were good people such as Mary Beard, until she saw the light. And then Peter Tatchell.

This deeply offended me. Caroline Lucas, the Green Party member of Parliament for Brighton Paviliongave an interview to Penis News in which she expressed dismay at my bigoted transphobic beliefs.

And then there were the women’s organisations.

Fawcett Society published its report on the organisation’s position on “gender” – meaning transgenderism – in order to look like good girls and cover their backs. They used me as an example of feminist transphobia that they disapproved of, quoting from a report in Penis News – not something I had actually said – that was as pernicious as it was inaccurate. I complained, and the reference was removed.

When I hear women and men say to me that they couldn’t possibly risk going through what we have been through, I tell them that the purpose of the abuse against those of us who have spoken out.

It is to act as a warning. I wouldn’t have chosen to be in that position. But I am.

Since when were we ever a women’s liberation movement that decided to keep shtum and let a few other women take the shit?

It’s not about me. It’s about 20-year old women at university or on the estates – facing being abused raped, their drinks spiked, denigrated. We all have a duty – moral, ethical and political to stand up.

Since when did we capitulate in case we were sacked or in case we were thought of as nasty women? Yes, some women have more to lose than others. If they lose their job, they are in trouble and might not be able to feed their kids. So we feed their kids, we do what women throughout history have done, during the time in the 1970s and 1980s when our refuges were run by volunteers who had to have a whip round to buy the food to feed the women escaping violent men.

But they can’t sack everyone. The most reasonable people – someone like Nina Power – are being called fascists. This is the unreality.

So we do what feminists have done in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia where they have no rights.

I have just come back from Uganda, where there is a 14-year prison sentence for same-sex encounters. It is much worse for women where lesbians are punishment raped, rejected by their families, live on the streets, and often pimped into prostitution, for being lesbians. What do they do?

They don’t go around saying, “I’m too frightened to speak out”. Uganda has the most vibrant lesbian feminist movement I know in the in global south. If they lose jobs then have to go to other women and say feed me. If we have to do that, we do that.

We can’t sit at the comfort of a computer screen.

Speak up.

Stop doing that anonymous thing. Stop saying, “I can’t say this.”

Yes you can.

When I was on the way to the airport leaving Uganda I thought I’m going to have the conversation on the trans issue.

I spoke with one fantastic lesbian activist. And she said, “You know that meeting we had with 50 lesbians. meeting 50 lesbians?”

Yeah.

“Well do you know why I nipped out for 10 minutes?”

No.

“Well there were four transwomen demanding to come in and we were all telling our coming out stories and you were interviewing everyone. So I said to them: ‘I know you hate me. I know you’re going to kick up a fuss. But go away. There are loads of transgendered places for you to go. Loads of LGBT places for you to go. ’This is a women only space.’”

And she said she was raised with nine brothers and she just wasn’t having it.

So let’s just not have it.

Julie Bindel

20th May 2019

@bindelj

 

 

 

 

 

Sex, gender & development: Maya Forstater

Maya Forstater is an independent researcher, writer and advisor working on the business of sustainable development. She has worked with a large number of organisations, including the New Economics Foundation, UNICEF and the Center for Global Development. This is the text of her speech for #WPUKLondon on 20th May 2019

Her Crowd Justice fundraiser can be found at https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/lost-job-speaking-out/

Watch the film of Maya speaking at #WPUKLondon

 

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Picture by Lily Maynard

My name is Maya Forstater. I lost my job working for an international development think tank for stating a gender critical viewpoint, and I am taking the organisation I worked for to employment tribunal.

A couple of Sundays ago I had the most momentous day, sitting on sofa in my pyjamas. I watched the crowdfunder that I had launched to support my legal case rise faster than I could have hoped. It raised over £60,000 in three days in mainly small donations including, I am sure, from many people in this room, as well as support from people such as Martina Navratilova, Sharron Davies and Tanni-Grey Thompson and people who know me in real life.

I am grateful for all of your support, which has allowed me to take the legal case forward, but I think, perhaps more importantly the strength of the response showed just how much support there is for making the law work for women on issue. The message that the success of the crowdfunder sent to me and to everyone watching it was “This matters”. “We are not going to shut up”. “And we are not alone.”

I am not going to talk about my case that tonight. What I am going to talk about is about how the issues about sex and gender relate to international development. This is based on a blogpost which I wrote (and drafts of which were part of what I was investigated for at work).

By International Development I mean government-to-government cooperation: aid, but also beyond aid: trade, diplomacy, human rights, advocacy for open government and democracy, migration and even international tax rules (which is what I worked on in my day job). It concerns the policies of the UK government and other rich countries, and also institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, and charities like Action Aid and Oxfam, and human rights orgs like Amnesty.

Increasingly all of these organisations are all thinking more and more about ‘gender’ in relation to international development. And by gender they mean sex

The Sustainable Development Goals have specific goals on gender – violence against women and girls, reproductive healthcare & economic.

By gender, they mean sex.

It is used as a polite synonym and also to encompass the expectations and constraints that societies impose on people because of their sex.

OXFAM just came out with a document calling for ‘feminist aid policies’ which highlights the reasons why ‘gender’ is recognised as such a critical issue in development:

  • At current rates of progress, it will take 202 years to close the ‘global economic gender gap’ (and by gender they mean sex).
  • More than half of the world’s women are legally restricted from working in certain sectors because of their gender (and by gender they mean sex).
  • It is estimated that 650 million women and girls worldwide were married before the age of 18, many of them facing violence and other severe violations of their rights.
  • At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation.
  • Thirty-five percent of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • Every day women do 16.4 billion hours of unpaid care work – at least twice as much, and in some settings ten times as much, as men.
  • Each year worldwide more than 200 million women want to avoid pregnancy but do not use modern contraception,
  • 25 million unsafe abortions take place.
  • Globally more than 130 million school-aged girls do not attend primary or secondary school.

None of this is to do with gender identity. These are things that happen to women and girls because of the way that society treats people because of their sex.

Organisations concerned with international development and human rights would struggle to articulate their goals, policies and research without a word to denote female people.

But as we know it is increasingly argued across Europe and North America, and by global elites that gender identity should overwrite sex as a legal and practical category.

Oxfam’s feminist aid document barely mentions the word ‘sex’, and I do not think this is accidental. Organisations working on gender and development are becoming coy about saying that by ‘women’ they mean, and have always meant, the female sex. They know it is controversial and few are willing to stand up for the biological definition of women, or even to hold open a space for clear, calm discussion.

Many influential funders such as George Soros’s Open Society Foundation foundation and international civil society organisations such as Amnesty International are calling for governments to allow people to change their legal sex at will, and to allow people to access single sex spaces of the opposite sex based on their gender identity. But none have promoted analysis or debate about how this would impact women and girls.

Others are just staying quiet – continuing to work on issues that affect women and girls and continuing to  say gender when they mean sex – and hoping that no one asks them to be clear.

When I raise this issue with colleagues in development, including those who work on gender issues, many say it isn’t a big deal. Debates on sex versus gender are toxic and controversial: what does it matter if they are not clear and explicit about the difference between ideas about gender identity and the reality of sex based oppression of women and girls? Where does it sit on the list of priorities of things that organisations should be concerned about, compared to big issues like climate change, humanitarian emergencies, corruption, economic development?

I think it matters.

Development at its heart is about organisations doing their job.

Countries become richer and people become better off  when there are more organisations, doing more complex jobs, better. And where people can influence the decisions which affect their lives. In other words; where organisations are accountable:

  • Schools teaching kids.
  • Universities building higher knowledge
  • Doctors and medics treating people
  • Governments and the firms they contract build infrastructure
  • Businesses investing providing products that people want and need, following rules
  • Governments collecting taxes, setting rules, delivering services.
  • Media reporting the truth

It requires ordinary people being able to hold these institutions to account.

If we can’t name things, and categorise them, and collect data. And speak the truth we can’t do this. And being able to name the difference between men and women is pretty fundamental.

If we can’t name basic truths it corrupts the heart of our organisations.

There are also specific reasons for international development organisations to find the courage and integrity to be clear about the difference between sex and gender identity.

Thinking about gender identity in international development and human rights organisations is often tied in with sexuality.

This reflects the fact that abuse and discrimination relating to transgender identity can be, in practice, an expression of homophobia. International development organisations are working to address the oppression and vulnerability of people based on what they call “SOGI” (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

Seventy-two states continue to criminalise same-sex sexual activity In some cultures gay men can be stereotyped as feminine, or as ‘failed men’; reduced to the status of women. In some cultures, men who have sex with men may get some acceptance if they adopt a feminine ‘third gender’ identity such as the hijras in South Asia.

But my understanding (and I’m not an expert) is that these identities are not akin to the idea coming out of elite Northern universities and debates in London and Washington which say that we must accept that “transwomen are women”.

When I talk to people working with these trans communities, in areas such as HIV and human rights, they say it makes sense to think about different groups, not to lump together the issues facing transsexual males with the issues facing women.

It is not at all clear that the way to address the very real problem of discrimination and violence against transgender people is to erasing the category of biological sex .

Human rights protections for people who are transgender do not depend on accepting the belief that men can become women. But rather to protect transgender status as a legal characteristic with its own protections from harassment and discrimination.

Secondly, this matters for international institutions in their work on gender (by which they mean sex), and in their own institutional cultures.

Development organisations are trying to shift from having headquarters in rich countries developing policy, and staff and partners in developing countries to implement it.

They are trying to turn that upside down – to support people to have power, control and agency.

These organisations already know they have hierarchy problems – white men at the top, diverse women at the bottom, and yet, in the name of equality and diversity, they are reinforcing this power dynamic by adopting the language and ideas of genderism.

This is not coming from the grassroots. It comes elite Northern Universities and it is being promoted as something which ordinary women must accept with “no debate”. I don’t think this is compatible with the idea of listening to women and respecting their agency. And I think it prevents us talking about and understanding structures of power.

It is polite to refer to people by the name and pronouns they request, and to treat everyone with dignity and respect. But inclusion does not demand that we forget about the power dynamics between men and women in society, or fail to notice when women are being told to be quiet and to be kind to protect the feelings, desires and status of male people.

Organisations, which say they are for participation and for giving power to ordinary citizens should pay attention to the upswell of grassroots, ordinary women standing up for the idea that sex matters, in the UK and around the world.

Human beings are a single species, and women and men exist around the world. The answer to these questions can not be the pragmatic one that some women are women because of their sex, and some are not. Development organisations think about women in developing countries are really talking about sex;  defined by biology, but at headquarters they define women as an identity based on womanly feelings.

Amnesty International for example recognise and promote the importance of single sex toilets in refugee camps. Yet at the same time it argues that allowing male people to self-identify into women’s spaces would pose no problem for women and girls in the UK.

So I argued in my blog  post: Human rights protections and public policies are needed both for women and girls, and for transgender people, whatever their sex. In order to do this we need to be able to talk clearly and openly.

I set out five principles to hold open a space for dialogue, debate and evidence on this in international development (adapting and borrowing from Women’s Place UK:

  1. Sex and gender identity are not the same. Be clear about what we mean.
  2. There should be open and evidence-based discussionon how potential policy changes will affect women’s rights, single-sex spaces, and safeguarding.
  3. Women and women’s organisations should be involved in policy debates. The human rights of transgender males should be protected, but it should not be assumed that the best or only way to do this is by undermining women’s privacy, dignity and safety.
  4. Data matters. Statistics on crime, employment, pay and health should continue to be categorised by sex. Information on gender identity may also be collected, but they shouldn’t be confused.
  5. People who express concern about impacts on women’s rights and women’s spaces should not be dismissed as hateful or bigots.

One of the things I said in the article was that you shouldn’t have to be brave to talk about this.

The more people who stand up and talk about it, the easier it is for the next people.

I only began to tweet and talk about it after reading and listening to so many people here.

And I thought because I worked at a think tank that does not take institutional positions and that supports academic freedom of speech I could talk about it.

But it turned out I was wrong. I don’t want this to be a cautionary tale, and I hope that what I am doing in taking the organisation I worked for to tribunal it will help to enable a whole lot of people to be a bit braver.

If I win my case will give some legal protection. But if more people speak up it becomes easier for others to speak up. If each of us speak up within our organisations, our professions and our communities we can turn this around.

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Post script: in the Q&A portion of the event a question was raised “Should women work ever work with the right?” This is the gist of what I said, and what I think (taking the liberty to polish it into what I wish I had said better).

The idea that sex exists is like the idea that gravity exists. It will be shared by people across the political spectrum. Women are adult human females, they exist across the political spectrum, and as feminists I think we should be concerned for all women. I try to follow the Mumsnet motto that we don’t throw any woman under the bus.

Women should talk to and work with whoever they feel like! I think that people need to make their own decisions about who they will work with and how. We all have different tactics and beliefs, and we don’t need to agree on everything to work together on some things.

This fight is going to take allsorts; we need to engage with people across the political spectrum, and with people who are not engaged in party politics. Many women feel politically homeless right now. We need the academics and the activists, we need the t-shirts, and the billboards. We need the carefully argued articles, we need the legal cases. We need people who can be talk seriously and carefully and we need the stunts and laughter. We need the women talking this through on Mumsnet, and in local groups, who are getting brave enough to speak up.

I think we can be clear about the difference between defending the definition of women based on sex, while rejecting the idea that gendered stereotypes are an inherent part of womanhood, and those conservative groups for whom ‘men are men’ and ‘women are women’ means upholding patriarchal ideals of masculinity and femininity. We can draw a bright line between wanting to give women more control and wanting to control women.

The principle that I am standing up for is the need for respectful, serious evidence-based democratic debate and disagreement on difficult issues– we need to hold open a middle ground for that.

Maya Forstater

20th May 2019

@MForstater

Thank you to Lily Maynard for the pictures