This is our response to the Scottish Government’s review of the Gender Recognition Act.
Who we are
We are a group of people from a range of backgrounds including trades unions, women’s organisations, academia and the NHS. We are united by our belief that women’s hard won rights must be defended. We are against all forms of discrimination. We believe in the right of everyone to live their lives free from discrimination and harassment. Women face both endemic structural and personal inequality. This is reflected, for example, in the high levels of sexual harassment, violence against women and girls; the gender pay gap; discrimination at work. This is why sex is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act (2010) which we believe must be defended. We believe arguing this point is fully consistent with respecting the rights of everyone who is vulnerable to discrimination or harassment for whatever reason.
Over the past few months, Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) has hosted a number of events around the UK to enable a debate about the implications of proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA). We have held events in Cambridge, Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh and London, and have more events planned in the coming months. The level of response we have had indicates that there is a huge appetite for these issues to be debated. All of our events have sold out in advance.
Some consistent themes are emerging from these events:
● Very low levels of awareness of the proposed changes to the GRA. For many of those who have attended our events, there was very little awareness of the original legislation, let alone the changes proposed by both the UK and Scottish governments.
● Real concerns regarding the lack of debate about how the advancement of rights for those who identify as transgender has the capacity to conflict with women’s rights and other sex-based protections.
● Concerns that self-declaration policies have already been adopted by a number of public, private and voluntary sector organisations, ahead of changes to legislation, with little or no explanation as to what consideration they have given to any potential for conflict with sex-based protections.
Review of the Gender Recognition Act
We welcome this opportunity to respond to the Scottish Government’s review of the Gender Recognition Act. We are concerned that the consultation document focuses narrowly on the technicalities of the GRA and fails to recognise the public policy implications of a move towards self-declaration. As the scale of sexual predation perpetrated by men against women is becoming clearer, the need for a proper debate about the interaction between hard won women’s rights and protections and those of transgender individuals could not be more pressing.
We would like to see respectful and evidence-based discussion about the potential impact of the Scottish Government’s proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act to be allowed to take place and for women’s voices to be heard. Too often women are silenced, threatened, trolled, harassed and even physically assaulted for daring to engage in a discussion about the possible consequences of a legislative change. The accusation of ‘transphobia’ should not be used to shut down women’s voices.
We recognise those seeking to change gender often find the current processes under the Gender Recognition Act to be overly complex and drawn out. We stand with transwomen who are active with Woman’s Place UK who support reform of the Act which stops short of a move to simple self-declaration.
Protecting women-only spaces
We believe that the principle of women only spaces must be upheld and, where necessary, extended. Transgender individuals should have the same rights as anyone else to be free from discrimination, to access the services that they need and to be treated with dignity and respect. However, moving to a process of self-declaration risks unintended consequences for the safety and wellbeing of women and girls.
If the Scottish Government were to go ahead with the proposed simplification of the gender recognition process, and move towards a self-declaration system, it would raise the prospect that predatory men could demand access to women only spaces and services such as refuges, sexual violence centres/services, prisons, single sex hospital wards, and other shared sleeping spaces, such as shared rooms in care settings and hostel dormitories, simply by claiming to identify as a woman, whether or not this was the case. There is already evidence that this this is happening in the prison service in the UK. For instance, after introducing a gender inclusion policy, voyeurism-related offences increased significantly in Target stores in the USA .
Nor should it be assumed that predatory men will always need to change their legal gender to exploit a change in the law. There is a well-established link between sexual offending and manipulative personality traits: effective safe-guarding policies already take this into account. Organisations and individuals may feel vulnerable to accusations of unlawful discrimination for challenging individuals whose presence in protected spaces causes them concern, if the law provides no safeguard in such situations, and predatory men should be expected to exploit such fears.
Women seeking women-only spaces is an entirely legitimate response to women’s lived experience of male violence. Whether it is a domestic violence refuge, a hospital, a prison or any other place frequented by women in a vulnerable state, women need to know that their personal safety is paramount and that they will be protected from predatory behaviour by men.
As things stand, the Scottish Government has not made clear how it will ensure that hard won women’s rights will be protected. We would welcome recognition that the protection of these rights is an issue which needs to be addressed as part of this process. Careful consideration must be given as to how this can be achieved if changing gender moves to a system of self-declaration.
On behalf of the many women whose voices have not yet been heard in this process, but who stand to be affected by its outcome, WPUK would like to see the Scottish Government undertake the following:
Consult directly with women
In preparing its consultation on reform of the GRA, we wish to know what work the Scottish Government has done to consult directly with the following groups:
● Women who are victims of domestic or sexual abuse
● Women in prison and other criminal justice settings where segregation by sex is used, e.g. police custody
● Patient groups representing women who access sex-specific healthcare services, and women who use healthcare services more generally
Prior to attending our events, many women had been unaware of the GRA, let alone the proposals to amend the legislation and their implications for women’s rights.
We believe that any change in the existing law is most likely to gain wide acceptance and be most help to transgender individuals in practice if it is undertaken in a way which values increasing public understanding and securing public support, and does not treat these as things to be ignored or by-passed. We note that research undertaken by the Williams Institute (UCLA School of Law) and Ipsos Mori revealed that whilst a substantial majority (76.8%) of respondents in Great Britain supported gender change on government identification documents, only 26.7% of those polled in Great Britain supported the ability to change gender with no restrictions .
Review exemptions under the Equality Act
We also wish to see a review of how the exemptions in the Equality Act which allow for single sex services or requirements that only a woman can apply for a job (such as in a domestic violence refuge) are being applied in practice. We believe that the Women and Equalities Select Committee Inquiry at Westminster and its recommendations have had a chilling effect on many service providers and employers who are now not sure if it is lawful to apply these exemptions.
Consult on the impact on data gathering
We would like the Scottish Government to consult on how self-declaration will impact upon data gathering – such as crime, employment, pay, education, and health statistics – and monitoring of sex-based discrimination such as the gender pay gap.
These demands are not unreasonable and are supported by voices in the transgender community who, because they are not aligned with more vocal groups, are in danger of going unheard in national policy making .
Before the Scottish Government proceeds with any proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004, it must first enable a wider debate about how self-declaration will impact on women’s rights and other sex-based protections. This debate must involve all women as a matter of right.
Woman’s Place UK 28 February 2018