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Scotland gender reform bill sacrifices right to safe spaces for inclusion The misguided plans need a rethink to protect women

Tuesday 25 October 2022, by siawi3

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Scotland gender reform bill sacrifices right to safe spaces for inclusion
The misguided plans need a rethink to protect women

Gillian Bowditch

Sunday October 23 2022, 12.01am BST, The Sunday Times

Chatting with a group of friends recently — all parents of daughters — the conversation turned to aspirations for our children’s careers. The fathers only wanted them to be happy. The mothers were much more ambitious on their girls’ behalf.

The pushy mother is a hackneyed stereotype. But her very invention is a cipher for the pervasiveness of women’s desire to protect their hard-won rights. When mothers think about their daughters’ careers, it is in the context of the workplace limitations placed on themselves, their mothers and grandmothers.

The present generation starting out on their careers should, in theory, have a level playing-field. But the gender authority gap and the gender enterprise gap, not to mention the biological constraints of bearing and caring for children, ensure it is still an uphill struggle.

That’s not to ignore the fact that it’s no cakewalk for men either. And it should be acknowledged that the barriers for women from minority groups are set considerably higher. But in the fracas over the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) bill, the protectiveness many women feel over their rights has not been adequately acknowledged.

The bill is widely expected to pass in its first vote at Holyrood next week. It has the backing of the SNP, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens. It is designed to make it easier for trans people to change their gender legally by removing the medical aspect of obtaining a gender recognition certificate.

It means that people can self-identify as their preferred gender through a statutory declaration, without the need for any medical intervention or psychiatric consultation. In addition, it will lower the age that people can legally change gender from 18 to 16.

The bill’s supporters, including Nicola Sturgeon, argue that the bill will simplify and improve the current process, whereby trans people must live in their acquired gender for two years and undergo a medical assessment.

In future, people will be able to transition without having to provide medical evidence of gender dysphoria if they have been living in their acquired gender for three months.

But for a bill presented as merely a tidying up of current practices, the vitriol surrounding it is without precedent at Holyrood.

Women have been protesting outside the parliament. JK Rowling has taken a stand in support of women who see the bill as a blow for women’s rights, and wore a T-shirt with the slogan “Nicola Sturgeon: destroyer of women’s rights” in support of the Holyrood protesters. Writing in last week’s Sunday Times, Rowling said: “If any woman or girl suffers voyeurism, sexual harassment, assault or rape in consequence of the Scottish government’s new lax rules, the blame will rest squarely with those at Holyrood who ignored safeguarding experts and women campaigners.”

Those who have opposed the bill over concerns that, in Rowling’s words, “intact males” will gain the right to be in women’s spaces such as “public bathrooms, changing rooms, rape support centres, domestic violence refuges, hospital wards and prison cells that were hitherto reserved for women”, have been vilified and in some cases cancelled.

However, polling evidence suggests that they are speaking for the majority. According to a poll for The Sunday Times, only 26 per cent of SNP voters support the age reduction from 18 to 16, with 52 per cent against. The figure is even lower for Labour voters at 24 per cent in favour and 61 per cent against. The reduction in waiting time for legal recognition from two years to three months is supported by less than a third of SNP voters. Among 16 to 34-year-olds, only 32 per cent support the age reduction with 50 per cent opposed.

With concerns over organisations advising trans young people and reports that MSPs fear a backlash on social media if they speak out, it’s time for a rethink. At the very least, the concerns of women, the electorate and bodies such as the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics deserve more of an airing than they have had to date.

Concern for safeguarding the rights of women does not make anyone transphobic. But women’s right to safe spaces, once lost, will be nigh impossible to regain.

In the gynaecological cancer clinic in one Glasgow hospital, the two toilets — previously one female and one male — are now gender-neutral. Women who have undergone the most intimate examinations and surgeries now have to change their clothing, take medication or come to terms with their emotions knowing that they are no longer in a female-only space. Who with a heart would sanction this?

The rights that women are protecting are the rights fought for by their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. They are protecting them not for themselves but for their daughters and their granddaughters and their great-granddaughters.

It once seemed that these rights were unassailable, but we live in an era where that is no longer the case. Language has been subverted, women have been dehumanised, scientific principle has been trashed and empiricism has been sacrificed in a misguided attempt at inclusion. If Sturgeon won’t listen to the protesters, she should at least listen to her own voters. That this bill should be considered a Holyrood priority when people’s lives and livelihoods are under threat is baffling. There is enough concern among disparate groups to warrant a stay of execution on the bill.