The fight for women’s rights is not over
Just because GRA reform has been dropped in England and Wales it doesn’t mean our sex-based rights are now secure. Across the UK, many organisations have adopted policies that entitle a man who self-identifies as a woman, without a GRC, to access women’s spaces. The law does not require this, but campaign groups like Stonewall have claimed that it does. Women’s single-sex spaces have been made mixed-sex, and women have not been consulted. The Fair Play For Women mission is to make sure women and girls are never forgotten or ignored by policy-makers. We think that advocates for sex-based rights must now be treated as stakeholders in all policies on transgender inclusion. Every policy must be looked at again with fresh eyes to make sure they work for everyone, not just trans people, this time with all stakeholders consulted. Our focus now is to ensure the law is correctly communicated and enacted.
Meanwhile there is a whole new challenge in Scotland, where self-ID was passed by the Scottish parliament on 22 December 2022, and awaits royal assent to become law.
GRA conflation of sex and gender
We have grave concerns about the inconsistent use of language and the conflation of sex and gender in the Gender Recognition Act. We believe there should be greater clarity about its impact on the single-sex provisions of the Equality Act 2010. We call for better guidance on the practical implementation of these provisions, guidance which adheres more closely to the original wording of the Act and enables women and girls to reclaim the privacy, safety and fairness that this law intended.
Lobbying for clear guidance
We are now lobbying government to produce clear and unequivocal guidance to service providers explaining that spaces can be reserved exclusively for the female sex when necessary. We have also been busy producing our own advice to policy makers and attending policy stakeholder meetings to represent the concerns and priorities of women and girls. Our current focus areas include prisons, sport, changing rooms and language.
- Using the law to protect sex-based rights for women and girls
- Consensus between pro-women and pro-trans groups: All want clearer guidance on single-sex spaces.
- Stonewall’s non-binary demands undermine women’s protections
- Our guidelines to support single-sex sport policy development
Striking a balance
Fair Play For Women agrees with the Minister that, in considering any changes to the GRC process, it is important to strike a balance between conflicting interests of different groups, and to maintain appropriate safeguards. We have independently reviewed the GRC application process and concluded it is not onerous or intrusive. We share the view of the majority of the general public who believe that males can not become female.
Why is GRA reform bad for women and why should you care?
Powerful groups want to allow anyone from age 16 to change the sex they were born on their birth certificate. No doctors, no surgery, no checks. Just sign a form.
We are told time and again not to worry about it. This will have no impact on women’s sex-based rights. There’s no impact on privacy, safety or fairness for women and girls. They are wrong.
“It’s just admin”. Ruth Hunt, Stonewall
“I don’t believe there is a problem”. Jo Swinson, LibDems
“No changes will be made to laws that protect single-sex spaces and services” Scottish Government
“I don’t think it threatens women” Sarah Wollaston, LibDems
GRA reform is fundamentally about language capture and a woman’s ability to discuss and uphold her sex-based rights.
It started out as transgender people simply asking to be protected from being treated unfairly because they are transgender.
Women should respect someone’s gender identity by treating a man “as if he were a woman”.
It was a courtesy, a kindness extended to people who suffered from gender dysphoria. We all know that trans people aren’t *literally* the sex they identify as. It was simply polite to use “preferred pronouns” and repeat the platitude that “transwomen are women”.
But this has fundamentally changed.
It is no longer enough to treat a man ‘as if he was a woman’. To respect his gender identity, we must now consider him an *actual* woman. This means we must change the definition of ‘woman’ to include two types of women; trans women and “cis women”.
We now see the use of ‘cis and trans’ embedded within the Guardian style guide. It is now routine to see politicians publicly asserting in interviews that “trans women are women”. This week we have seen a UK employment tribunal judge rule that requiring people to refer to transwomen as women is justified to avoid harassment or offence to trans people. The belief that biological sex is immutable was considered to be “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”.
So what? Why does this matter?
It matters because it means that there are male women and female women now. Some of us are women by virtue of birth and our sexed body; and some of us are women by virtue of declaring a gender identity – despite our sexed body.
Women have now become a subset of their own sex class. It matters because the word woman is no longer associated with a persons sex. It matters because women’s rights are no longer about sex-based oppression. We are “cis women” now. Being female is just a niche issue peculiar to us. It’s no longer centre stage when it comes to talking about women’s issues, in fact it is actively discouraged and considered exclusionary.
This has had a profound and damaging effect on how women talk about our sex-based rights. Wholesale changes in social convention mean that many of the words used by women to discuss sex-based oppression are now off limits. This makes even the most respectful conversations about how we fairly balance rights based on sex and rights based on gender identity fraught with difficulties and tension.
We have lost the word woman. The only words that we are still allowed to use without sanction is “male” and “female”. They must not be given away.
Even now, spurious scientific arguments and unfair accusations of transphobia are frequently used to muddy the meaning and use of these most basic words to describe someone’s sex.
We are already starting to see Twitter impose sanctions for using male and female. Fair Play For Women was temporarily suspended for ‘hateful conduct’ for using the word “male”. We successfully appealed and Twitter admitted their mistake because under current UK law it is still accurate to state that most transwomen are the male sex. Indeed the Equality and Human Rights Commission has recently clarified this legal position.
Fair Play For Women has also been recently accused of ‘transphobic abuse’ by a newspaper for describing a transgender cricketer as male, despite this being legally accurate and relevant to discussions about fairness and safety in sport. We are currently pursuing a complaint with the Independent regulators IPSO to protect the free use of the words “male” and “female”.
But most shocking of all has been the increasing pressure not to use the words “male” and “female” in official policy development meetings. As a policy stakeholder invited to represent the sex-based rights of women and girls, both in the UK and internationally, we respectfully refuse. We use sex-based language not to be rude, but because gender identity is not the same characteristic as sex. Being able to acknowledge and identify the male and female sex is fundamental to the theory and practice of sex-based rights for women and girls.
GRA reform fatally undermines the sex-based rights of women and girls.
It is no longer enough to treat a man as if he is woman.
It is not longer enough to consider all transwoman to be a type of woman.
It is now being demanded that all transwoman are *literally* female too.
Trans women no longer want to be trans women. They want to be female, and for their trans history to be a secret. They want to be identical to the “cis women”. Indistinguishable from us.
Because GRA reform won’t just allow every trans person to change the sex they were born on their birth certificate, it will also become impossible to confirm it was ever changed. On paper, a transwomen’s maleness will have been totally erased.
How will campaigners, policy makers or journalists be able to do their job when we are all obliged to name someone born male, with a male body and male genitals, as being the female sex?
How can we protect single-sex spaces and services when we can no longer know or say who was born male or female?
How can a female-only space ever be guaranteed to be male-free when we can no longer acknowledge that transwomen are actually the male sex.
How will you be able to express your legitimate concerns if you can no longer say things like:
“I don’t want a transwoman to share a changing room with my daughter because that person is male”
“I don’t want a transwoman to perform a cervical smear on me because that person is male”.
“I don’t want my elderly mother to be washed and dressed by a transwoman at the care home because that person is male”.
“I don’t think its fair or safe for my daughter to play rugby against a team that fields a transwoman because that person is male”.
If we can’t talk freely about the material reality of sex we can not discuss, monitor or uphold our sex-based rights.
GRA reform UK timeline
2015 – Groups lobby for GRA reform
During the summer of 2018 the government launched a public consultation about changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) for England and Wales. This was in response to an inquiry into transgender issues by the Women and Equalities Committee in 2015. Powerful transgender interest groups gave evidence to the committee and lobbied hard for full deregulation of the legal transition process, demanding a move to a simplified approach known as Sex Self-ID, that would allow any man to change his birth certificate on demand to say he was born female. This recommendation was included when the committee published its report in January 2016. It formed the basis of the proposals for “GRA Reform” published by the government as part of its 2018 consultation.
2018 – 2020 | Fair Play For Women launch GRA reform campaign
Fair Play For Women launched its own ambitious GRA reform public awareness campaign to ensure that female voices were heard and listened to during the public consultation. Funded entirely by public donations we produced and distributed much-needed campaign information, made sure women’s concerns were heard in the national media, published our own research, and met with politicians and policy influencers throughout the consultation period. By the end of the campaign we had secured consultation responses from over 20,000 members of the public, making this consultation one of the largest ever held.
Sep 2020 | GRA reform scrapped
Against the odds, and with no official funding, women won! In September 2020 the UK government announced its decision, making minor amendments but retaining medical oversight. Our success was down to the hard work of ordinary women and small donations from hundreds of our supporters.
Our response to the government decision on GRA reform, announced in September 2020
Oct 2020 – into 2021 | GRA reform inquiry
It is not unusual for a Select committee to launch an inquiry to respond to Government recommendations. On the 28th October 2020, the Women and Equalities Select Committee launched an inquiry into proposed reform of the GRA. They called for evidence in response to the government’s proposed modernisation of the GRC application process. They also asked for evidence on the wider implications and issues surrounding transgender equality and current legislation.
The committee asked:
- Should there be changes to the requirement for individuals to have lived in their acquired gender for at least two years?
- Should the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria be removed?
- What impact will these proposed changes have on those people applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate, and on trans people more generally?
- Why is the number of people applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate so low compared to the number who identify as transgender?
- Are the Equality Act provisions for single/separate sex spaces and facilities clear and useable? If not, do we need reform or further guidance?
- Issues around access to services, including health and social care, domestic violence and sexual violence support services.
- Are legal reforms needed to better support the rights of gender-fluid and non-binary people?
Fair Play For Women has made our own submission to the Inquiry in response to this call for evidence based on our research and experience over the last three years. All evidence submitted to the inquiry is published on the UK parliament committees website. The written evidence published as part of this inquiry is used to inform the work of the Committee. Our submission is here.
The hearings are being chaired by Caroline Nokes, Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North, in Hampshire.
9 December 2020 | GRA reform inquiry hearing
On 9 December 2020 the committee heard evidence from two groups of academics, one advocating for more trans rights and another group discussing the conflicts between those demands and women’s rights and needs. Read our analysis of what the questions asked by MPs at the first evidence sessions reveal about their approach to the issue. Hearings continued in 2021. Dr Nicola Williams gave oral evidence on 21 April 2021.
2016 – 2021 | GRA reform Scotland
The Scottish government is still considering a self-ID model for GRA reform. Proposals to reform the GRA were in the SNP 2016 manifesto. There have now been two public consultations and no resolution. Sex Self-ID in the Scottish version of the GRA would have serious consequences for women not only in Scotland but across the whole of the UK.
Dec 2019 | Scottish government public consultation
Dec 2019, the Scottish Government launched its second public consultation on reform of the Gender Recognition Act with a draft bill that would allow anyone from age 16 to change the sex they were born on their birth certificate. No doctors, no surgery, no checks. Just sign a form.
March 2020 | Consultation closes
The Scottish Consultation closed on the 17th March 2020. Our submission is here. In August 2021 the Scottish Government announced it will push ahead with GRA self-ID. The full results of the consultation have not been published.
Aug 2020 | For Women Scotland launch legal challenge
We are supporting the many Scottish women’s groups who are leading the resistance to this. They are also fighting other proposed laws in Scotland which are dismissive of women’s rights. The Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act of 2018 used a self-ID definition of woman, meaning that anyone who claimed to be a woman would count towards the target of increasing female representation in public boards. This was robustly challenged in a public consultation. The Scottish government did not responded, and For Women Scotland made a legal challenge. The case was heard in January 2021. Judgement in favour of the Scottish government was given, which For Women Scotland appealed.
Feb 2022 | For Women Scotland win their appeal
Nov 2022 | For Women Scotland go back to court
Following their loss in court, the Scottish government rewrote their guidance on the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act of 2018 to include people with a Gender Recognition Certificate saying they are female. This contradicted their previous claim that having a GRC conferred no new rights. So For Women Scotland launched a second judicial review, heard in November. The ruling, given in early December, was that having a GRC does change the legal status of a person for all purposes. Therefore, the Scottish government may keep its approach to the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act and count trans-identifying males with a GRC as women. While losing the case was unwelcome to For Women Scotland, it was helpful that the ruling was given before the GRR was passed, since it makes absolutely clear that possession of a GRC does confer new rights, and is not merely admin.
Meanwhile the draft bill on Gender Recognition Reform in Scotland, which will remove all medical gatekeeping, and lower the age limit to 16 for a legal change of sex, was debated in the Scottish parliament and in committee.
Dec 2022 | Scottish government pushing its Gender Recognition changes
The final reading of the draft GRR bill and final vote to make it law was planned for 20 and 21 December. In the past few weeks, interventions from two different United Nations Special Rapporteurs have been submitted, but these contradicted one another. The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity rapporteur, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, claims that self-ID is best practice and that there have been no problems anywhere in the world where it has been introduced. Policy group MBM’s analysis of that claim is worth reading. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Violence against Women and Girls, Reem Alsalem, pointed out the risks of self-ID being abused by predatory men, and requested a pause to consider more fully. The input from Ms Alsalem was initially dismissed by Scottish ministers, but an emergency session at the Scottish parliament on 19 December was then convened to hear from both rapporteurs. Campaigners joined forces to push members of the Scottish parliament to use this session to engage properly with the implications of this bill.
Support for this bill has been made compulsory by the leaders of the SNP, Green Party, Scottish Labour and Liberal Democrats. That’s to say, there is a three-line whip to vote for it. Only Scottish Conservatives and Alba have allowed a free vote.
The debate ran late into the night on both the 20th and 21st, with the final vote delayed until the 22nd. Amendments to provide safeguards or limitations, such as refusing a GRC to convicted sex offences, or simply pausing the granting of a GRC to a man awaiting charges for sexual offences, were rejected. A weak control requiring the police to review applications from a sex offender and determine a level of risk was passed, but gives little reassurance. The bill was passed almost unamended on 22 December 2022, amid protests inside and outside Holyrood.
- What have transgender rights got to do with women?
- Getting a GRC: Is the legal gender recognition process really too intrusive, too costly and too difficult?
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