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Scottish women’s rights centres accuse UK ministers of anti-trans misinformation

Rape Crisis Scotland among 15 groups behind joint letter opposing plan to block Gender Recognition Reform Bill

Anita Mureithi
18 January 2023, 5.59pm

Supporters of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill take part in a protest outside the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh on 20 December 2022

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PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Women’s rights organisations in Scotland have accused Rishi Sunak’s government of spreading misinformation to block the country’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

Amnesty International, Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, the Scottish Women’s Convention, the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre and the Young Women’s Movement are among 15 organisations behind a joint letter opposing the UK government’s intention to block the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from becoming law.

The groups took issue with the UK government’s claim that “this legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation”, saying their expert analysis showed no impact on the operation of the UK-wide Equality Act or single-sex spaces.

The bill was passed in the Scottish Parliament at the end of December, and would have made it easier for Scots to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) – a document that changes the legal sex on a person’s birth certificate.

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Sandy Brindley, CEO of Rape Crisis Scotland, told openDemocracy today the umbrella group was “proud to stand with civil society organisations in Scotland to state our concerns [about] the UK government’s intervention in the Gender Reform Bill”.

The statement’s signatories say years of detailed analysis by expert organisations in Scotland has shown that the reforms will “significantly improve the experiences of trans people, protecting them from the harms of a stigmatising and unnecessarily difficult process to access legal paperwork, while having no impact on women’s services, the operation of the Equality Act, or single sex spaces”.

They add that it is concerning that misinformation has led to the perception that women’s rights and trans rights are in conflict.

Rape crisis centres in Scotland have been trans-inclusive for 15 [years], and there has not been a single incident of anyone abusing this

Brindley said: “There is nothing in this bill which will impact on how the lifesaving services offered by Rape Crisis Centres across Scotland are delivered.

“We’re really worried about the amount of misinformation which has clouded debate around this bill. Rape crisis centres in Scotland have been trans-inclusive for 15 [years], and there has not been a single incident of anyone abusing this.”

The bill would also have removed some of the hurdles currently faced by trans people in Scotland, including reducing the age limit for applications to 16 and dropping the requirement for medical reports confirming a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Applicants would have had to demonstrate they had begun socially transitioning three months before applying – a change from the previous requirement of two years. (Social transitioning is when trans and non-binary people change their name, pronouns or any other signifiers of their gender expression to align with their gender identity.)

Opponents have claimed that the changes could make it possible for cisgender men to access women’s spaces such as changing rooms and crisis centres – but experts point out that Gender Recognition Certificates are not used to determine access to these.

The letter’s signatories say that trans people having the right to self-identify has been the basis on which the Equality Act has offered protection from discrimination, adding that “this was the case before the Gender Recognition Reform Bill and will be the case after”.

Their statement goes on to emphasise that self-identification poses no specific risk to Violence Against Women (VAW) services in Scotland, because they already operate on the basis of self-identification. “Individuals are not required to provide their birth certificates to access services, something that would be hugely harmful,” the letter says. “Instead, services have robust safeguarding processes that allow for individuals to be excluded where there are legitimate concerns.”

The signatories have pointed out that while misinformation is being used to undermine gender reform and create the perception that women’s rights are at odds with the rights of trans people, “there are a number of very real threats to women’s rights in Scotland and the UK,” including poverty, the cost of living crisis, cuts to services, low rape conviction rates and the experiences of immigrant and refugee women.

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“We find it particularly concerning that so much political and media attention has been devoted to the debate around this bill in place of tackling these genuine barriers to women’s equality,” the groups say.

They add that “the paths to equality for women and trans people [are] deeply interconnected and dependent on our shared efforts to dismantle patriarchal systems that impose barriers to full equality for us all.”

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