What is a woman? The answer to this question has become a highly contentious political issue. It lies at the heart of a rights conflict that has turned toxic, between those who believe someone’s self-declared gender identity should override biological sex for the purposes of single-sex services and sports, and those who think biological sex remains a relevant concept in law and society. That conflict comes to a head this week in Scotland, where members of the Scottish Parliament are to vote on the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) reforms to require people to be legally treated as the opposite sex on the basis of self-identification.
The UK was one of the first countries to introduce important legal protections against discrimination for transgender people in 1999; these are today enshrined in the 2010 Equality Act under the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment.” It also protects women against sex discrimination, and sets out that it is lawful to provide female-only services and sports — excluding anyone male, regardless of gender identity — if they are a proportionate way of achieving a legitimate aim. It is a sophisticated legal balancing act.
However, a small group of trans people — about 5,000 — have changed their sex for most legal purposes under provisions in the 2004 Gender Recognition Act. Obtaining a gender recognition certificate (GRC) requires a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and proof that someone has been living as the opposite sex for at least two years. However, it has been unclear whether a GRC changes someone’s sex for the purposes of the Equality Act.
The Scottish courts last week ruled that it does. This ruling might still be appealed against, but if it stands, it has huge implications for what Scottish First Ministr Nicola Sturgeon’s gender self-ID reforms mean for the rights of Scottish women and girls. This is why the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls have urged the Scottish government to pause on this legislation.
These reforms would grant a GRC to any male who declares that they intend to live as the opposite sex, despite Scottish ministers being unable to define what living as the opposite sex means in practice. The Scottish government has predicted that this would result in a 10-fold increase in the number of people who would be granted GRCs. It has improbably claimed this is an administrative change with no consequences for women’s rights, while at the same time arguing in court that a GRC changes someone’s sex for the purposes of the Equality Act.
These reforms would make it harder for women to access female-only services and spaces, such as prisons, hospital wards and intimate care. They make it more complex for providers to legally justify the provision of single-sex services and are likely to increase the number of public-sector providers who say privacy provisions for GRCs prevent them from granting requests for same-sex intimate care such as toileting and dressing.
That is wrong: Just as trans people have the right to access specialist services and gender-neutral spaces appropriate for their needs, women have the right on grounds of privacy and dignity to access female-only spaces where they are vulnerable, undressing or receiving intimate care. Female-only spaces are also an important form of safeguarding in a world where male violence makes up the overwhelming majority of societal violence, including sexual violence.
Sturgeon’s reforms would allow any man who signs a declaration to have enhanced legal rights to access spaces where women undress and are vulnerable. There are cases of male sex offenders identifying as women after their convictions. A Scottish male sex offender who identifies as a woman sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl, but has now been placed in a women’s prison after violently attacking an inmate in a men’s prison.
The SNP would no doubt place stock in implausible claims from the UN expert on gender identity that its reforms pose no risk to women, but they directly contradict the evidence of his colleague who is an expert on violence against woman and girls. Self-ID is also likely to make it harder for some women to prove pay discrimination in court.
The other major issue with the reforms is that they introduce provisions to allow children aged 16 and 17 to change their legal sex through self-ID. This moves Scotland in the opposite direction to England, where an independent review by Hilary Cass, one of the country’s most senior pediatricians, has established that gender dysphoria often resolves itself after puberty, gender identities can remain in flux until a young person’s early-20s and treating a young person as though they are the opposite sex is an intervention with potentially significant impacts on psychological functioning, with insufficient evidence about outcomes.
Rather than grappling with these serious concerns, the SNP-Green governing partnership has variously dismissed them as transphobic, invalid and artificial. The reforms have prompted the biggest-ever SNP backbench rebellion, yet they look almost certain to pass with the support of Scottish Labour.
The respectful compromise would be to introduce a form of legal self-identification for gender identity for trans people while clarifying that this does not change someone’s sex for the purposes of the Equality Act. A clear distinction between gender identity and biological sex in law would balance the legitimate rights of trans people and those of women, protecting both groups against discrimination, but establishing beyond doubt that it is lawful to provide female-only services for women as a matter of privacy, dignity and safety.
However, in Scotland and Westminster, self-described progressive politicians have proved too gutless to advocate balance and compromise. It is marginalized women — in prison, in domestic abuse services and who require intimate care as a result of disability — who will bear the consequences of their cowardice.
In the 74 years since its founding, the leaders of the People’s Republic of China have always seen the Republic of China in Taiwan as a thorn in their collective side. The Chinese Communist Party has wished for nothing more than to remove this thorn and fulfill its vision of communist revolution. During the Cold War, Beijing couched these ambitions in the language of “liberating” Taiwan. Now it strikes chords of national unity and sings the new propaganda line of unification of the motherland. But in those 74 years the Republic of China has undergone a revolution of its own: a
It is a good time to be in the air-conditioning business. As my colleagues at Bloomberg News write, an additional 1 billion cooling units are expected to be installed by the end of the decade. It is one of the main ways in which humans are adapting to more frequent and intense heatwaves. With a potentially strong El Nino on the horizon — a climate pattern that increases global temperatures — and greenhouse gas emissions still higher than ever, the world is facing another record-breaking summer, and another one, and another and so on. For many, owning an air conditioner has become a
National Taiwan University (NTU) has come under fire after an offensive set of proposals by two students running for president and vice president of the student council caused an uproar over the weekend. Among the proposals were requiring girls with “boobs smaller than an A cup” to take two national defense credits and boys with “dicks shorter than 10cm” to take home economics class, as well as banning people with a body mass index of more than 20 from taking elevators, and barring LGBTQ students and dogs from playing Arena of Valor during student council meetings. They also opposed admission
The controversial proposals by two candidates running for president and vice president of the student council at National Taiwan University’s (NTU) Economics Department have given society a glimpse of the “character” of NTU students. With sexist proposals like “small-breasted girls need to enroll in national defense class” or “boys with short dicks need to take home economics class,” the candidates might have thought they were being “creative,” but the proposals have only laid bare their childishness and vulgarity. The proposals should have entailed issues that NTU students wish to address. People are born the way they are, and their physical traits