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by Gemma Fraser
29 July 2019
Scottish trans policy 'detrimental' to women and girls

Image credit: Holyrood

Scottish trans policy 'detrimental' to women and girls

The “unregulated roll-out” of gender self-identification in Scotland has taken place with weak or non-existent scrutiny which could be putting women and girls at risk, according to new research.

University of Edinburgh academics Dr Kath Murray and Lucy Hunter Blackburn argue that decision-making on sex and gender identity issues has been directed towards the interests of a specific group, “without due regard” for the wider population.

Published on Monday in the university’s journal Scottish Affairs, the study claims that policy makers have been over-influenced by those lobbying for the rights of trans people to the “detriment” of women and girls.

The authors pointed to policy changes in Scotland’s prisons and proposed changes to the census as examples of this influence.

They wrote: “While badged as inclusive, in both cases the analysis shows how decision-making has been directed towards the interests of one specific interest group, to the detriment of another, women and girls.

“Highlighting the failure of institutional safeguards designed to ensure that public policies are consistent with the law, the paper raises serious questions about policy capture and the vulnerabilities of democratic policy-making to ideologically-driven lobbying.”

Within the last two years, proposals by the Scottish and UK Governments to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) to allow people to change their legal sex based only on making a legally-registered self-declaration have sparked an intense debate on how sex and gender identity should be defined in law and policy. 

Equalities Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville announced last month that the government’s plans for reforming the 2004 Act – which would make it easier for transgender people to get legal recognition of their “lived gender” – would be delayed and consultation reopened.

The report’s authors state: “It is clear that here, and elsewhere, public authorities have repeatedly failed to assess properly the impact on other groups who have specific protections under the Equality Act 2010, as the Act requires, and that little thought has been given to the possibility that such policies might be open to abuse by individuals with malign intent, irrespective of gender identity.

“As gender self-identification becomes more common, either by law or, as in Scotland, without legal change, there is evidence to suggest that failing to anticipate such abuse is naïve.

“While proponents of GRA reform maintain that the unregulated introduction of gender self-identification in Scotland has not led to any problems, this remains unsubstantiated, principally because organisations have not systematically gathered information on the impact of the changes already made.

“On one analysis, the analysis simply reflects that women remain, as a class, less powerful than men.

“From another perspective, it is a story about policy capture that demonstrates how a small number of influential actors appear to have secured a monopoly on how sex and gender identity are understood within Scottish policy-making.”

The paper concludes: “That such a paradigm shift has taken place without formal scrutiny or proper monitoring, far ahead of legal change, raises a serious question as to why there has been such a persistent failure to consider the possible wider impacts of gender self-identification, especially on women.”

The authors pointed out this is now a “significant challenge” for the Scottish Government which needs to “review its policies, make clear its commitment to upholding the sex-based protections in the Equality Act 2010, and find a way to allow for open debate on sex and gender identity issues”.

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