Lisa Mackenzie: Speech at rally for women’s rights, Scottish Parliament. 6 October 2022

For over half a decade the Scottish Government has worked on its proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act. That represents a third of the time the current Government has been in office.

So what has changed?

In terms of the proposed reforms: almost nothing. Like the first draft Bill published in 2019, the bill in front of Parliament today will enable anyone aged 16 or over to change their sex in law based on a simple, statutory declaration.

The Government still cannot answer fundamental questions about its proposals: how the GRA and the 2010 Equality Act interact, cross-border effects and how the impact on women can be measured if public bodies do not routinely collect data on biological sex.

But what has changed in those five years is that now, women are watching.

We saw how the Scottish Government actively sought the views of LGBT groups to shape its proposals – but not women.   

We saw how the Scottish Government only met with women after being shamed into doing so by negative media coverage. And even then, we now know that the ink had dried and the draft bill was already winging its way to the Scottish Parliament.

We saw as a Government Minister likened women with concerns about the bill to climate change deniers and racists and the First Minister described our concerns as not valid.

Women are watching.

When the bill passed into the hands of those in the building behind us, we saw that the majority of witnesses called to give evidence supported the bill.

We saw that the committee found time to take oral evidence from no less than 17 individuals who want to use the reformed process. But could not find the time to meet with five women who are survivors of male violence.

Women are watching because we know the price we pay simply to uphold our existing rights is eternal vigilance.

Because we have not forgotten how hard-won those rights and protections were: the ability to leave an abusive marriage, to obtain a mortgage, laws that criminalise marital rape, the ability of our lesbian sisters to enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples, the right to a safe, legal abortion.

Women are watching and we are joining the dots.

Whether you are an Afghan school girl seeking an education.

Whether you are an Iranian woman risking death as you protest against the morality police.

Whether you are an American woman seeking a safe, legal abortion.

We know that women the world throughout experience discrimination and disadvantage on the basis of our sex.

Women are watching and we have seen how public servants at best stood by or at worst played an active part in removing our rights and protections – our access to women-only spaces and services or even to be counted properly in the census.       

And now our lawmakers are set to cement those changes into law.

There is a void in the building behind us – and in other legislatures across the UK – and that void is the space where political leadership should be.

With a few honourable exceptions, our elected representatives are ducking the issue, desperate to keep their heads down until the storm has passed. Desperate to deny that a conflict of rights exists, let alone address it.

Well, women are watching.

Women will watch and listen to every word uttered in the debating chamber at the heart of the building behind us.

We want to know whether our representatives have listened to our concerns. Whether they have answers to the many unresolved issues the bill throws up. Whether they care enough about 52% of the population to act.

Women are watching.

And women won’t wheesht.