Letter to Shona Robison on women’s ability to set boundaries based on sex

close up shot of keyboard buttons

Yesterday we joined 28 other individuals and organisations, including many with backgrounds in campaigning on women’s rights and delivering services for women who have experienced male violence, in writing to the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Reem Alsalem, to welcome her intervention on the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill. The full letter is available here.

We also wrote to Shona Robison MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government, to copy that letter to her and to ask for the Scottish Government’s position on the central issue highlighted in the letter to Ms Alsalem. That is, women’s ability to set boundaries based on sex, when issues of privacy, dignity or safety arise.

The questions below were also included in this piece, looking at how one of the principal organisations in Scotland which has pressed for self-declaration as a principle in policy and in law has said about how the law here should work.

The policies of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Ayrshire and Arran, referred to in the letter, are discussed further in our blog on The Erosion of Single-sex Hospital Accommodation.

Text of letter to the Cabinet Secretary

Dear Ms Robison

WOMEN’S ABILITY TO SET PERSONAL BOUNDARIES BASED ON SEX

We attach a copy of a letter sent today by a group of 29 individuals and organisations, including many with backgrounds in campaigning on women’s rights and delivering services for women who have experienced male violence, to the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Reem Alsalem, to welcome her intervention on the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.

The letter submits that the international ambition of improving safety and respect for those with transgender identities should not be accomplished at the expense of women’s rights to safety, privacy, and dignity on the basis of sex, including to effective trauma-informed services.  “Sex” here means what the Inner House of the Court of Session of Scotland has referred to as “biological sex”. The Court of Session identified this definition as that which should be applied in any circumstances “affecting status, or important rights, in particular the rights of others”, and cite examples which “all have in common … that they concern status or important rights.”

The letter to Ms Alsalem notes that the signatories believe an organisation’s answers to four questions determine how seriously it takes women’s rights to set personal boundaries based on sex in those situations where it matters to a woman that a person providing a service or sharing any space where questions of privacy, dignity, or safety arise will be of the same sex. These are:

1. Should a woman ever be allowed certainty that a person in such circumstances will be the same sex?

2. If so, should such certainty be relatively ordinary or relatively rare?

3. How difficult should it be to achieve such certainty; for example, should it require personal negotiation?

4. Should it require a woman to share personal information, possibly revealing intimate personal history?

We would be grateful if you could clarify the Scottish Government’s position on each of these four questions as a matter of principle. That is, not in terms of describing current law, nor what the effect of the current Bill may or may not be. 

Related to this, the letter to Ms Alsalem notes the importance of women’s psychological safety and how, in contexts where the sex of another person matters, that can be compromised if our accurate perception of a person’s sex is contradicted, or its expression suppressed. In that context, we draw to your attention that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Ayrshire and Arran both advise that if a female patient objects to the presence of a trans identified male on a nominally single-sex ward, ‘it would be appropriate to re-iterate that the ward is indeed female only and that there are no men present’. We would welcome clarification of the government’s view on that point also.

Yours sincerely,

Lucy Hunter Blackburn

Lisa Mackenzie

Dr Kath Murray

%d bloggers like this: