Meeting with the Cabinet Secretary

I was very privileged to have had the opportunity to attend a meeting with Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People, on 22nd August 2018. I am very grateful to the women responsible for arranging this meeting and also that they graciously extended the invitation to include myself. It was without question a hugely valuable moment which enabled us to raise our concerns personally with the Cabinet Secretary, to whom I am also grateful for granting us this chance to have our voices heard.

Since her recent appointment to the Cabinet Shirley-Anne Somerville has been given the responsibility of putting any amendments to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 through the Scottish parliament. The public consultation on the proposals to review the GRA had closed on 1st March 2018 and it was only the evening before our meeting that the first set of responses had been published on the government website. The Government have not yet completed their own analysis of the consultation as the public response was exceptionally high. Meetings were ongoing all day with a number of the different stakeholders involved.

We were lucky enough to have had the time to raise a number of different issues that are intrinsically linked with the Government’s proposal to introduce a simplified version of Self Identification to the GRA. (I think it is only right that I just mention the topics that I personally spoke about but hopefully the other women present will also come forward and speak publicly about the issues they raised.)

As a married mum with two adolescent girls I wanted to talk about the scandalous rise of the sexual harassment and sexist bullying affecting girls in schools across the country. Specifically, I wanted to talk about what the government was doing, or rather not doing, to tackle it. I spoke in great detail about the Equalities and Human Rights Committee work on ‘Bullying and harassment of children and young people in schools’ and the resultant government guidelines ‘Respect for All: The National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland’s Children and Young People’. I emphasised the obvious omission of harassment from the guidelines and questioned how exactly this new recording and monitoring system would be effective for tackling this endemic problem. I raised the growing concerns about the unexplained rapid rise of girls and young women being referred to Gender Identity Clinics and questioned whether these issues could be linked.  Are our girls and young women attempting to ‘identify’ out of their female state as a solution to the sexual harassment so prevalent in our society. If you want a fuller more detailed account of this then please read here.

The question was asked whether or not we thought the Equality Act 2010 was working at present, which I don’t think it is, mainly because it isnt being correctly applied.  There are bound to be problems when public bodies change the terminology and definitions of the terms cited within the legislation.   I read out this quote, that apparently came from COSLA and has been issued across all the Local Authorities

“COSLA and My Job Scotland use the term “gender” in equalities monitoring and other documents because we believe it leads to more accurate data being collected which helps us to better protect people who are likely to experience inequalities. We recognise that the Equality Act 2010 refers to ‘sex’ but this is the legislative minimum standard. We do not believe that using the term ‘gender’ compromises the legal protections afforded to women and girls and men and boys. In common with other public sector bodies in Scotland we understand that a binary definition can be problematic for some people and so on our equalities monitoring form we have a non-binary question that allows people to self define if necessary.”

Although this is not official government policy, have representatives from within the Scottish Government perhaps also been relaying this same message to others?

The meeting felt very positive and the Cabinet Secretary welcomed our input.  She expressed her wish to hear from a wide variety of voices on this matter and not just from those larger organisations who are lobbying for changes.  She added that it was particularly important to hear personal accounts from individuals and specifically how these proposals have already affected them and how they will likely affect them when the Bill is passed. It’s now more important than ever to write or meet with our MSP’s and let our voices be heard.

So, to summarise the main points that I raised at our meeting, I have asked the Scottish Government to please take action on the following

1/ The tackling of sexual harassment and sexual crimes that disproportionately affect our girls whilst at school, with the creation of specific policies and guidance being a clear priority.  The existing Respect for All: Anti-bullying National Approach fails to explicitly address these issues, therefore will also fail to sufficiently record and monitor them.

2/ Urgent research needs to be carried out regarding the recent phenomenon of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, which disproportionately affects girls as seen by the 1000%+ increase in referrals to Gender Identity Clinics in recent years.

3/ Review all guidance currently issued to schools from both the Scottish Government and Government funded groups.  Their contents are not balanced and fail to offer protection to all vulnerable and oppressed children, in particular girls.*  It is crucial that the Protected Characteristic Sex within the Equality Act 2010 is applied accurately, as our girls rely on this to protect them from harassment, discrimination and victimisation.

4/ Following on from point 3, there are a growing number of Public Bodies in Scotland who are incorrectly reinterpreting the Protected Characteristic Sex and applying a definition not stated within the Act.  Girls and young women are therefore not being given the protection they urgently need.  It is crucial that Equality Impact Assessments are applied to all decisions taken, as per their Public Sector Equality Duty.  Will the Scottish Government remind and instruct all public authorities in Scotland of their requirement under the Equality Act 2010 to always apply and use the correct definition of the protected characteristic Sex.

(* Luckily I just happened to have with me an extra copy of the Transgender Trend  school resource pack, which is very fair and balanced for all children, so was able to provide the Cabinet Secretary with her very own copy to keep.)

Finally, it is clear that when guidelines and policies are created by working groups where the voices of women and girls are not represented it will result in those guidelines not having a fair and balanced approach.    The Cabinet Secretary’s predecessor Angela Constance MSP previously acknowledged this

“Women’s voices need to be heard, and they need to shape the decisions made in our boardrooms

Yet here we are, months & months later, the Year of the Woman 2018 apparently ended mid-March, the outrage of #metoo has shifted to how we protect those men accused and nothing seems to have improved for women and girls.

Actions speak louder than words, and we need to start seeing action being taken at the very top level of government.

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