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Artillery Row

The EHRC delivers

Women’s rights campaigners have been vindicated… for now

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced on Wednesday afternoon their position regarding reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) in Scotland.

In a letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government, Baroness Falkner, Chairwoman of the EHRC, explained concerns over the SNP government’s proposal to use Self-ID alone to obtain Gender Recognition Certificates:

The potential consequences include those relating to the collection and use of data, participation and drug testing in competitive sport, measures to address barriers facing women, and practices within the criminal justice system, inter alia. As such, we consider that more detailed consideration is needed before any change is made to the provisions in the Act.

This is a blow to the campaign for Self-ID in Scotland and a win for groups like For Women Scotland, a grassroots organisation campaigning on equality and human rights issues impacting on women and children in Scotland. Activists who have tried to shut down conversation on Self-ID, by falsely conflating gender critical views with fascism, have over-reached this time.

Susan Smith, co-director of For Women Scotland, told The Critic:

We welcome the comments from the EHRC. They have clearly taken the time to listen and understand all the conflicting views and opinions around this complex issue: we wholeheartedly agree with their conclusion that there are potential consequences in data collection, sports and the operation of the criminal justice system.

We only wish that the Scottish Government had taken the time to engage thoroughly and in good faith at the start of the process, rather than branding such concerns “invalid”. We look forward to the guidance on single-sex provision which will, we hope, clear up much of the confusion and obfuscation around the operation of such services.

Immediately after announcing their position on reform, the ECHR then called for pre-legislative scrutiny by a Committee of both Houses of Parliament of the draft bill on conversion therapy over concerns about definitions of key concepts like “conversion therapy” and “transgender” — the latter having no clear legal meaning in the UK, being a term employed and understood by people for markedly different reasons.

The EHRC recommended that “legislation should initially focus on banning conversion therapy attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation, where the evidence and impacts are clearer” and the Commission also noted that:

We are supportive of measures to end harmful conversion therapy practices, but the likely significant and wide-ranging implications of the Government’s proposals for a legislative ban for criminal and civil justice, clinicians and therapists, families and religious organisations require careful and detailed consideration.

The fear that clinicians and therapists may be prohibited from providing appropriate care for individuals with gender dysphoria has been a key point for campaigners against the draft bill; Kathleen Stock recently argued in The Critic that “criminalising proper therapeutic exploration may well be conversion therapy by default” in some cases:

A therapist who uses years of experience to explore a young woman’s narrative of “feeling like a boy”, with the aim of getting her to acknowledge her homosexuality, may, from the outside, look just like someone who intends to “change” her from a trans person into someone else. No legal test could easily mark the difference.

It is difficult to see how these developments do anything less than vindicate the concerns of women across the UK who have been threatened, silenced, and bullied for speaking out in defence of their sex-based rights.

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