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International Women’s Day 2021 #ChooseToChallenge

This International Women’s Day, three members of the Equality Network and Scottish Trans team reflect on what they #ChooseToChallenge in the fight for gender equality

Karen, Training Assistant

This IWD the theme is Choose to Challenge. In a world of Covid, division, and overwhelming challenges that threaten to tear so much apart, I would like to go small and personal.

Sometimes the challenge chooses you: My mother grew up during the authoritarian Apartheid years in South Africa, where women were taught to silently mind their place. She, a white girl, chose to challenge the injustices she saw to the extent that her father called in local politicians and pastors to talk sense into her. One councillor left, defeated, saying he wished she’d change her views (unchanged!) because the Party desperately needed someone like her.

Sometimes the challenge chooses you: Separated from my father, she was a single mother when both those things were frowned upon. My weekend father taught me about happy-go-lucky freedom from responsibilities and routines. Mom taught me the real lessons: About putting food on the table and shoes on my feet when her purse was empty. About attending my school events no matter what. About choosing to challenge a world that told her she couldn’t and shouldn’t and daren’t and yet she did. She shared her joys and sorrows, and taught me to challenge my own world with her grace and steel.

I may not have learned all the lessons instantly or linearly. But I learned.

Sometimes the challenge chooses you: She is 80 now, recovering from Covid. We travelled half-way across the world to care for her: her body is frail but her mind and humour remain sharp, her spirit as indomitable as when she chose to challenge the things that told her no.

She showed me how to challenge an intractable world and make it and myself better, one deed, teardrop and smile at a time. I am proud to call her my mom, and I hope to live up to her legacy.

Rowan, Intersectional Officer

I was not asked to write this blog for International Women’s Day, but I was able to volunteer. This is important to me because as an apparently female non-binary person it’s often either assumed I should automatically be included in “women’s stuff”, or assumed I should be banned. However, nothing about gender is that cut and dried – at least not for all of us. 

I am non-binary and agender, and because I don’t have a gender, the whole concept can feel like something imposed from the outside, that literally makes no sense. But this can be true for women as well as for non-binary people. The rules that societies impose about what it means to be female are often weird, alienating and downright oppressive. No-one, whatever their gender, should have to dress or make themselves up in a particular way, be limited in what jobs they can do, or how safe they are. 

The words “girls” and “ladies” feel alien to me, and “girly clothes” feel about as natural on me as they would on my cat – but I do relate, in a complicated way – to the word woman. Issues that disproportionately affect women affect me, sexist insults hurt me, and, on a practical level, women’s rights are my rights.

There’s a phrase that did the rounds on Twitter a while ago – “I caucus with the women.” It means that if there is a women’s group discussing women’s rights I want to be included. Not all non-binary people feel that way, of course, but where women’s rights are being discussed, I still feel my experience is relevant and I want my voice to be heard.

So, as a non-binary person, I caucus with the women today, and I choose to challenge misogyny, gender stereotypes, and especially the gender binary.

(By the way there is an International Non-Binary People’s Day. It’s on 14 July, and I’ll be celebrating that too.)

Becky C, Policy Co-ordinator

The F-Word

My feminism is intersectional. In order to tackle inequality and misogyny, it has to be. If our feminism is not intersectional, marginalised people are left to battle structural inequalities alone, and nobody wins. I #ChooseToChallenge exclusionary feminism and the co-opting of feminism against equality efforts around the world and right here in Scotland.

Feminism is more than fighting for equality in the workplace, which of course, we don’t have. Feminism, feminists, are fighting against the effects of inequality and misogyny on our self-image, on the way we carry ourselves with or without shame, on our interactions with each other and the world we live in, on the way we can walk in the streets, on the way we travel, on the way we are portrayed in the media, on the way the media indoctrinates our young people and tears down our role models, on the way we do or do not have relationships or sex, on the way we eat, the way we sleep, the way we might or might not experience joy, acceptance, respect, anger, passion, compassion, love – fundamentally – on the way that we live. Inequality and misogyny seeps and snakes into all facets of our life.

Feminism now has to be more than for just those women who are heterosexual, cis or able-bodied. So much more. Feminism is compassionate, empathic, powerful. Feminism considers the humanity of ALL women regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, trans status, disability, class, education, hormonal or chromosomal makeup, refugee status or age. My feminism considers the humanity of ALL people. My feminism does not distrust or denigrate men, the same men, who suffer under toxic masculinity, the bedrock of the patriarchy. Feminism has and will change the world for the better, but only if it is inclusive, only if it is intersectional. Feminism takes its root in the souls of those who demand equality. I #ChooseToChallenge feminists to step up for everyone in this fight.

Equality Network response to today’s Sunday Times front page

Update 18th June: A huge thank you to everyone who let the Prime Minister know that you oppose these proposals. We think this is really piling on the pressure to stop them. We’ll keep everyone updated via our social media channels.

Today (14th June 2020), the Sunday Times has reported that an unnamed UK Government source has leaked to them a draft of what the UK Government Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss, apparently proposes to do to try to undermine trans equality.

The report claims that Liz Truss will completely ignore the 70% of respondents to the UK Government Gender Recognition Act consultation who supported removing the intrusive medical evidence requirements for correcting a trans person’s birth certificate. The Sunday Times bizarrely claims the consultation result was unfairly influenced by trans people. In actual fact, the Sunday Times and other media intensively promoted anti-trans campaigning against the reforms and trans people represent less than 1% of the population.

The report also claims that Liz Truss will try to force local councils not to provide gender neutral toilets and to restrict trans women’s ability to use women’s toilets. We know from looking at similar attempts in North Carolina and Texas that exclusion of trans people from toilets is unworkable but harmfully increases the risk of transphobic hate crime.

The report also made mention of Liz Truss apparently trying to make it more difficult for trans teenagers to access puberty delaying medication but gave no details.

For Scotland, Gender Recognition Act reform, toilet regulations and access to healthcare are under the control of the Scottish Government rather than the UK Government. We call for the Scottish Government to uphold their positive commitments to trans equality. We are appalled that the UK Government Women and Equalities Minister appears to be considering a deplorable roll-back of trans people’s safety, privacy and dignity. Across the UK and internationally, trans people, LGBT organisations, wider equalities organisations, academics, medical professionals, lawyers, service providers, businesses and thousands of individual allies will strongly resist any such roll-backs.

We note positively that the Sunday Times reports these draft proposals have not yet been approved by @10DowningStreet. We call on @BorisJohnson to leave trans people in peace and not follow in the footsteps of anti-LGBT bullies such as Trump in the USA, Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Orbán in Hungary.

Everyone can help by urging @BorisJohnson not to take forward any of these potential anti-trans proposals: https://email.number10.gov.uk/

Scottish Government announcement that the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill is on hold due to the coronavirus crisis

We understand that dealing with the current outbreak of COVID-19 must be the Scottish Government’s top priority. That is why we support today’s announcement that they will deprioritise any new primary or secondary legislation not intended to deal with this public health crisis until it is over. At least six bills are now currently on hold, and these include the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.

Whilst we know that trans people and our allies will be hugely disappointed that this means work on reform of the Gender Recognition Act has been halted for now, the most important thing for all of us at the moment is to look after ourselves and each other. We urge everyone to keep reaching out through these difficult times. Whilst we need to be physically distant, it is important to stay socially connected.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People, is responsible for GRA reform. She has said to us in a letter today following the announcement, that:

“The Scottish Government continues to have a strong commitment to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and improve the current process for trans people.”

Once this is all over, we will get back to making the case for why they must honour that commitment, and reform this law.

The Cabinet Secretary goes on to say in her letter that:

“(the Scottish Government) remains committed to improving the lives of trans and non-binary people more generally… You have raised a number of issues around the inequalities trans people continue to experience and I have asked that – once the COVID-19 pandemic has passed – officials work with you to develop proposals that deliver meaningful improvement to the lives of trans people in Scotland.”

We welcome this commitment. Once the coronavirus crisis is over, we look forward to working with the Scottish Government on a range of issues such as access to healthcare, tackling hate crime and trans young people’s experiences at school.

But until then, let’s do everything we can to help each other through this.









Click here to download the Cabinet Secretary’s letter as a PDF