Council confusion over sex and gender ‘could put women at risk’ The Times 11.01.19

The original article is here.

By Elizabeth Burden

Women and girls face a risk to their privacy or safety because most Scottish councils conflate sex and gender in their official guidelines, a report says.

Of the country’s 32 local authorities, only seven — Edinburgh, Dundee, East Ayrshire, Glasgow, Orkney, Perth and Kinross, and Renfrewshire — consistently listed sex as a protected characteristic. The others also listed gender, sexual orientation or transgender identity, according to a report by Murray Blackburn Mackenzie (MBM), a policy analysis group in Edinburgh.

The findings are regarded as problematic because without distinguishing sex as a protected characteristic, councils are unable to provide female-only social care and single-sex services.

MBM said: “Public authorities have a statutory duty to monitor and measure inequalities, and must be clear about the grounds on which a person may suffer discrimination. Our findings raise questions about local authorities’ understanding of the Equality Act 2010.”

Sex, a person’s biological categorisation as male or female, is a protected characteristic under the act, whereas gender identity, a person’s social role and sense of self, has no definition in law. Gender reassignment is a separate protected characteristic.

In one example of the confusion, Linda Gilliland, team leader of corporate policy and community planning at Falkirk council, wrote in an email to a member of the public: “It is usually not possible to determine sex until after puberty and sexual maturity.

“Gender is a social construct and very often people express gender before they have reached sexual maturity and the terms boy and girl are usually used to describe people before they reach sexual maturity.”

A representative of the Scottish government said in an email to a member of MBM that it was working to reduce and remove the social and economic barriers faced by women, men and non-binary people in Scotland, and added: “Although the Equality Act 2010 lists ‘sex’ as a protected characteristic, the Scottish government believes that gender equality should take prominence in its policy making.”

Shirley-Anne Somerville, cabinet secretary for social security and older people, said yesterday in parliament, in response to a question from the SNP MSP Joan McAlpine highlighting the report’s findings: “We accept that sex and gender are distinct concepts. The Scottish government agrees that there is a need to have disaggregated data to allow for the impacts of policies on men and women to be demonstrated.” Ms McAlpine said later: “If local authorities don’t understand that they can use exemptions to protect the privacy, dignity and safety of women and girls because they’re conflating sex and gender identity, they might not use the powers they have under the Equality Act. If it’s not being used to protect people, we’ve got a problem.”

Women and Girls in Scotland, which campaigns for sex-based rights, said: “Although Falkirk council eventually retracted this position, it is incredibly worrying that they held it in the first place. The sex of a newborn is usually apparent to anyone in the delivery room, apart from in a tiny minority of cases. How would a local authority such as Falkirk council uphold sex as a protected characteristic for children, if they don’t accept that boys and girls have a sex in the first place?”