Feminists fight against gender choice in census The Times 04.12.18

Women’s rights will be undermined by plans to conflate sex and gender on Scotland’s official census, academics have warned.

The Scottish government plans to change the poll to allow people who view themselves as neither male nor female to choose a non-binary option.

Women’s groups have argued that even considering any answer other than male and female will lead to sex and gender being misinterpreted. Sex and gender reassignment are protected in law, although gender identity is not.

Rosemary Auchmuty and Rosa Freedman, both from the University of Reading, told MSPs on parliament’s culture committee that “conflating sex and gender identity will undermine sex as a separate category protected by law”.

In a written submission to the committee they added: “We are concerned with ensuring the retention of [biological] women’s rights in relation to sex-segregated spaces and services, as already protected by the Equality Act in circumstances that are ‘necessary and proportionate’.”

Professor Freedman, an expert on international human rights law, will address the committee on Thursday.

Forwomen.scot, a group that campaigns for women’s and children’s rights, said in response to the Holyrood consultation that a binary choice was necessary for sex-specific service pro-vision, including cervical and breast cancer screening for women, and abdominal aortic aneurysm screening for men.

They also argued that collecting data on an individual’s sex at birth was necessary in budgeting for pensions because women live longer.

Three anonymous submissions were made to the committee, all of which argued that any confusion over sex and gender could lead to poorly targeted government policies that do not meet people’s needs. One said: “If you simply change sex to gender identity, then you are going to have the responses of males identifying with women assumed to have come from women when they haven’t, ie you will not understand your trans population at all.

“Natal women and trans women are not the same and have very different lived experiences, challenges, etc. The same would apply to natal men and trans men.”

Stonewall Scotland, which campaigns for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, said that the census in 2011 had already conflated sex and gender because the accompanying advice told trans people to answer based on how they self-identified, even if they did not have a gender recognition certificate.

The group called for an additional third option of “other”, because “asking separate questions on sex and gender identity would likely sit uncomfortably with trans respondents”.

The Equality Network and Scottish Trans Alliance argued that adding an option of “other” to the sex question would not make a difference because so few people identified as non-binary. They said that “the last census undertaken in Australia added a third option to their sex question, and this caused no problems for data analysis or use”.

Jess Stewart, a feminist campaigner for Scottish women, said: “If they add in a third option, we’ll be confirming it’s a gender identity question and normalising that language that says human beings are not male or female.

“Sex is a protected characteristic and if it gets replaced by gender or gender identity we lose the protection we need.

“The Scottish Trans Alliance are saying the numbers are so small that it won’t make a big difference, but the change could impact who completes the form.

“The research has shown there is a large proportion who will fail to return it and feminists could actively refuse to complete it.”