In dispute over trans rights, feminists must have free speech – Susan Dalgety

Hillary Clinton talks to Mary Beard at the launch of Gutsy Women: Favourite Stories of Courage and Resilience, a book by Clinton and her daughter Chelsea (Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire)
Hillary Clinton talks to Mary Beard at the launch of Gutsy Women: Favourite Stories of Courage and Resilience, a book by Clinton and her daughter Chelsea (Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire)
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Maybe you think I’m a ‘Terf’, but people like me are only trying to stand up for hard-won rights like female-only places of refuge, writes Susan Dalgety.

You can’t keep a good woman down. As the gavel went down on Trump’s impeachment, up popped Hillary Clinton to remind us she is still relevant.

Asked earlier this week by BBC presenter Mishal Husain about self-ID – the concept where a man can simply declare he is female, and lo and behold he is – Hillary responded gutsily, for her.

Gently gathering her six decades of feminist credentials, she said: “Well, I do think there is a legitimate concern about women’s lived experience and the importance of recognising that...”

So far, so uncontroversial. She continued, “... and also the importance of recognising self-identification. This is all relatively new. People are still trying to find the language for it, trying to sort it out. I think in the right mindset this can be understood, but it’s going to take some time.”

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Predictably Twitter erupted. “Fearmongering”, “She sucks” and “scum” were some of the kinder epithets flung at her across social media. And of course, she was immediately branded a ‘Terf’.

After six months living in one of the world’s poorest countries, Malawi, where millions of girls have to fight for the right to be educated, I had almost forgotten about Terfs. I had to remind myself it stood for ‘trans exclusionary radical feminist’, and that I was one.

And so, it now seems, is Hillary Clinton. Closer to home, another feminist hero raised her voice against the trans orthodoxy that a person’s sex, whether they are male or female, is all in the mind. A doctrine that threatens the very basis of equality legislation and policies based on sex.

A historic day

Younger readers may not immediately recognise Johann Lamont, former leader of Scottish Labour and Glasgow MSP since 1999. She keeps a relatively low profile these days, focussing on her city, and causes such as violence against women and carers’ rights. But when the history of Scottish feminism is written, Johann Lamont’s name will be up there in lights.

Along with other determined women like Maria Fyfe, Margaret Curran, Kate Phillips, Alice Brown et al, Johann argued for, and won, equal representation in the Scottish Parliament, at least within the Labour Party.

As stout male trade unionists and constituency jobsworths grumbled about “bloody women”, the sisters won a historic victory at Scottish Labour’s 1990 conference, when the party decided that men and women should be equally represented in a Scottish parliament, if and when it came to pass.

In 1999, when the first session of the Scottish Parliament was convened, 48 women were sworn in as MSPs (37 per cent of the Parliament), and most of them were Labour.

As feminist academic Meryl Kenny wrote: “To put the results in context, on 6 May 1999, more women were elected to the Scottish Parliament in one day than had been elected to represent Scotland in the House of Commons since 1918, when women were first eligible to stand for political office.”

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Johann Lamont was at the forefront of that revolution, and today she is back on the front line. On Tuesday, she was revealed as one of the founding signatories of the ‘Labour Women’s Declaration’, along with MSPs Jenny Marra and Elaine Smith.

The declaration, which I also signed, reminded the people’s party that women and girls “are subject to discrimination and oppression on the basis of their sex”.

Not on the basis of whether they wear high heels or flat shoes, lipstick or none. Not whether they are feminine or butch, assertive or introverted, an earth mother or serial entrepreneur.

Women and girls are discriminated against, are oppressed, indeed are slaughtered, not because of their lived identity, but because of their immutable sex.

And to deny otherwise, as some trans activists do, is to deny the majority of the Earth’s population their basic human rights.

As Johann said when the declaration was published: “The progress made by women has come from women organising together and refusing to be silenced. That is as necessary now as it ever was.”

A quick scan across the global news underlines her assertion. Thursday was Equal Pay Day, the date in November when it is estimated most women start working for free for the rest of the year.

Labour may have promised to close the pay gap by 2030 if they win December’s general election, but most experts, including the Fawcett Society, believe British women will not be on an equal footing with their male peers for another 60 years.

And the World Economic Forum reckons it will take 200 years to close the global pay gap. Two centuries.

Rape and murder

Scrolling through Facebook yesterday, I stumbled across a news item about femicide in Mexico. Latest figures from UN Women suggest an average of nine women and girls are brutally murdered there every day because of their sex.

The problem is so severe that, in 2012, the Mexican government was forced to introduce a statutory offence of femicide, when a woman – or girl – is killed because of her sex.

Here in Scotland, the Government’s recorded crime figures show that the number of rapes and attempted rapes reported to Police Scotland has doubled in the last decade.

And yesterday, the campaign group Women 50:50 published a list of women candidates standing in the general election in Scotland. It makes interesting reading. Labour are ahead of the pack with more than half their candidates female (58 per cent); the Tories come in with an almost respectable 39 per cent, while the SNP are nudging one-third (34 per cent).

The Liberal Democrats, the party that believes any man, including that most blokey of blokes, the BBC’s Nick Robinson, can metamorphise into a female simply by saying the magic words “I am a woman”, is outed as the least female-friendly of all the Scottish parties. Despite having a woman leader, only 30 per cent of their candidates are women. On Wednesday, MSPs Jenny Marra and Joan McAlpine will host a meeting in the Scottish Parliament on behalf of the international campaign to protect women’s sex-based rights, in particular those set out in the Gender Equality Act of 2010, such as single-sex, safe spaces.

This campaign supports the globally accepted convention that women’s rights are based on “the physical and biological characteristics that distinguish males from females”. It is also the Transgender Day of Remembrance, in memory of those trans men and women killed because of their identity, an accidental clash of diaries that some trans activists see as provocative. It is not.

What provokes feminists the world over is the erosion of hard-won rights like female-only places in refuges and hospital wards, the right to participate in single-sex sport, and our absolute right to freedom of expression and belief.