A cross-party alliance will see the Scottish launch of a Declaration of women's sex-based rights at Holyrood, with critics claiming the event is discriminatory towards transgender people.
Scottish Labour's Jenny Marra and SNP MSP Joan McAlpine will host the event on behalf of the international Women's Human Rights Campaign in the Scottish Parliament later this month.
The campaign, which launched in New York in March this year, has written a Declaration which it says is "a statement on the importance of keeping the current sex based definition of woman". and reaffirms women's sex-based rights, including the rights to freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly.
However, it adds that the Declaration also aims to stop the "elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls that result from the replacement of the category of sex with that of ‘gender identity" and claims that "organisations have been quietly trying to replace the idea of biological sex with the idea of “gender identity” in human rights documents; and to include men who say they have a female “gender identity” in the word “woman”."
As a result the Declaration has been criticised by LGBT group, the Equality Network, which described it as "anti trans" and claimed if its aims were adopted, it would result in the "complete erasure of trans people", while the Scottish Trans Alliance, said the declaration focused "almost entirely on denying the reality of trans people's lives".
The meeting to launch the Declaration in Scotland is the latest move by a growing number of female politicians and new women's organisations to re-assert women's rights to single sex spaces as specified in the Equality Act 2010, which they state are being undermined by a conflation of biological sex, with gender identity.
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The SNP has been bitterly divided on the issue, which was sparked by proposed changes to the next Census and the Scottish Government's pledge to reform the Gender Recognition Act, which aims to remove barriers to make it easier for transgender people to have new birth certificates published in the gender which they identify.
Joan McAlpine, Joanna Cherry MP, and other SNP members are concerned that allowing "self-ID" rather than a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and a two-year period of living in the opposite gender, will give predatory men the ability far easier access to women-only spaces, such as toilets, changing rooms and refuges. They also point to trans women prisoners, who have been jailed for sexual crimes, already being put into the female prison estate as an example of women's rights to safety, privacy and dignity being denied.
The split has reached the party's grassroots, and the SNP conference earlier this month saw the launch of the SNP Women's Pledge, as well as the party's LGBT branch Out4Indy asking people to sign its own pledge re-affirming the commitment to reform the GRA.
Scottish Labour is also known to be split on the issue, and a source said: "People are still too worried about speaking out publicly on this issue because it is so toxic, and they have seen the abuse some in the SNP have received. However there's a feeling that people really need to start speaking up. It shouldn't be a party political issue."
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The Equality Network reacted to the news that the MSPs were hosting the event on Twitter, saying: "We understand that there is a meeting later this month in the Scottish Parliament to launch a "Declaration on Women's Sex-Based Rights". In fact this is simply an anti-trans declaration. The agenda of those opposing GRA reform is become clearer all the time
"This "Declaration" refers to trans women throughout as "men who claim a female 'gender identity". If the Declaration's detailed aims were adopted, it would mean repeal of the Gender Recognition Act, and complete erasure of trans people.
"It is truly shocking that such a transphobic "Declaration" is being promoted in the Scottish Parliament. We will continue to stand up for full trans rights, and we will be contacting all MSPs to point out how appalling this "Declaration" is."
James Morton, manager of the Scottish Trans Alliance, added: “This Declaration focuses almost entirely on denying the reality of trans people’s lives, as if we were the reason women are discriminated against, which if course we are not. Adopting the Declaration would place Scotland in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, and in breach of UK and EU equality law.
"We have long supported and will continue to support work to make the world safer and fairer for all women. We are shocked and disappointed that anyone is promoting in the Parliament a Declaration that calls for the breaching of human rights and equality laws, for one specific minority. You do not achieve equality by dividing people against each other.”
However, a spokeswoman for the Women's Human Rights Campaign said that its Declaration sought to "re-affirm women’s sex-based rights, as set out in international human rights documents, such as the UN Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
"We don't seek to ‘erase’ anyone. We support the rights of people who identify as transgender to dress and present themselves as they wish, and to protection from violence and from discrimination in, for example, housing and employment. We also support the rights of those who are persecuted because they identify as transgender to refugee status under international law.
"However we oppose the attempt by some activists to replace legal and social definitions of what a woman is which are based on sex with definitions based on ‘gender identity’. Women’s experiences of inequality and discrimination are based on our status as a biological sex, and can only be effectively challenged on this basis.
"We think that replacing biological sex with ‘gender identity’ in law and policy erodes women’s rights. For example, it is being used to erode the right to female single sex- spaces and services which are necessary to the privacy and dignity of women and girls, and to their protection from sex-based violence.
"This right is crucial in a context in which the World Health Organisation has described violence against women as ‘’a global health problem of epidemic proportions."."
Emma Ritch, executive director of Engender, said she also had concerns about the Declaration. "Women’s rights are an issue of vital importance, but the Declaration does not reflect the range of issues that women around the world have fought to prioritise," she said/.
"The Declaration, and the associated event, suggest that the organisers see rights as a rhetorical device with which to stigmatise minority groups. Trans rights and women's rights are consistent with one another, and we call on Holyrood to continue to shape legislation and scrutinise policy in order to uphold the rights of all women, including trans women, in Scotland."