It is an exciting time to be a feminist in Scotland. At this moment, legislation is developing with the aim to end period poverty, to reform the way in which a woman can refer herself for forensic testing after a sexual assault or rape, and to protect women from female genital mutilation. Legislation on mixed-sex civil partnerships is developing, allowing choice over a traditionally patriarchal institution. Many issues that affect the lives of women in Scotland are being challenged and improved in turn moving us ever closer to gender equality. This is being done collaboratively and with the experiences of women in Scotland driving these positive legislative changes.
Within the past fortnight, the First Minister's National Advisory Council on Women and Girls has released a new report urging policy development that moves forward from a feminist standpoint, placing the voices of marginalised populations including women at the fore.
Internationally, Scottish feminists and women's organisations have lent their voices to the successful campaigns to improve reproductive rights for women in Ireland and Northern Ireland. They have worked with the UN and global human rights activists on the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), advancing equality for women around the world.
Historically, we have seen abortion legalised. Laws on equal pay, against sex discrimination, and criminalising rape in marriage have been instituted. We have seen the set-up of Rape Crisis and Women's Aid in Scotland. Working together and on the ground, women in Scotland have created safe spaces open to all women. They have challenged sexist portrayals of women in the media and in schools.
Feminists in Scotland have long developed an intersectional, diverse and inclusive women's movement. This movement champions and celebrates all women in Scotland. It seeks many things, from economic rights to reproductive rights, from carers' rights to increasing women's participation in political life. So much has been done, and there is so much more left to do. We got here, as diverse women, by working together and leaving no-one behind.
In light of all the great things being accomplished by feminists in Scotland, it is dispiriting to see a small group of women claiming that women's rights in Scotland have stagnated. It is disappointing to see some pockets of 'feminism' claim that the way to get the women's movement back on track is to support their own efforts to prevent developing legislation seeking equal rights for trans people, trans women more specifically.
It's an aged strategy, pitting one disadvantaged group against another. In the end, this strategy helps no-one except those who already hold power and privilege, and it keeps disadvantaged people on the outside looking in.
In order to convince folk that trans women pose a threat to the rights and safety of other women and girls, the opponents of trans rights are making statements that have little basis in fact. They ask the listener to accept things that fundamentally ignore history, misstate the law and restate offensive old stereotypes that have already been used to demonise marginalised groups in the past.
In recent anti-trans rhetoric, those who are not willing to accept trans women within their vision of the women's movement have said that they are being silenced. They have claimed 'policy capture' and implied that rights for trans people have been hastily put forward without any input from women's groups. They have warned of the alleged dangers of trans women to children, young or vulnerable people and to women's safe spaces. None of these claims contain any element of truth. These claims have been disproved and challenged repeatedly by leaders, human rights groups, equality groups, the government, and academics, yet the trope is still pushed.
Opposition to trans people is voiced almost daily in many newspapers and online. It is frequently featured on the radio and on television. It is an illusion that there are a majority of women against trans rights. An illusion ironically perpetuated by the very loud voices of the supposedly 'silenced'.
The Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) was not some social experiment mis-sold to the UK public without accurate information. It was the culmination of more than a decade and a half of legal cases in both UK and European courts that affirmed that trans people had the right to live and move throughout society in their transitioned sex and that the UK Government had an obligation to legally recognise this. It took two additional years after the European Court of Human Rights ordered the UK Government to legally recognise trans people for the legislation to be passed.
The current proposed reforms to the GRA were first called for in 2014 by trans people and have been a matter of public discussion ever since. Every major political party has included GRA reform in its election manifesto and the Scottish Government is currently engaged in its second consultation in the past two years on the proposed legislation. The first consultation received in excess of 15,500 responses when most legislative consultations rarely get more than a handful. It can hardly be said that this discussion has been rushed, or that people have not had an opportunity to express their concerns.
Gatherings of women, with the purpose of discussing our rights, protections, safety and equality are, and have been, common practice in Scotland. What is new is the policing of which women's bodies are able to attend. The assertion that the Equality Act 2010 only offers protection for sex discrimination based on biological or legal sex is patently wrong. That the Act extends protection based on perception as well as actually being part of a protected group shows that the framers did not have such a narrow interpretation in mind.
Those who wish to return to biological essentialism and once again define women based on our biology and our ability to reproduce are dismissing nearly 60 years of feminist campaigning and thought that have fought to break free of the patriarchal restrictions placed on our lives by defining us by our biology.
Scaremongering that children are being pressured into 'becoming trans' because they don't conform to gender stereotypes is another tactic being used to argue that trans people are a threat to others. LGBT advocates have consistently pushed for safe, accepting environments where children and young people can be themselves and explore their own identities on their own terms. We've been down this road before. Section 28 was put in place to keep gay people from 'pushing their agenda' and to protect children from being pressured in to 'becoming gay'. That argument was debunked then, and still holds no water today.
Scotland is a progressive, welcoming and empathic place full of intersectional feminists who support their trans siblings and will fight hand in hand for their recognition and right to live free from discrimination, and to live freely with access to the services that they may need when they are vulnerable.
It is absurd for opponents of trans rights to say that the majority of our population would be on their side. The Scottish Government's commitment to reform, the words of our First Minister, and the statistics from the last consultation in favour of GRA reform, would strongly suggest otherwise.
The Women's Movement is alive and well in Scotland, and it is progressive, intersectional, inclusive and has room for all
Dr Rebecca Crowther is a policy coordinator at the Equality Network