Protests hit Scottish rulers’ attacks on women’s rights

By Anne Howie
January 16, 2023
Hundreds have protested Scotland’s “Gender Recognition Reform Bill.” Action outside Parliament in Edinburgh Oct. 6 denounces policies of Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
The Scotsman/Lisa FergusonHundreds have protested Scotland’s “Gender Recognition Reform Bill.” Action outside Parliament in Edinburgh Oct. 6 denounces policies of Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

EDINBURGH, Scotland — Hundreds gathered outside the Scottish Parliament here Dec. 21 to protest the passage of a bill based on anti-scientific notions that “men” and “women” are merely subjective categories that can be changed at will. Such views undermine recognition of the reality that women’s oppression is fundamental in class society and deal serious blows to the fight for women’s rights.

The Scottish government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill was adopted the next day, lowering the age that someone can apply for a certificate that provides legal recognition they’ve changed sex from 18 to 16. It reduces the time most applicants must show that they’ve “lived in their acquired gender” to three months and removes a requirement that an applicant get a doctor to sign off on their new gender.

The week before, Scotland’s highest court ruled “‘Sex’ is not limited to biological or birth sex but includes those in possession of a gender recognition certificate.” That ruling and the bill build on other attacks that make it easy for a man who declares he is “living as a woman” to get access to women-only spaces. Since 2014 the Scottish Prison Service has housed prisoners according to their gender identity, not their sex, including men convicted of rape.

Organized by For Women Scotland, the protest drew women from across the country. They held signs that read, “Save our single sex places,” “Women are angry: Ignore us at your peril!” and “I don’t have a gender identity.” There were also signs aimed at Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is also the Scottish National Party leader. One read, “Sturgeon, destroyer of women’s rights,” another, “Sturgeon’s gift to predators.”

“I work at a nursing home,” Catherine Gibson, a member of the Unite union, told the Militant. “The elderly women there will want a woman to bathe and clothe them, but what if it’s a man who says he’s a woman. It’s a question of dignity and respect.” Health care authorities in Lothian have already said women patients who request female-only care may be allocated a man who says he is a woman to look after them.

Shereen Benjamin, a lecturer in primary education at Edinburgh University, joined the action. She told the Militant she and other defenders of women’s rights at the university face attacks on free speech. Benjamin helped organize a showing of the documentary film “Adult Human Female,” which defends women’s rights. When participants arrived they found a group of opponents of their views blockading the entrance. University security guards told filmgoers they couldn’t guarantee their safety. The showing was cancelled.

“The university should support trans people, but not condone shutting down discussion,” Benjamin told the Militant.

Scottish National Party Member of Parliament Ash Regan resigned from the government over the bill. “A woman is not a costume,” Regan said at the rally held during the protest. “It is not a feeling. It is a material reality that is grounded in biology.” The bill creates “a hierarchy of rights in which women’s rights are demoted.”

Pete Clifford, a leader of the Communist League from Manchester, England, joined the action and spoke with Alex Buchanan, a retired local council worker. Buchanan told Clifford the last time he came to the Scottish Parliament “was when it opened, to celebrate. Now I am here facing a setback. I don’t understand why the SNP and the left are backing this ID gender issue.”

“This is a blow to all workers because gains that have been won for women’s rights have strengthened our unity,” Clifford said. With union struggles beginning to rise, “defending women’s rights will become more vital.”

Edinburgh-based author J.K. Rowling sent a message to a protest vigil outside the Parliament earlier in the week. “Whether or not this bill passes, the fight isn’t over,” Rowling wrote. “I’m with you all the way. We are the women who will never ‘wheesht [be quiet].’”

It’s not clear whether the U.K. government will take legal action to block the bill, which it opposes.

Keen to shift attention from the fact that an attack on women’s rights is at the center of the new law, Shona Robinson, the Scottish government’s social justice secretary, said the issue was a matter of Scotland’s national rights, and that any move by the U.K. government would undermine “the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament.”

Keir Starmer, leader of the U.K.’s opposition Labour Party, said a future Labour government would adopt a similar law to that passed in Scotland.