I am writing this on the train on the way back from a conference of nearly 1,000 women: a conference about our rights, our bodies, our history. Women's liberation is back on the agenda and it could not be more necessary.
50 years ago, in the heady days of late 1960's radicalism, young women rediscovered feminism and socialism, and anti-racism too. We wanted revolution. We didn't get it, but we did get legislation legalising abortion, for equal pay, and against sex discrimination. Rape in marriage was criminalised. We campaigned against male violence and built Women's Aid and Rape Crisis. We demonstrated to reclaim the night, protesting that women should not have to limit our activities and movement because of fear of male sexual and physical violence. We successfully protested sexist stereotyping being fed to children in schools and in the media. We won recognition that women are entitled to our own sexuality, to control of our own fertility, the right to have mortgages in our own names, to have jobs and careers after marriage and children. We fought to destigmatise lone parenthood. That tells a story of progress, of growing equality. Not the revolution, but some big steps forward.
But the conference I attended was not a comfortable celebration of these achievements. It was a howl of protest and a rallying cry to women that our gains are under threat. We can no longer assume any right to be inviolable.
Over the last few years, we have seen women denied the right to freedom of speech and the right to meet. We have seen women intimidated and even sacked for stating the obvious fact that sex is a biological fact and not a feeling. We have seen children told in schools that they are probably 'trans' and 'in the wrong body' if their behaviour and feelings don't conform to Barbie and Ken stereotypes.
The Gender Recognition Act of 2004 was sold to us as a necessary measure for the welfare of a small minority of people suffering from extreme gender dysphoria. Many of us thought that gender dysphoria was a problem caused mainly by rigid policing of the boundaries of femininity and masculinity coupled with some personal experience, but we did not speak up then. The Act went through, allowing a very small number of people to claim a Gender Recognition Certificate that offers the legal fiction that they were born into the opposite to their actual sex.
Since then, we have seen a steady erosion of the reality of sex and of women and girls' protections and rights. With the Scottish Government's commitment to introducing further legislation that will allow people to decide their own sex, they want us to depart from the reality of the material world into a world where reality must give way to fantastical claims that lesbians can have penises, women can be trapped in men's bodies, and so on. MSPs have actually stood up in the Scottish Parliament to solemnly state their belief that men can be women if they say they are. Government ministers have met repeatedly with those campaigning for changes in the law that will bring about this, and refused to meet with women concerned about the consequences for women and children should such changes enter the law.
The current push for legislative change is retrospectively seeking to legitimise what has already taken place in a succession of spectacular feats of policy capture across the public sector and increasingly across the media and the private sector, without any reference to women's interests and protection.
These include quite stunning breaches of women's and girls' safety and mental health. Men can today claim a driving license and medical registration that identifies them as females. They can then check into YHA hostels to women's shared rooms, and onto the shared compartments on the Caledonian sleeper. The toilets and changing rooms in John Lewis and Marks and Spencers have been declared 'gender neutral' at the cost of both sexes' discomfort. Men can claim a place on any woman-only shortlist. Men can pose as women and be accepted by the Girl Guides to be adult leaders of girls' groups, taking them on camping trips, without parents being told of their actual sex.
In a ridiculous move, the NHS in Scotland has agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that supports the right of adults and children to declare their own sex and has developed clinical pathways to drugs and surgery starting in childhood. Paradoxically, in the same MOU, the NHS agreed that being transgender is not an illness or disorder, and therefore does not need any medical assessment or counselling. However, life-changing treatment must be provided for this non-condition. Sex markers that denote men are to be changed to women on demand, and vice versa on medical records, making a nonsense of statistics and medical science.
The Police and Procurator Fiscal now record offenders according to their declared sex and not by the evidence of their own eyes. Thus, the number of women committing sexual and violent crimes can be expected to rise exponentially. News reports now regularly report violent men as 'women' who are guilty of child abduction, rape, sexual assault, and violent attacks on other people. And to cap it all, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has declared that male prisoners who identify as women can be moved to women's prisons. The effect of this on women in prison was not considered in any way by the men in charge of the SPS, despite the decision being made in the wake of the Angiolini Report pointing to the extreme vulnerability and poor mental and physical health of women prisoners who have almost all suffered from male violence and abuse.
Parents who question the official schools' policy of automatically implementing the 'transitioning' of children on their own self-ID, often without parents' consent or knowledge, are regarded as a risk rather than as a protection. Parents who object to sex education that misinforms children about biology are told they are bigots.
Men have been given the right to pose as women to both receive and provide personal and intimate services. If women object, they are told (wrongly) by the police that this is a hate crime and will not be tolerated.
I am giving emphasis to the male side of the transgender phenomenon. But the situation for girls and women who have 'transitioned' is not any less worrying. Amongst children, it is girls and not boys who are most at risk of experiencing gender dysphoria and unhappiness. Many girls want to be boys for all the obvious reasons – boys see themselves reflected in positions of power and authority and success and adventure. Girls see women objectified as sexual objects or domestic servants, and see the low status of women in society. Jo in Little Women
, and George of the Famous Five
were popular role models for girls. Today, they would be told that they were really boys, and must prepare for a future of pretending, of hormones and mastectomies.
All of this under the guise of 'inclusion' and 'diversity' and 'trans rights'. Women, on the other hand, have been told that we don't have rights to object to this. Not for ourselves, and not for our children. Women have been threatened physically, personally and professionally for even daring to question.
So, for women, the impact of officialdom's capture by the delusions and claims of the transgender lobby is not a marginal issue. It is at the heart of women's and girls' safety and of children's mental health. It represents a rolling back of progress. In fact, it is a resurgence of the exercise of male privilege.
That is why the conference on Saturday was, and is, important. It is the start of a movement. Women across all of the countries of the UK will be watching what Scotland does with legislation and policy, and how the debate is conducted. If the Scottish Government insists on promoting their regressive legislation for gender self-ID, they will be facing an army of well-informed, united and angry women. And I am sure that the great majority of Scotland's population will be on our side.