Susan Smith at the Forth Valley Feminist 2023 Woman’s Festival

Susan Smith founded For Women Scot with Trina Budge and Marion Calder in 2018 in response to growing concern about how reforming the Gender Recognition Act to allow for self-identification of gender identity would affect women’s rights. For Women Scot has since grown to become one of the country’s most prominent women’s rights organisations. Susan joined us at the Forth Valley Feminists’ 2023 Women’s Festival to provide an update on the bill and its impact on women.

Susan highlighted the unprecedented consequences of the bill’s passage, expressing her gratitude to the attendees at the festival for the role they have played. Smith also expressed her disbelief at the lack of foresight regarding the downsides of the bill, which has been touted as “the most consulted piece of legislation in history.”

She emphasized the power of lobbyists and the dangers of an unelected and unaccountable group of people having so much influence over the law. Smith pointed out that the Scottish government needs better advisers. The Scottish Government has put themselves in a position where people with Gender Recognition Certificates (GRCs) are treated differently from those without, making the Secretary of State for Scotland Alastair Jack’s position easy.

The Westminster Government stepping in to correct the mistake made by the Scottish government with Section 35 has been welcomed by people from various backgrounds and various political stripes. This should alert the Scottish Government to the error they have made.

The First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, has stated that she needs more information before deciding whether the convicted rapist Isla Bryson is a man or a woman. This begs the question of why the First Minister would require more information than a Gender Recognition Certificate under her own government’s new legislation.

The “Elizabeth Fry” 1823 Gaols Act, which enforced single sex prisons, with female warders for female prisoners to safeguard them from sexual exploitation, was passed 200 years ago. There are dangerous males claiming to be women in prisons and there are implications for female prisoners and female prison staff – there are real concerns about why sex offenders would want to go to women’s prisons and why they would want young female staff to search them. It is vitally important that a Gender Recognition Certificate should only have the effect of changing an individual’s gender marker rather than their recorded sex.

Susan ended by quoting Mary Wollstonecraft’s, saying we “do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves” and described the current period as one of the most misogynistic but also the most inspiring, as women are rediscovering their passion and power. She encouraged the attendees to keep fighting for their rights and for equality.

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