Open Letter to Nicola Sturgeon

Dear Nicola Sturgeon

We are writing to you as female members of the SNP who are deeply concerned regarding some recent events. We are working-class women, minority women, survivors, and other women who share our concerns, and we require single-sex spaces in order to be able to participate in public life. Put simply, for reasons of bodily boundaries and trauma, we cannot share female-only spaces with male people regardless of their personalities, dress sense, identities etc. 

We would like to particularly note that where female-only spaces are not available in places such as women’s refuges and rape crisis centres, it is working-class women who are most impacted, as it is women on low incomes who have nowhere else to go. This is why it is these women who mostly populate such services in the first place. 

Indeed, in a report drawn up by the leading umbrella organisation for the women’s sector in the UK (with over 500 women’s organisations in their network), the Women’s Resource Centre: “Are the Equality Act 2010 and CEDAW working for the women’s voluntary & community sector in England?”, published in December 2019 and which covered a review of frontline women’s services in England including a survey and focus groups – the largest of its kind ever carried out in the UK – they go further: “it was considered that single-sex provision and spaces were particularly important in removing the barriers for marginalised women to participate in public life. Without single-sex provision and spaces it was claimed that particular groups of women would be at risk of increased social isolation and exclusion”. This mirrors findings of the June 2019 report published by Women and Girls in Scotland, Female Only Provision: A Women and Girls in Scotland Report, which the Scottish Government has engaged with, and which highlighted how the most underprivileged, marginalised and vulnerable women are the most impacted by the loss of single-sex provision, and how women are self-excluding from provisions that are meant for us. 

The Women’s Resource Centre report went on to note that ‘survivor voices were absolutely key’ in informing policy approaches regarding single-sex provision, and contained the following recommendations: 

  1. “Any amendments to the GRA (2004) and the EA (2010), must prioritise upholding single-sex spaces, services, provision and roles for women and girls as sex class”
  1. “Education, training and inspections to ensure that equality duties under the EA (2010) are being met in relation to the single-sex exemption, at all levels of governance, amongst key institutions and at organisational and societal levels”
  1.  “To use consistent and clear evidence-based definitions for ‘sex’ (male/female and a protected characteristic) and ‘gender’ (constructs of masculinity and femininity), in all communications and policy”
  1. “Where the protected characteristics of sex and gender reassignment conflict a third space/service is required underpinned by an ethos of ‘led-by-and-for’ to meet the distinct need of each protected group without violating the rights of either group”.

Further, it has been noted in the aforementioned Women and Girls in Scotland report, and subsequent media coverage, that women in Scottish prisons have been adversely impacted by the inclusion of transwomen in the female estate, a policy which has – among other things – resulted in drug relapse owing to distress and retraumatisation. This has been publicly corroborated by the former Governor of Dumfries, Cornton Vale and Greenock prisons, Rhona Hotchkiss. It must be noted here again that women’s prisons are populated with mostly working-class women who are also extremely vulnerable, many being victims of male sexual and physical violence. 

We are therefore very grateful for politicians who advocate for the needs of women and girls to be met, and for our human rights based on those needs to be upheld. There is no privacy, dignity or safety for women and girls as a class if we cannot have our bodily boundaries respected, or trauma-informed spaces. Our equality is not possible without those things, particularly for women and girls facing the most barriers and those living with trauma. 

We would also like to note that despite what many in the Scottish Government and SNP appear to believe, even if it is claimed that only a minority of women require single-sex spaces – which we would contest based on clear evidence – the needs of minorities, including survivors, are women’s needs, and meeting those needs are part of what it means to uphold women’s human rights and the government’s equality duties. 

We believe all women deserve political representation, not just those who are not minorities and/or who agree with government proposals, and politicians such as Joanna Cherry, Johann Lamont, Joan McAlpine and Jenny Marra have made it clear that in representing the needs of women and advocating for us as a class, it is also possible to advocate for trans rights: Trans people should have protections from unlawful discrimination, and they currently have that under the Equality Act 2010, and they should have their own provisions where appropriate, as organisations such as the Women’s Resource Centre and Women and Girls in Scotland have pointed out in their recommendations. 

As many keep saying, ‘rights are not a pie’, protecting women’s sex-based provisions takes nothing away from trans people, trans people can and should have their own provisions. Particularly non-binary people seem to be missing in the debate regarding third spaces – even on the basis of trans rights alone, if trans people are to be fully respected, then third spaces should be a priority. 

We therefore completely reject any notion that meeting women’s sex-based needs is transphobic, not least as the needs of women we have highlighted are well evidenced, justified, and also recognised and made provision for in the Equality Act 2010. Despite this, women in the party have been relentlessly abused, harassed and threatened for standing up for our rights, including from other members of the SNP, and despite complaints and evidence being sent to the National Secretary and to Ian McCann, and despite many women members leaving the SNP as a result and making this clear, nothing has been done about it and the leadership has not addressed this at all. 

Recently we saw that around a couple dozen members publicly stated they were leaving the SNP due to the Scottish Government voting to allow rape victims to request a female medical examiner, and also due to a (now retracted) specific freedom of expression amendment put forward by Humza Yousaf regarding the Hate Crime Bill, that would protect women’s free speech regarding sex and gender. Their contention being that both were transphobic in not affirming transgender identity. Despite these both being Scottish Government parliamentary actions, your response, via a video made specifically to address the matter, has been to claim the issue is transphobia among the membership, with no examples given. Within days Joanna Cherry MP was accused by a fellow SNP MP of being responsible for those who left due to alleged transphobia, and shortly thereafter she was removed from her frontbench position at Westminster. The lack of action taken to address smears made by SNP MPs is one thing, but on the same day of her firing Joanna Cherry was again on the receiving end of credible threats of violence, this time of corrective rape, resulting in her having to go into hiding for her own safety and the subsequent arrest of a male SNP member, and yet you have also failed to condemn the threats made against her. 

The message from the leadership thus seems very clear: if you support women’s rights as a member of the SNP, whether elected or not, you do not deserve any action to be taken regarding any misogyny, abuse, harassment, threats or other forms of attack you may be on the receiving end of. Nor do you deserve any recognition of such attacks or any danger you are in, nor indeed do you deserve any support. Your welfare as a human being is simply not to be valued by the leadership at all. And of course tolerating such attacks also encourages them: Those men abusing, harassing and threatening female politicians for supporting women’s rights will feel emboldened by your silence, as will those misogynistically attacking female SNP members because we advocate for our rights. 

We, as female SNP members, need you to know that we find this incredibly distressing, degrading and upsetting; this dehumanises us, places us in danger, and subjects us to an unbearable, hostile climate in the party. As such we are writing this open letter in an appeal to you to rethink your position on these matters, to lead for the whole party, and to do the following:

  1. Condemn the abuse, harassment and threats Joanna Cherry has been on the receiving end of, and make it clear she is entitled to view women’s needs and rights as important and to advocate for them, as are all other SNP members and representatives.
  1. Affirm that women should be able to advocate for our needs on the basis of sex, and our rights in relation to those needs, without any form of abuse, harassment or threats, including the threat of suspension from the party, understanding that all women matter, *and that it is the most underprivileged, marginalised and vulnerable women members who will be most adversely impacted if we are not able to advocate for our sex-based needs, and that it is these members who will likely be most discouraged from entering politics as a result as well*. 

We consider the current proposed definition of transphobia as directly preventing women from being able to talk about our sex-based needs and rights, for example discussion regarding implementing the Equality Act 2010 single-sex exceptions requires being able to recognise that transwomen are natal males and can be subject to lawful discrimination on this basis in order to uphold protections for women, yet the current proposed definition would deem such discussion transphobic. Therefore we consider this definition to be discriminatory towards women members. 

It should also be made clear that all complaints regarding the conduct of members will be addressed, and as such women will no longer be ignored. 

  1. Affirm that feminists and advocates for women’s rights are welcome in the party, and that women have the right to our own views regarding sex and gender, and that there can be no expectation on party members that we all share the same views on sex and gender, and any respect agenda must respect diversity of views at its core. 

Gender conservatives have the right to their views – they have a right to believe in gender identity ideology – but gender criticals should have a right to theirs too. We consider compelled gender conservatism as harmful to women and girls and discriminatory.

Respecting those who have the protected characteristic of gender reassignment means respecting their trans status, it does not mean people have to accept that gender/stereotypes define what it is to be a woman or a man, or act as though we do.

  1. Be clear that any definition of transphobia which says or implies anything regarding the nature of sex and gender is of interest to everyone, as sex and gender and how we understand both affects us all, not just trans people, and particularly affects women, since gender norms and stereotypes serve to oppress women and girls and condition male violence. 

We ask you to take steps to alter the current proposed definition to ensure it does not preclude the recognition of material reality, such as a person’s sex for example, or compel speech, which is a human rights and free speech issue. It needs to be clear that there is a difference between intentionally trying to harass someone, and recognising the reality of sex and its relevance, for example. 

We ask that the Women’s Convenor is given ample time to consult with women members on the current proposed definition, and is given a chance to represent their views in any redrafting procedures/suchlike, as well as to address the ways the current proposed definition infringes rights and discriminates against women members. The same should happen regarding any upcoming proposed definitions of misogyny and homophobia.

  1. Lastly, we ask you to reassure women who have left the party, or who are thinking of leaving the party, due to the distressing, hostile and unjust environment women are facing, that you hear them, that you value them, and that you are taking action to support them and all women in the party in regard to everything that has been raised here. Within this, we would ask you to affirm the party’s commitment to the Equality Act 2010, not least as many SNP politicians and candidates have made it clear they do not in fact support its provisions. This would be a powerful message that could do a great deal to heal the party. 

We believe the party is imploding largely due to a lack of tolerance. We encourage you to take a principled stance for tolerance, encouraging tolerance of difference, and taking the steps we recommend are part of achieving that. Unlike many who disagree with us, we do not wish to have opposing views re sex, gender and pertaining rights to be silenced/disallowed, and we only expect the same respect and tolerance. The party can handle members holding different views on the politics of sex and gender, it can handle members recognising material reality, what it cannot withstand is tolerating attempts to silence, abuse, harass and threaten women, or indeed to ignore, coerce, malign or further marginalise the most underprivileged, marginalised and vulnerable women.

Thank you for your time, we look forward to your response. 

*Please note that the signatories below are working class women, minority women, survivors and other women members who share our concerns. Those who have had to sign anonymously due to the environment we are currently facing have lodged their details with the Women’s Convenor, Caroline McAllister, to be recorded safely.

Signed:

Some women who do not want their name published for fear of reprisals.

Cllr Caroline McAllister – Women’s Convenor SNP

Cllr Lynne Anderson – Equalities Convenor SNP

Cllr Ellen McMaster – Equality Officer, Arran.

Lynn Fraser – Stirling CA

Sharon Gallagher – Stirling CA

Emily Brice – Stirling CA 

Anonymous – Pollok Branch

Kath Moore – Kelvin Branch

Ann Fuller – Nairnshire

Susan Moffat – East Lothian

Anonymous – East Lothian

Stacey Seaton – Women’s Officer, Annan & District

Helen Bunter – Central Borders

Jean Marshall – Kelvin Branch

Anonymous – Edinburgh

Irene Buchan – Aberdeen South

Carol Fraser – Aberdeen Central

Anonymous – Edinburgh Southern CA

Delia Henry – East Dunbartonshire CA

Anonymous – Pentlands

Helen Coyle – Rutherglen

Anonymous – Aberdeen West

Carole Horton – Skye & Lochalsh

Anonymous – Pentlands

Margaret Cusker – East Dunbartonshire CA

Caroline Keenan – East Dunbartonshire CA

Anonymous – Dumbarton CA

Dawn Murdoch – Aberdeen South

Anonymous – Dumfrieshire CA

Claire Stagg – Cunningham North CA

Margaret Lynch – Uddingston & Bellshill CA

Lauren Leeman – Edinburgh

Anonymous – Dumbarton CA

Cheryl Easton – Dumfrieshire CA

Carole Inglis – Skye & Lochalsh

Anonymous – Eastwood

Anonymous – Elgin

Jane Phillips – Dundee

Anonymous – Rutherglen

Janice Donaldson – East Dunbartonshire CA

Clare Bloom – Forfar

Anonymous – Dumbarton CA

Heather Bruce – Haddington

Pamela McBain – ASNK

Anonymous – Stirling

Lorraine Glass – Haddington

Anonymous – Rutherglen CA

Jacqueline McDowell – Uddingston & Bellshill CA

Marilyn Higham – Linlithgow CA. Women and Equality Officer

Anonymous – Dundee West

Ellen Stagg – Cunningham North CA

Morag Muego – Dumfrieshire CA

Anonymous – Midlothian South

Ann Hall – Equalities Officer – Haddington & Lammermuir Branch

Anne Glen – HQ Branch

Dorothy Sharkey – Stirling CA

Carroll Dunwoody – Speyside Glenlivet.

Anonymous – Pentlands CA

Alison Weir – Pollok Branch

Anonymous – Fife

Serena Arif – Aberdeen South & North Kincardine CA

Anonymous – Eastwood

Anonymous – Stirling CA

Jenny Baboolal – Arran

Lorna Sharp – Aberdeen South & North Kincardine.

Valerie Gauld – Kelvin

Marie Park – Arran

Muriel Barlow – Dumbarton CA

Julie Marshall – Airdrie

Ann Laing – Arran

Vivien Martin – East Dunbartonshire

Anonymous – Edinburgh & Leith

Ann Roberts – Arran

Fiona Laing – Arran

Anonymous – Dumbarton CA

Marjory Smith – Nah-Eileanan an lar CA

June Hunter – Strathkelvin  & Bearsden CA

Jennifer Watson – Srathkelvin & Bearsden CA

Anonymous – Speyside & Glenlivit

Jan Atkins – Arran

Alison Cameron – Uddingston & Bellshill CA

Anonymous – Clydebank & Milngavie

Catherine Baird – Kirkintilloch Branch

Theresa MacGillvray – Inverness South

Rhiannon MacGillvray – Inverness South

Heather McLean – Dundee West

Phyllis Harley – Strathkelvin & Bearsden

As of 17.20 0n 23/02/2021

Anonymous – Bathgate Branch

Catherine McNamara – Clydebank & Milngavie CA

Lillas Rankin – Clydebank & Milngavie CA

Moira Jacobsen _ Clydebank & Milngavie CA

Jane Donaldson – Clydebank & Milngavie CA

Linda Hamilton – Clydebank & Milngavie CA

Anonymous – Edinburgh Northern & Leith

Christine Frieda Burns _ Aberdeen South & North Kincardine

Maggie Lawson – Airdrie & Shotts

Joan Duncan – Stonehaven & Mearns

Updated 20:20 23/02/21 

Jillian Barlow – Dumbarton Constituency

Anonymous – Skye, Locharber & Badenoch CA

Anonymous – Skye, Locharber & Badenoch CA

Shelia Jones – Skye, Locharber & Badenoch CA

Betty Grant – Skye Locharber & Badenoch CA

Janet Kleboe _ Skye, Locharber & Badenoch CA

Anonymous – Inverness & Nairn

Alison McBain – Aberdeen South & North Kincardine

Updated 21:10 23/02/21

Anonymous – Kelvin

Anonymous – Kelvin

Anonymous – Kelvin

Anonymous – Kelvin

Updated 16:57 24/02/21

Kenelma McCrae – Annandale & Eskdale

Anonymous – Ayr, Prestwick & Troon CA

Anonymous – Livingstone North Branch

Pippa Plevin – Broxburn, Uphall & Winchburgh Branch

Julie Bremnar – Speyside & Glenlivet

Leah Gunn Barrett – Morningside Branch

Anonymous – Ayr, Prestwick & Troon

Fiona Thompson – West Fife & Coastal Villages

Leslie Gavin – Dunfermline CA

Updated 08/03/21

Anonymous – Ayr, Prestwick & Troon

Kenelma McCrae – Annandale & Eskdale

Anonymous – Ayr, Prestwick & Troon

Pippa Plevin – Broxburn, Uphall,& Winchburgh

Anonymous – Livingston North

Julie Bremner – Spayside Glenlivet

Leah Gunn Barrett – Morningside

Dr Morag Kerr – Tweedale

Rosemary Griffin – Kelvin Branch

Anonymous – Haddington & Lammermuir

Marta smart – Broughty Ferry

Margaret Fitzpatrick – Edinburgh Southern

Sian Griffiths – Oban 

Avis Coutts – Kirkintilloch

Anonymous – Markinch

Linda Semple – Cunningham North CA

Ruth Ritchie – Dumfrieshire CA

Louisa Watson – Stirling

Tracey Stewart – Blairgowrie

Sheena Godley – Stirling

Margaret Anne Campbell – Motherwell & Wishaw

Anonymous – Forfar

Margaret M Wilson – Airdrie

Rachel Bell – Edinburgh North & Leith

Dr Leigh Cassidy

Dot Jessimen – Aberdeen

Anonymous – Aberdeen South

Marlene Halliday – Anniesland

Leslie Cameron – Fife

Susan Duncan – Kelvin

Rhonda McKenna – Maryhill & Springburn

Mary G Jenkins – Moray CA

Anita King – Kircaldy

Anonymous – Mid Fife & Glenrothes

Jean Anderson – Kelvin