We can be trans-inclusive without undermining women’s rights

Jhe chairwoman of the Oireachtas Commission on Gender Equality this week expressed her disagreement with the removal of the word ‘woman’ from our maternity laws.

Labor Party leader and chair of the Gender Equality Committee, Ivana Bacik, has backed keeping the word ‘woman’ in laws governing maternity rights in Ireland.

Following the question raised on Lifeline in June Ms Bacik said she had received a number of emails from people expressing concern about a proposed change to certain definitions of the Maternity Protection Act 1994 which the Department for Equality said would make the language of this law more inclusive.

“I think we can be trans-inclusive without removing the word woman,” she said. “We don’t want to undermine decades of campaigning for women’s rights.

“We have to remember that so much structural misogyny still exists, but at the same time be very sensitive and respectful to trans people.”

As noted earlier in this column, it can be difficult to get a national politician to express their views on this issue; many say they are scared because the debate can be so toxic.

Ivana Bacik is worthy of admiration for her willingness to answer them.

The Labor leader gave as an example the legal definition of “woman” used in laws governing abortion, the Health (Termination of Pregnancy Regulation) Act 2019. Article 2 provides that “woman” means a “female person of any age”.

The word “woman” is used throughout the law, she points out, adding that it makes sense.

“There’s a built-in recognition in there that someone who doesn’t identify as female can be pregnant. Some of the debate has become very polarized. Most people would like to see recognition of trans rights, but not removing the word woman. I think we can be inclusive in the language without removing the agency.

She points out that it was Labor who spearheaded the Gender Recognition Act 2015 through the Oireachtas.

In Britain, trans rights have become at the heart of the culture wars, especially in the Tory leadership race.

Liz Truss, almost certain to be Britain’s next Prime Minister, has said trans women are not women, aligning her with the idea that sex is biological and should not be confused with gender identity .

In this case, Bacik disagrees. “I get a lot of emails saying that only a biological woman is a woman, but clearly we have to respect people’s identities. A trans woman is a woman. A trans man is a man.

Compromise in sport

On the sport, she said: ‘There has to be a compromise’ and favors a ‘case by case’ approach rather than the recent Irish Rugby Football Union rule. The rule change meant that transgender women would not be allowed to compete against adult female rugby players in Ireland “in order to ensure fair competition and the safety of competitors”.

The Labor leader added: “There must also be equity for women in sport so that no one is disadvantaged. Blanket bans are not the right approach.

Bacik, who has a long background in campaigning for women’s rights and campaigning for LGBTI rights, makes some interesting points about some of the objections to this proposed provision being based on a concerted attempt to drive a wedge between feminists and transgender activists: “We have seen this divide being exploited by conservative forces in other countries.

That’s true, but there are also a lot of people, not just women, who are concerned about the proposal to remove the word “woman” here. There was a marked reluctance on the part of Equalities Minister Roderic O’Gorman to make changes, even though these are now possible. This reliable old legal advice has been quoted, but as we can see with the abortion legislation, introduced by then Health Minister Simon Harris, it can be done inclusively and with common sense.

Meanwhile, four doctors from the National Gender Service (NGS) have met with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to express their concerns about our continued use of the Tavistock Gender Identity Clinic in London.

This clinic, which continues to treat Irish children with gender dysphoria, was criticized in a report by pediatrician Dr Hilary Cass. The former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics led the independent review of Tavistock.

Psychiatrists Dr Paul Moran and Dr Ian Schneider, and endocrinologists Professor Donal O’Shea and Dr Karl Neff, met Mr Donnelly on Tuesday to discuss their concerns.

In an interview on RTÉ This weekDr Karl Neff said he wanted to establish a service in Ireland for children within the existing NGS.

He spoke of ‘desperate’ people waiting up to eight years to be referred to NGS and worried that people were being pushed to the margins and desperately resorting to ‘unprescribed and unmonitored hormone therapies’.

holistic approach

A new Irish service would involve a multi-disciplinary team and take “a very holistic view of the person and address all their needs, not just gender, as is the case with many gender services”.

Dr Neff pointed out that the “evidence base” in treating children is currently very poor and, as identified by Cass, there is no medical consensus on “gender affirming interventions”. .

He pointed to the lack of evidence for the use of puberty-blocking drugs in young people or their long-term health consequences. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t provide or deliver them, it just means we don’t really know how best to do it or what the risks and benefits are and what the long-term results are.”

Dr Neff said Cass’s final report would likely recommend that if you prescribe puberty blockers it should be done as part of a research protocol so that evidence is gathered as it happens – unlike what that happened at the Tavistock.

Asked how the emotions surrounding this topic might influence why a service was not set up for children in Ireland, Dr Neff said he detected, although not sure, that “within the political establishment and the senior leadership of the HSE there is a fear”.

People are afraid to put their stamp on something that may later turn out to be a bad decision.

“That’s where the clinicians come in. We have 20 years of clinical experience and training in our adult service – collecting data, checking what we’re doing, checking what we’re doing, all the time . By doing this and relying on the clinicians doing the work, we can really help and reassure people who are afraid to invest in and support gender services in this country.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said the meeting with the Minister had been constructive and that he now intended to meet with other clinicians and stakeholders. He also said the Minister “believes that the development of a service in Ireland for children and young people is essential”.

It’s logic. Provided that decisions are taken quickly and that the recommendations of the Cass report are fully taken into account.