Speech delivered by spokeswoman Ani O’Brien on Tues 26th Feb 2019
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.
Well, I had an entirely different speech planned for today, but instead I will begin by thanking Minister Tracey Martin for making the decision to defer the Births, Deaths, Marriages, Relationships Registration Bill. Minister Martin may not have met with us or returned our messages, but she sure did listen.
Watching her on Q and A last night we saw a Minister who knew her stuff. She schooled Corin Dann on the difference between sex and gender identity and didn’t bow to the pressure of hysteria. We can understand the precariousness of the situation and why Minister Martin chose not to meet with us and judging by the reasons she gave for deferring – she heard us nonetheless.
Thank you for taking the time to join us today. Although the Bill has been deferred, this issue is far from over. Speak Up For Women have been the voice for women and for reason in this fractious debate and we will continue to make sure we are part of the conversations going forward.
We hope that you will leave tonight with plenty to think about and a better understanding of our position on sex self-ID and why we have fought so hard to halt this Bill.
My name is Ani and I am one of the spokeswomen for Speak Up For Women. You may know me by one of my many other names including TERF or the esteemed Wellingtonian of the Year’s personal favourite; “whore”.
While we laugh about the names we are called and the (so far) baseless threats thrown our way, we are just a group of Kiwi women who came together because of our concern about the impact the Bill would have on our society and in particular on women and girls. We have families and jobs, and we used to have hobbies before our lives became consumed with leafleting, writing, and desperately trying to get politicians to hear us.
It has been an uphill battle. People and groups with access to much greater lobbying power than us have succeeded in silencing our voices on multiple occasions, but we did not give up.
Disagreement is not hate. We are not here to incite hate nor to discriminate. We support legislation and policy that seeks to prevent discrimination against transgender people. That is what human rights are for and they are for everyone. However, what we saw in the Bill is a group of people advocating for additional rights that conflict with existing human rights and human rights exceptions. There is absolutely no way a Bill should be passed while this is the case.
Now, before we go on I want to clarify for those of you who do not know that the word “TERF” is a slur. It may once have been a benign descriptor for “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist” but it is now used as an insult and a silencing tactic.
Much like the word “transphobic” it has been so liberally slung around that if applying popular usage of the word virtually everyone in this room would qualify as a TERF.
If you do not believe that transwomen are 100% biological females you are a TERF.
If you think putting violent male criminals in women’s prisons is a bad idea you are a TERF.
If you want women and girls to be able to change into their togs in the female changing rooms at the swimming pool without fear of an entirely intact male exposing his genitalia (and be completely within his rights to do so) you are a TERF.
If you think it is unfair that male-bodied athletes can compete in women’s sports competitions you are a TERF.
If you are a lesbian or heterosexual man and refuse to consider transwomen as sexual partners because you are not sexually attracted to male bodies you are a TERF.
Have you bought Whittaker’s limited edition Plunket chocolate? TERF.
Do you say breastfeeding instead of chestfeeding? Utter TERF.
Have you spelt ‘transwoman’ as one word instead of two? TERF.
If you believe that we are born male or female with the exception of a miniscule number of intersex people and cannot change our biological sex you are a TERF.
And, if NZ twitter is anything to go by, if you defer a Bill due to insufficient public consultation, you too are a TERF. Sorry, Tracey!
Ok. Now that we have established that you are all hateful bigots who should “die in a fire” let me take you through the three demands we had for our Government and which they seem to have delivered on.
Our first demand was simply this: The Government must put the self-ID proposals on hold until there is reasonable public consultation. Respectful, evidence-based public consultation must take place, including with women who are affected by the proposals.
That’s it. First and foremost we just wanted the Government to “hang on a minute” so that due diligence could be done and all voices could be heard.
The process up until approximately 5pm yesterday has been undemocratic – as Minister Martin has said, the proposed changes were not included in the legislation when it was introduced to Parliament, and were not the subject of public consultation.
The Bill was presented at its First Reading as a straightforward, uncontroversial series of amendments to modernise and streamline the existing Act. The self‐ID proposals weren’t considered until the Select Committee as a Green Party initiative following a petition to Parliament by transgender activist Allyson Hamblett signed by just 53 people. It was a clever piece of politicking on the part of the Greens to introduce such a significant piece of social engineering, at the Select Committee stage, in an otherwise uncontroversial Omnibus Bill likely to receive cross‐party support. It nearly worked for them.
Green Party MPs have been doubling down on their support for the Bill and the voices they have elected to amplify. Using their political profiles and social media accounts the party many of us in Speak Up For Women have voted for accused us and other critics of self-ID of threatening the “very lives and identities” of transgender people. MVP has to go out to Marama Davidson.
If only the Select Committee had listened to the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) in the first place as they emphatically opposed sex self-identification on birth certificates, they may have saved us all a whole lot of headaches.
The DIA said, “because a birth certificate involves core identity information, any potential law change has wide‐ranging implications. A birth certificate forms the basis for information on other official documentation, such as passports and driver licenses. Passports and driver licenses are considered “transactional” documents that involve less formal processes than s 28 [of the BDMRR Act 1995]. Unlike a registered birth record they can be revoked.”
Central to DIA concerns was the need to balance the personal interests of transgender people against the need for certainty and integrity in offiicial documentation. The DIA noted that the medical gatekeeping under existing law had been interpreted broadly in case law, such that gender reassignment surgery is no longer required anyway. This, the DIA said, provides sufficient flexibility to address Allyson Hamblett’s concerns. They came to the conclusion that “the Department is not in a position to confirm the government’s support for [self-ID] or otherwise.”
We have already strayed into the territory of our second demand to the Government with discussion of the integrity of official documentation.
Our second demand is as follows: The Government must review how the proposed changes will affect data gathering, reporting, and the integrity of records for things such as crime, health, and monitoring sex-based discrimination such as the pay gap.
Increasingly data is central to business and government in New Zealand and abroad. It allows us to paint a picture of populations, assess needs, and identify areas of weakness. However, policy and planning based on this kind of intel is only ever going to be as good as the data it is based on.
We implore all MPs, but in particular Minister for Statistics Honourable James Shaw, Minister of Health Honourable Dr David Clark, and Minister of Justice Honourable Andrew Little, to consider the role data plays in their portfolios and how integral that data is to their ability to plan effectively for resource allocation, crisis mitigation, and responsible day to day management.
In Great Britain, for example, for the first time ever women have begun appearing in the statistics for a violent crime that has up until recently only been committed by men. You could be forgiven for launching an investigation into what was creating this sudden change in women’s behaviour, but the answer is simple. In Britain the crime of rape could only be committed by men because it requires penile penetration. Now that their crime statistics are being recorded according to gender identity rather than sex, be-penised ‘women’ are capable of rape. This is not an insignificant issue for Britain either. Releasing data under a Freedom of Information request, the Ministry of Justice confirmed that 48% of transgender inmates in England and Wales were serving time for a sexual offence. This can be compared to the rest of the prison population which has an average of 19% sex offenders.
Our own Government recently promised to start funding more gender reassignment surgeries. As part of our second demand we would want Prime Minister Ardern and Dr David Clark to demonstrate how health funding would be managed for this and other various health needs for transgender people. The health budget is always notoriously stretched and women have many vital health needs that we would hate to see compromised by administrative confusion in allocation of budgets.
This leads nicely into our final demand and the one closest to our core purpose: The Government must review how the proposed changes will impact the protected category of “sex” intended to protect women from discrimination under the Human Rights Act.
Firstly, lets quickly get our definitions sorted:
Sex is biological. It is our chromosomes, our sexual organs, our secondary sex characteritsics, our skeletal structures. It is in our DNA.
Gender is the sets of stereotypes that as societies we have imposed on each of the sexes. For example, girls like pink and want to wear dresses.
Often these two terms are confused, but to be clear it is our SEX that is recorded on our birth certificates, not gender.
It is important to make the distinction because throughout history and still today women are discriminated against and suffer violence because of our SEX not because of which gendered stereotypes we adhere to. Consequently, laws which protect women’s safety, dignity, and privacy must also be defined by sex.
Prominent feminist Sheila Jeffreys says “in international law gender stereotypes are recognized as being in contradiction to the interests of women. The importance attributed to the elimination of these stereotypes is exemplified in the wording of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Article 5 of CEDAW calls upon State Parties, to “take all appropriate measures’ to ‘modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudice and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women”.
Did you know that in promoting multi-sex toilet and changing facilities Governments across the Western World are contravening the principles of United Nations guidance? Sex segregation is presented by the UN as a priority in achieving equality for women, especially in developing countries.
Paragraph 2.1.2 of the UNICEF document on applying the UN Sustainable Development Goals to sanitation specifies that separate school toilets should always be provided for girls (UNICEF, 2016).
So while humanitarians work to build vital safe spaces for women and girls in developing countries, why have developed countries been so eager to dismantle ours?
We have been called hysterical and had our concerns about the loss of sex-segregated spaces minimised and mocked, but lets briefly look at some of the facts that support our entirely valid concerns:
According to NZ Police data around 94-98% of child sexual abuse is committed by males and 98-99% of sexual offending against adults is committed by males.
On the otherhand, women make up around 95% of the victims.
According to the Transgender Law Centre in the UK 85% of trans-identified males retain their male genitalia. That number is probably higher in New Zealand due to infrequency of gender reassignment surgeries.
There is no evidence that identifying as a woman even after gender reassignment surgery reduces the risk of male violence.The available evidence is to the contrary. A decades-long Swedish study concluded that “[transwomen] retained a male pattern regarding criminality. The same was true for violent crime.”
The term “transgender” has expanded so much that non-binary, genderqueer, gender-fluid and even part-time crossdressers are included under the umbrella. This makes it virtually impossible to distinguish genuine transwomen from the increasing number of autogynephiles who have hitched a ride on the gender identity movement. If the Bill had gone ahead, people would be able to change the sex on their birth certificate without even remotely presenting themselves in the gendered norms of the opposite sex.
The number of examples of males accessing women’s spaces and doing harm overseas are vast. A quick google search will demonstrate this.
We are told that men will not abuse self-ID laws, but to that we point out the extremes that predators have always gone to in order to access victims. They have sought positions of power becoming priests, sports coaches, teachers, and community leaders. And with self-ID they need not actually change their birth certificate. The law would impact on women’s ability to assert themselves in challenging the presence of males in our spaces making it easy for them to access them unchallenged.
The issue of transwomen in women’s prisons is one that often crops up in these discussions. The now deferred Bill was far too ambiguous on the power Corrections would have to make case by case assessments on the appropriateness of transwomen being housed with women. It left the door open for already incarcerated men to go online and self-ID as the opposite sex and be subject to no opposition.
If you want an example of the harm this can do to women google Karen White. White is a sex offender who identifies as a woman and so was placed in a women’s prison where he subsequently sexually assaulted multiple women. Due to cases like this, the British Government very recently walked back their policies on transgender prisoners and are advocating for separate spaces for them.
Sport of course is a topic that greatly interests many Kiwis and as we have leafleted and engaged with the New Zealand public on this issue there has been a collective feeling of unfairness in regards to the participation of transwomen in women’s sports competitions.
A fact I always like to use to illustrate the difference in athletic capabilities of women and men is that no woman has beaten the 100m record of 10.49sec set by Flo Jo in 1988 whereas in 2017 it was beaten by 744 different men at official events.
Professor Alison Heather will talk about this issue in much greater detail shortly so I won’t say much except to quote a young student athlete in the USA who competes in track events against two young transgender women who inevitably come first and second in each race. Selina Soule says “we all know the outcome of the race before it even starts; it’s demoralising”.
Women and girls face a lot of challenges to laws that our foremothers fought hard for us to have to protect us. In redefining what the word “woman” means, every piece of legislation that references it is altered too. How can the Human Rights exceptions for sex-segregation in our Human Rights Act 1993 be enforced when we cannot define ourselves as women?
There are a lot of vital conversations to be had and in order for democracy to work we must be allowed to have our say. Changes to law like this impact our rights and we are entitled at the very least to have a conversation about it.
As we get over the shock of having actually achieved our goals and look to what our role will be in the next phase of this, we would like to encourage you all to examine how you think about us and other women who have spoken out about this.
We must remember that engaging in good faith about issues however difficult they may be is key to the healthy functioning of democracy. Special interest groups should never be allowed to silence the voices of those that disagree with them; rather, our elected officials must facilitate robust discussion. Freedom of speech and freedom to engage in our political system are key rights that we must protect.
Thank you to all who have supported us through this campaign and to those who put in the work before we even began. Congratulations to all of the women in our group and the awesome men who have been true allies to us. You have all worked so hard and this is a complete team effort.
A few special thank yous:
Thank you to Georgina for being a fantastic spokeswoman and leader and a great support to those of us who stepped in when she became ill. Thank you to Jenny for being an awesome campaign manager and herder of cats and Beth for being the best comms manager we could wish for. And thank you to Renee who despite not being part of Speak Up For Women brought us all together and sent us on our way.
Speak Up For Women need to go back to the drawing board now. After a celebratory drink perhaps! We need to figure out what our next steps are and how we can continue to be a voice for women and girls. But make no mistake, when the time comes for consultations on sex self-ID we will be there and we won’t be afraid to speak up.