Speak Up for Women (SUFW) are advocating that the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill remains as it is with respect to the legal arrangements in place for changing a birth certificate to a different sex. For this small-c conservative stance they are being described as controversial in the media and as a hate group on social media. To provide some important context the government has recently implemented new provisions to make the existing birth certificate sex change process as simple as possible while still retaining a Family Court process. As part of the advocacy against the proposed liberalisation of the bill, SUFW planned a number of public meetings and in Christchurch a library meeting room was booked.
The problems caused by self-identification
Speak Up For Women believe that proposed changes would effectively mean that the criteria for who is female would change from being determined by sex, (with a small number of male people who can meet an objective test about medical, surgical and legal changes) to one of a self-defined “gender identity”. This would be harmful to women, they believe, because it would nullify the collection of statistics about women, and put access to women’s protections under the Human Rights Act at risk. Things such as women’s sport, women-only prisons and single sex provision of services like sexual abuse counselling would all become available to any man who described himself as transgender, non-binary, a cross-dresser, transvestite or fa’afafine. Indeed our Human Rights Commission already defines transgender in this broad way in its publications and submissions. It also interprets the Human Rights Act as if self-identification is already in place even as it argues to the government that the law to support this stance does not yet exist.
What is happening overseas?
Recently in four countries where similar self-identification legislation has been proposed it has failed. The UK Parliament decided to withdraw the legislation after the Select Committee process. Spain and Germany have voted it down in their parliaments. There is breaking news that the law has also been voted down in Japan. It seems likely that in these jurisdictions there is a greater understanding the negative consequences for women of legislating to remove an identifiable sex class of women and replace it with a category by self-identification.
In Canada, Argentina, Malta, Norway and Ireland where the legislation is already in place there is evidence of poor process and poor legislative design in addition to the many emerging negative impacts. The Canadian government used the term ‘gender identity’ in the law but did not define it and will not reveal whether a legislative risk assessment was ever carried out. As a result new case law is reining in the excessive impacts of the legislation although there are now many more ‘dangerous women’ in the country’s female prisons who are requiring the whole operating model for those prisons to be altered as well as directly endangering the women held there. In Malta the legislation has been argued to have been passed by a heavily corrupt Labour Party to provide a fig-leaf of progressivism. The Irish Law Society has said that the Gender Recognition Act 2015 has placed the State in an impossible position with regard to transgender prisoners.
The re-introduction of the NZ self-id law. Poor process and an uncertain destination.
Because the self-identification provisions were introduced in NZ after the select committee process no legislative impact assessment has been carried out here. Despite an acknowledgement by the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) that Speak Up For Women is a significant stakeholder neither the Minister nor the department has met with them nor with other groups critical of the proposed change. Preparations to reintroduce the bill seem to be have been in disarray. A recently as February the DIA, far from being able to provide a cabinet paper for discussion, were not even able to provide material for a verbal report. There was no agreement about whether the bill would go directly to its second reading, have the Select Committee process re-run, re-present the self-identification provisions as a new amendment to the Human Rights Act or even halt the changes completely. This surely indicates that there is significant confusion about the way forward and significant doubts from officials about the wisdom of the legislation. It is acknowledged by DIA that, in its current form, the law will not work as intended and that neither women in general, nor Māori, have been consulted. (See a summary of recent OIA’s received from the department)
Meanwhile Christchurch Library forgets that it signed up to be a democratic place for sharing knowledge.
A plea for courage not capitulation to bullying and silencing
Despite its refusal to honour the booking Christchurch Library is, like public libraries across the country, signed up to the Public Libraries of New Zealand Strategic Framework 2020 – 2025. That document claims a public library
is a focal point, a centre for the whole community and its visitors, a meeting place, a site for education, a source of inspiration and innovation, a connection to the wider world, a democratic place for sharing knowledge, experience and opinion.“
It also says libraries trust in the democratic process and <have> respect for individual and collective growth, understanding and tolerance. The framework continues saying “Libraries have a role as the ‘agora’ or place of assembly where ideas can be debated and kōrero happen, resulting in new ideas and creating new knowledge.”
I can understand the dilemma for the librarian. The library recognises that there is a Bill of Rights Act responsibility to allow meetings about political issues to happen in public buildings. There is likely no budget for security guards will likely be required and libraries don’t like to court controversy. But if the library capitulates in the face of threats to suppress discussion can it truly be regarded as a place for democracy and independent learning to flourish? If these principles from Athens and from te Ao Māori are to be honoured then surely the library should not capitulate to those who seek to close down debate and who call for people to be made safe from ideas?