Researching Women’s Rights in Policy and Law

by MurrayBlackburnMackenzie in Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

Researching Women’s Rights in Policy and Law
We did it
On 6th December 2020 we successfully raised £14,500 with 416 supporters in 28 days

To research the weakened recognition in UK law and policy of sex as the basis for women's experiences of discrimination and disadvantage.

by MurrayBlackburnMackenzie in Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

 New stretch target

We are incredibly grateful to everyone who has enabled us to reach our initial target. We have set a stretch target that will allow us to undertake more of the work listed in our original pitch.

Our background

MurrayBlackburnMackenzie is a policy analysis collective, established in late 2018. Over the past two years, we have researched and written about women’s sex-based rights and gender self-identification across different areas of public policy in the UK. We engage regularly with key decision makers and, within a short period of time, have established a strong record of impact based on careful research and analysis:

  • We have consistently called for greater consideration of the impact of proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004 on women’s sex-based rights, alongside others. The need to address these concerns was acknowledged by the Cabinet Secretary when she announced the Scottish Government’s plans for GRA reform in June 2019, and in the consultation on the Government's draft Gender Recognition Reform Bill in December 2019. The UK Government has recently announced that it does not intend to legislate to enable legal sex change by means of self-declaration, acknowledging the need to protect single sex spaces for women.
  • Our call for an inquiry into how official data on sex and gender identity is recorded is being taken forward by the Scottish Government. In June 2020 we raised our concerns about the reliability of criminal justice statistics with the Office for Statistics Regulation, who have since been undertaking a review in this area.  
  • Our work on proposals for the 2021 UK census and related research has been cited in the Scottish Parliament and informed parliamentary questions and debate. Working with senior academics, we continue to engage with the census authorities and relevant oversight bodies on this issue. 
  • We have provided written and oral evidence to Scottish and UK Parliamentary committees and other UK-wide consultations. Our work has been cited in parliamentary debates by MSPs from across the political spectrum.
  • We have commented extensively on women’s sex-based rights and gender self-identification policies in the media, including TV and radio interviews, and articles in the national and specialist press.  
  • We have published two peer-reviewed papers in academic journals. Our paper on the unregulated adoption of gender self-identification principles as a case study of policy capture in the August 2019 edition of Scottish Affairs has secured an exceptionally large readership, with over 10,000 downloads to date. Our second paper, on the introduction of self-declaration laws in other European jurisdictions was published in the May 2020 edition of the Edinburgh Law Review. We will shortly publish a response to a critique of our original paper in Scottish Affairs. 
  • We have a wider interest in issues of transparency and democratic accountability. In March 2020, we co-ordinated a letter signed by 31 journalists and researchers calling on the Scottish Government to abandon its proposed curtailment of freedom of information laws contained in its first piece of emergency legislation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 
  • In August 2020, we submitted evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s review of the 2016 Lobbying Act. In it, we called for witnesses giving evidence to parliamentary committees to make a statement about their funding base – a practice that has been taken up by the Justice Committee as it scrutinises the hate crime bill.

What we are crowdfunding for

We would like to continue to pursue work relating to women’s sex-based rights and feel that we are well placed to do so, given the knowledge and experience we have built up over the past two years.  The crowdfunders we have undertaken to date have sought funds for two discrete pieces of work: to generate submissions on the Scottish Government’s draft Gender Recognition Reform Bill and draft Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill. 

This crowdfunder differs in that we are seeking to raise funds to enable us to research a number of different policy areas, and – depending on the sum we raise – we will prioritise this work as we see fit. The work we would like to undertake focusses on the following:

  • Hate crime: the Scottish Government’s Hate Crime and Public Order Bill has begun its passage through the Scottish Parliament. We submitted detailed written evidence on the Bill and have been invited to participate in an oral evidence session. We are also receiving regular requests for briefings from MSPs and the media. We would like to continue to be available to provide briefings and commentary on the bill throughout its legislative journey. The Law Commission has also recently opened a public consultation on the reform of hate crime laws in England and Wales. Again, we would like to be able to generate a submission on this.
  • GRA reform: the UK Government has recently announced that it no longer intends to legislate to enable legal sex change on a self-declaration basis. Following this announcement, the UK Parliament’s Women and Equalities Select Committee has begun an inquiry into GRA reform. We would like to be able to submit evidence to this inquiry. Whilst they have paused their work in this area until the 2021 election, the Scottish Government remains committed to self-declaration.  Officials have since confirmed that responses to the recent consultation will be analysed before the 2021 Holyrood election. We are keen to review the responses when they come to be published.
  • Policy capture: our paper ‘Losing Sight of Women’s Rights’ demonstrated how public authorities have already moved ahead of the law change and embedded gender self-identification principles in public policy. Our paper cited two examples: the Scottish Prison Service’s transgender prisoner policy and the National Records of Scotland’s plans for the next census, which is now postponed until 2022 in Scotland. We have accumulated a great deal of evidence of other areas of public policy where a similar process of policy capture has taken place and would like to continue to research and write about this.
  • Surrogacy law reform: the Law Commission of England and Wales and Scottish Law Commission are currently considering proposals to reform the law on surrogacy arrangements so that the presumption of legal parenthood shifts to the ‘intended parents’ from the moment of birth. Many feminist groups have expressed concern about these proposals. If we can, we would like to review the process by which the Commissions arrived at these recommendations.
  • Transparent policy and law making: Drawing on our work on women’s rights, we would like to contribute further to more general discussions about transparency in public policy-making, particularly in Scotland. We submitted evidence to the current Scottish Parliament inquiry into the Lobbying Act. Drawing on our experience to date, we would like to develop some practical suggestions for ways to improve transparency in policy and law making, to contribute to public debate in the run up to the Scottish Parliament elections. 

We also wish to continue to be able to engage with the media when approached, as we know that many women do not feel so able to do so, because of concerns about the consequences of speaking publicly on these issues. 

We do not underestimate the amount of time and energy that will be required to undertake this work. We are also considering other sources of funding via trusts and foundations. However, many grant application processes take months, with no guarantee of success. Your donations would enable us to begin this work more or less immediately, whilst we work on a longer term plan to put our work on a more sustainable footing.  

We will continue to pay ourselves £15 per hour for work supported by this crowdfunder.

We are incredibly humbled that so many women (and some men) have seen fit to fund the work we do to date. We sincerely hope that we have met the expectations that our donors had of us.

Thank you in anticipation of your support.

Dr Kath Murray, Lucy Hunter Blackburn and Lisa Mackenzie



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