Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Many Australians would have been shocked in recent weeks to hear about our top science body asserting that anyone who identifies as a woman is a woman, or to see in the media the abuse JK Rowling has received online for stating simple facts about the female sex. I was less shocked than others to read about these developments. Just a few weeks earlier, I'd received an answer to a question I'd asked Sport Australia at Senate estimates earlier this year. I asked them:
For the purposes of supporting, promoting, encouraging and making policy with regard to women's sport, how does Sport Australia define the term 'woman'?Sport Australia's written response, received three months later was:
Sport Australia has not defined the term 'woman'.
The reason I asked Sport Australia this question is that they have developed a set of guidelines for the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people in sport, along with the Australian Human Rights Commission. Parents, competitors, sporting administrators, women's groups and constituents from across Australia were taken aback by the tone and implication of these guidelines and a suggestion that participation in sport should be based on a person's affirmed gender identity and not the sex they were assigned at birth. Given that men's and women's sports specifically exist to cater for the biological differences between the two sexes, this pronouncement by Australia's peak sports body is troubling.
During Senate estimates both Sport Australia and the AHRC refused point blank to name the organisations they consulted with as part of developing these guidelines. When I queried them about the practical implications of the suggestions in the guidelines, both organisations were evasive. When I asked the acting CEO of Sport Australia if he thought young girls might be deterred from playing sport if they are competing against males, he replied, 'I don't have an opinion on that.' It's quite extraordinary that an agency would release a 50-page document suggesting that you don't have to be a woman to play women's sport and not have turned your mind to what that means for women.
When I asked the Sex Discrimination Commissioner about people of the opposite sex using women's and girls' change rooms, she told me that she didn't accept the premise of my question and that the act contained location-specific exemptions supporting single-sex toilets and change rooms. Two months later, in response to a written request on notice, Ms Jenkins corrected the record to say that there is no such exemption to provide for female- or male-only change rooms and toilets in the Sex Discrimination Act. For obvious reasons of privacy and safety, many Australians do not want themselves or their children to have to share change rooms or toilets with the opposite sex.
We've seen in the last week JK Rowling very eloquently explain the very real and very genuine concerns when it comes to single-sex spaces, speaking from her own experience as a woman and a victim of abuse. The vile abuse and threats which Ms Rowling has received for speaking out on these issues is disgraceful and highlights why many women are afraid to speak out on this issue despite the vast majority agreeing with Ms Rowling's point of view. Women's sport, single-sex change rooms and toilets, women's health services, and women's refuges and shelters are all clear examples of services which are designed to cater for a specific sex, with very good reason.
But look at how the institutions, which we should be able to trust to understand the importance of differences between the sexes, are acting. Sport Australia has no opinion on what a woman is. The Australian Academy of Science says that if you say you're a woman, then you are. The Australian Human Rights Commission confirms that sporting clubs can have legal action taken against them for keeping a male out of female change rooms.
The Australian people never voted for these scenarios and in most cases don't even know this is possible under our antidiscrimination legislation. Most Australians would be shocked to know that women may have to share change rooms with a person with male genitalia. They'd be very uncomfortable with an Australian female athlete missing out on an Olympic medal because they were defeated by a transgender athlete who was born male. They'd be appalled if a male sex offender was housed in a women's prison due to their gender identity. Far from being inclusive, replacing sex with gender risks denying Australian women the right to single-sex services which play a vital and necessary role in our society. I stand with JK Rowling and millions of women around the world who are determined to ensure our rights as women are not traded off in the name of diversity.