Mind the barrier

What are barriers? What do we mean by the word? What are we talking about when we talk about barriers?

For instance what do we mean by it when we’re talking about improving the representation of women?

The Scottish Government introduced its Gender Representation on Public Boards Act in March last year to “improve the representation of women on the boards of Scottish public authorities” and aim to ensure that at least 50 per cent of non-executive roles are filled by women.

However in the latest twist in the row over women’s rights and those of trans women, a new consultation on how the legislation should work in practice, has seen concerns raised about the government’s definition of the word “woman”.

So we know what’s coming. The government will have a fancy new definition of the word “woman” that allows it to “be inclusive” of some men. No longer will “women” mean mere adult human females – that’s far too stuffy and old-fashioned. No, now it means anyone who has a deep spiritual sense of being womany…so that lets most of us dreary old literal women out.

In the new Bill, the definition was changed from “a female of any age” – the definition in the UK Equality Act of 2010, which protects women against sex discrimination – to include a “person who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment”.


A person can have “the protected characteristic of gender reassignment” (whatever that means) without being a woman, so why does the definition of woman need to be changed to include such a person? Does it also cover people with an allergy to horses, people who dislike cauliflower, people who have been to Burkina Fasso? Why is the definition of “woman” something that needs random expanding in this bizarre way? It’s like changing the definition of “dog” to include roses and ormolu clocks.

The then equalities secretary, Angela Constance, accepted the amendment because “we want the Bill to break down barriers and not create them”.

This is why I asked. What does that mean? What is she thinking? If you have a law to protect, say, people with disabilities, does that “create barriers”? Should that bill, once passed, be expanded to include people who identify as disabled but are not in fact disabled? Would continuing to restrict the bill to people with actual disabilities create a barrier?

According to the government’s Equality Impact Assessment, carried out at the time the legislation passed, the definition of woman was changed after the issue was “raised by respondents in relation to the inclusiveness of the language used”, to include non-binary people as well as the “definitions used for female and male in it, which it was felt should be ‘identify as female’ or ‘identify as male’ to avoid issues for transgender people.”

Thin end of the wedge, wasn’t it, and now here we are, with women being told to move over to make room for men who claim to be women when they want to compete against them in weightlifting competitions. There’s such a thing as too much inclusiveness.

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