“Women of the world want and deserve an equal future free from stigma, stereotypes and violence; a future that’s sustainable, peaceful, with equal rights and opportunities for all.”
THIS IS THE FIRST sentence of a statement on the United Nations homepage on the occasion of International Women’s Day on 8th March 2021.
Three days later the Scottish parliament voted with a majority of 50 votes in favour of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill which excludes women from protection against hate crimes – crimes committed because the victims are what they are: women.
Sex has simply been omitted from the list of characteristics which make a person particularly vulnerable and therefore should be protected.
Omitted. Let that sink in for a moment.
During the debate, the Labour MSP Johann Lamont (pictured) argued a clear and well-reasoned case for amending the bill so that sex would be included as a protected characteristic. She highlighted the extent to which women are victims of sexually motivated hate crimes, from verbal abuse to outright violence, meaning that “for women, whether we are walking or running in a park or going to work, anxiety about male violence is our constant companion, from our youth.”
I agree. I am 65 years of age, grew up and was educated at a time when women in the late 60s and throughout the 70s fought long and hard for the opportunities and freedoms women now enjoy today, at least in western societies. Yet despite these achievements women still suffer hate, abuse, threats, attacks and violence just because of their sex.
In the course of my life I have repeatedly experienced malicious verbal abuse and on two occasions minor physical assaults. None of the protected characteristics listed in the bill made me an obvious target. The perpetrators were men and there was no doubt about their motivation. They saw me for what I am – a woman. Many, too many women suffer far worse threats and attacks, yet they suffer them for the same reason: from the viewpoint of the perpetrators they are first and foremost women.
Johann Lamont’s proposal was a simple and plausible one and it begs the question why she had to put it forward in the first place. Rightly, she observed: “When we ask, out loud, the commonsense question why women, who understand hate crime more than any other group does, are excluded, it is clear that there is no answer that can make sense of the decision.” In her words, the case for including women in the bill is indisputable.
Astonishingly, her amendment was rejected by 68 MSPs, among them 26 women. The bill as a whole was later voted through with the help of 32 women MSPs. Are they all so lucky never to have been molested, abused or threatened in the way other women have? Frankly, I doubt it. If they had voted in the interest of fellow women, this bill would have fallen.
As a result women in Scotland don’t enjoy the privilege any longer to be counted as one of those groups who should by default be protected from hate crime. As a consequence, the motive of perpetrators – targeting women because they are women – has been rendered null and void. Instead the bill contains a long-winded, separate article which makes the “Power to add the characteristic of sex” the subject of numerous, complicated procedural and circumstantial provisions. Moreover, the issue of misogynistic hate crime has been kicked into the long grass of a working group. All of this only adds insult to injury and could have been avoided by adding a simple three-letter word – sex – to the list of protected characteristics.
Looking beyond Scotland, the European Convention on Human Rights states in Article 1 and 14 that the enjoyment of rights and freedoms set forth by law and in the convention “shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.”
The wording echoes the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in which everyone’s rights and freedoms are enshrined “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” And it goes further: “No distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”
Excluding sex as a protected characteristic from a law supposed to protect all citizens from any form of discrimination and violation of their rights, freedoms and well-being on the grounds of prejudice is a significant departure from international consensus on human rights. It leads Scotland on an anachronistic path and away from the aspirations outlined in the quote from the UN at the start of this article.
For the sake of the women of this country and for the country’s reputation this bill must be repealed.
Regina Erich has lived in Scotland for the past 20 years. Before moving to the UK she lived and worked in Germany. Currently she works as a freelance translator based in the north east of Scotland. As a writer she has published articles on a range of topics in German and UK publications.
Photo of Johann Lamont MSP by Scottish Parliament –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plSRnWleuIA&ab_channel=TheScottishParliament, OSPL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94923840
Vote counts and quotes from Johann Lamont can be found in these official reports:
Official Report (parliament.scot) – Parliament meeting 10 March 2021
Official Report (parliament.scot) – Parliament meeting 11 March 2021