Last year, the equalities minister Liz Truss set aside laws which would have allowed people to self-identity as the legal gender of their choice. For those worried about the effect self-ID could have on women-only spaces, Truss’ move was a welcome relief.
But campaigners for women’s rights should not be too complacent. As recent developments across the world in New Zealand show, it only takes a general election to trigger a massive move in policy in a matter of months.
Two years ago, the New Zealand campaign group Speak Up for Women thought that self-ID had been taken off the table when Tracey Martin, the New Zealand minister for internal affairs, announced that the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Bill was to be deferred. At the time, Martin said that:
‘Significant changes were made to the Bill by the select committee around gender self-identification and this occurred without adequate public consultation. This has created a fundamental legal issue.’
That Bill had had started out life as a simple measure to ‘develop new digital and online channels to access births, deaths and marriages information.’ But those profound changes – to allow anyone to change their legal sex for whatever reason they might have – had been slipped in after public consultation had closed. Martin was alerted to the issue, took legal advice and deferred the Bill.
That was in 2019 when Martin’s party – New Zealand First – were junior coalition partners to Jacinda Ardern’s Labour party. At the 2020 General Election, Labour won a majority. It did not take Ardern long to dust off the Bill and begin the process again. Labour’s Jan Tinetti, the new internal affairs minister, said in March that she has made this legislation her priority this year.
Speak Up for Women had to step up their campaign.