Canada is still obligated to protect women’s sex-based rights

The Canadian chapter of the Women’s Human Rights Campaign (WHRC) launched this weekend, on Saturday, October 24. WHRC is a global campaign dedicated to protecting women’s sex-based rights, elaborated on in their Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights. The following is the speech I gave as part of the launch.


Thanks everyone for coming. I’m so excited about this campaign and the Canadian launch.

It feels as though we are all living in some kind of bizarro world these days. I often wonder how this all happened. How, in 2020, after centuries of women fighting tooth and nail for the right to be recognized as persons, to be allowed to participate in political life, to have a say in their own lives, to make choices about their own bodies, to get an education, to work, to be financially independent, to leave abusive partners, to fight for justice when raped, for autonomy, we can be right back where we started: arguing that women deserve rights, that our safety matters, that we have the right to speak about our lives, circumstances, needs, and realities. We are now facing a reality wherein our political representatives refuse to represent us, and refuse to hear our concerns. Where we are being fired, kicked out of political parties, threatened, censored, blacklisted, and vilified for being feminists — for saying that women exist, and that we matter.

The irony of demanding women “respect pronouns,” telling them trans-identified people simply “want to be treated with respect and dignity,” that “love wins,” and that our efforts to articulate material reality and protect our own rights and spaces endanger trans-identified people is mind-blowing, considering that what underlies all of this is the demand women relinquish their rights, spaces, safety, and sanity. Considering that, while we are told we must refer to abusive men as “she” because it is the nice thing to do, the label “cis” is imposed on us, without our consent — a word that forces us back into the 19th century, when women were said to be inherently “feminine” and therefore unfit for public life. We were too irrational and frivolous to make decisions for ourselves, never mind to form relevant, educated opinions about society, legislation, and policy. We were “hysterical” when we expressed concerns, fears, emotions, or strong opinions.

Does any of this sound familiar?

This is exactly how women are being treated now, in the gender identity debate.

“Gender” was used against us, then, and now it is being used against us again. We’re told we are nothing more than “gender” — defined by the very backwards notions that were used to keep us silent, disempowered, invisible, dependent, and oppressed in the past.

Gender is being used to not only portray us as hysterical and irrational for fearing men in change rooms, prisons, or shelters, but to insist that if we do not conform to feminine stereotypes, we must not in fact be women, as women, of course, are only women if they “identify” with femininity. Now, in a quite spectacular twist of logic, it is women who oppose defining people based on gender stereotypes who are said to be the problem. Not the postmodernist ideologues who say that a boy is evidenced to be a girl because he likes dresses and dolls. Not the activists who tell women to sit down and shut up, to make way for men who know what’s best for us, and that we should put our boundaries aside, once again and as always, so as to not anger or hurt the feelings of men who can’t for a moment even bring themselves to consider that women also have feelings.

Why does compassion and care only go one way in this debate? Why is it hateful to discuss the female athletes, inmates, and victims of abuse impacted by gender identity legislation? It is truly amazing how quickly so many caved to demands that women put themselves last, once again, and turned to accuse us of bigotry simply for attempting to remind the world about our rights, which we fought so hard for.

This is what our good friends on the left have done to us. The left who claim to be on the right side of history. Who claim to be on the feminist end of the political spectrum. This is what the LGBTQ movement has done to lesbians — the movement that claims people have a right to love those of the same sex, that heterosexuality is not compulsory, who supposedly celebrate and protect gay and lesbian people. Of course, unless a woman refuses a male. Unless she says “no.” Then we throw it all out the window, because in today’s modern world a woman rejecting a penis is apparently a hate crime.

We can’t even say that men are not women. How can we say that women deserve rights and protections if a man can be a woman, and therefore there is no definition for “woman” at all? How can we protect the rights of lesbians if lesbians don’t have the right to reject males? How can we understand the history of women’s oppression, and ensure we don’t move backwards, if we don’t understand how women’s sex and the subsequent gender roles attached to that sex were used to oppress us.

In Canada, we allowed Bill C-16, Canada’s gender identity legislation, to pass with little push back. A woman — Jody Wilson-Raybould, then a member of the Liberal party and the Minister of Justice — introduced the legislation, back in 2016. She explained this bill would allow “Canadians to identify themselves and to express their gender as they wish, while being protected against discrimination and hate, because as Canadians, we should feel free and safe to be ourselves.” She added: “No one should be refused a job, be disadvantaged in the workplace, be unable to access services, or be the target of harassment or violence because of their gender identity or gender expression.”

Wilson-Raybould perhaps did not realize, at the time, that her “landmark bill” would lead to women being refused jobs, disadvantaged in the workplace, unable to access services, and be the targets of harassment and violence. Perhaps she didn’t realize that gender identity legislation around the world would mean women no longer felt free and safe to be themselves. That marginalized women in particular would now be faced with sharing spaces with predatorial men, with no recourse. That women could be fired from their jobs for speaking up about women’s rights, and for refusing to go along with the notion that women are defined by their expression or connection to feminine stereotypes, rather than their biological sex.

What bills like this do is not to “allow free gender expression,” but to say, in fact, your gender expression is what defines you: males are defined by masculinity, females by femininity. Those women who may be “masculine,” must therefore be men, and vice versa.

And this isn’t just hyperbole: gender non conforming girls, many of whom are lesbians, are being encouraged to transition, cutting off healthy breasts, going on puberty blockers and testosterone, destroying their bodies for life, because of this ideology. This is not simply about being “nice,” when there are such extreme repercussions, and I am infuriated by those who insist it is women who stand up who are “hateful,” rather than those undoing centuries of work, putting women and girls in danger, all the while pretending they are the good, progressive, kind ones.

This is a witch hunt, dressed up in modern garb. This is the backlash, disguised as progress. This is misogyny, framed as a human rights movement.

Wilson-Raybould and the Liberal Party patted themselves on the back for pushing through this legislation, with no genuine public debate, without considering the impact on half of the population, and now we are all paying the price, forced to work backwards, against policies and ideology that have been adopted by institutions, media, and political representatives across Canada.

This is what our “progressive,” “feminist” government did for us. And now, they would like to pretend we don’t exist: the women who don’t believe it is possible to change sex, the women who do not want their daughters rendered sterile and unable to enjoy sex before they can even contend with what that means. The women who know placing men in female prisons is setting those women — some of the most marginalized women in all of Canada — up for abuse that they may not challenge, and who, even if they tried, would not be listened to. The women who know that women escaping male torture and abuse do not wish to and should not have to share a bedroom with a strange man, in the one place they can go to for safety. The women who know a lesbian is a female. The women who know they are female, despite their interest or lack of interest in high heels, pink dresses, domesticity, passivity, and objectification. We are real, we exist, and we matter.

After all the work done by our sisters, who suffered so much for the rights and privileges we enjoy today, we cannot stand by silently, and let it all disappear. It is our duty as women who live in a free country to fight for women and girls everywhere. It is our duty to fight for free speech. It is our duty to fight for truth and justice.

And I know it’s hard. I know there are real, very serious consequences to speaking out. I know that women cannot afford to lose their jobs, their communities, their health coverage, their sense of safety, or their friends. I know that these are not small things. But I also know that we have to do something, and that we need all of us. We’ve made it too easy for the Canadian media and politicians to invisibilize us, to pretend as though we are not in the thousands. We’ve allowed our political parties to avoid putting women’s sex based rights on their platforms — and we still voted for these parties! The very parties who insist we don’t matter — that we don’t exist! We voted for them. Enough.

The great thing about the Declaration on Women’s Sex Based Rights is that it is reminds countries that have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that they are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. CEDAW was not just about empty virtue signalling, it was about holding States accountable to act on behalf of women’s human rights.

The Convention defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil, or any other field.”

Canada signed CEDAW in 1980 and ratified it in 1981. Forty years later, the convention still applies. Canada is still obligated to defend women’s sex-based rights, despite the fact legislators and policy makers may have forgotten this.

And, for the record, “sex” is defined by the United Nations as “the physical and biological characteristics that distinguish males from females.’’ It is not defined as “a vague feeling or declaration based on preference” or a “she/her” signature at the bottom of an email. Sex is not imposed or assigned, it is observed, and it is an immutable fact. It is not an opinion, a judgement, an insult, or a preference, and it doesn’t care about your feelings. I suppose biology is not always “inclusive.”

And, for the record, “gender” is defined by CEDAW as “the roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society at a given time considers appropriate for men and women… These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes.’’

The difference between sex and gender are all laid out very clearly, yet many struggle nonetheless in this debate to differentiate between the two. I wish that those creating legislation and policy around this would take a moment to look it up, but this is clearly not happening, so it is on us to remind our representatives of this. Because replacing the word “sex” with “gender” means women’s rights are no longer protected. And, as feminists, we are not interested in protecting “gender.” There is no need to protect stereotypical gender roles. There is a need, though, to protect women from sex-based discrimination and violence. And this is not to say that everyone else doesn’t deserve protection also — that those who suffer from what they view as “gender dysphoria” or who are gender non conforming should not also be protected from discrimination and violence. It just means that should not and need not come at the expense of women. Certainly we do not need to pretend a man is literally a woman in order to protect his human rights.

Women’s rights are not protected because of their “gender identity,” which is not a real, definable thing, they are protected because they were born female.

A “gender identity” is said to refer to an individual’s personal experience of gender, which is something everyone experiences, as we all live in a culture shaped by norms attached to masculinity and femininity, and because we are all individuals with different likes and dislikes. We all “experience gender,” and yet it isn’t what defines us. Despite the fact our likes and dislikes may be gendered, they do not, in fact, determine our biological sex.

Defining and protecting people based on “gender identity” makes as much sense as defining and protecting people based on whether or not they like romantic comedies or action movies.

Moreover, protecting the rights of women to operate outside gender norms is part of protecting women’s rights. In other words, women’s sex-based rights do not exist in opposition to the rights of people to not be discriminated against because they don’t adhere to sexist stereotypes.

I do realize much of this might not have occurred to many of those supporting trans activism and gender identity legislation, who may think they are doing what is right, in terms of protecting what is said to be a marginalized population. The media, schools, activists, and politicians have done a good job of hammering this in.

In BC schools, children are being taught that “everyone has a gender identity.” Primary school kids are being taught that “When babies are born, doctors and parents usually decide if the baby is a boy or girl. However, not everybody will grow up feeling like or identifying as a boy or a girl.” Students are also taught they should “look for clues” that tell them a boy is really a girl. Lesson plans for teachers tell them to “Ask students, what does it mean to feel like a boy or to feel like a girl.” A suggested student activity in one of the SOGI lesson plans instructs teachers to “ask everybody to walk around the classroom and introduce themselves and ask each other what their names are and what pronouns they should use.”

Alongside Bill C-16, BC also passed a bill adding “gender identity and expression” as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Human Rights Code, and SOGI was ushered into schools around the same time — a program said to be about ensuring classrooms are “inclusive” and that students feel “safe, included and empowered,” but is not really the whole story.

If this were only about preventing discrimination and bullying, that would be one thing. But the reality is that these bills and the polices and practices being institutionalized very quickly across Canada trump the rights of women and girls, and indoctrinate kids into a regressive and nonsensical ideology that no one is allowed to challenge, lest they be accused of hatred and bigotry. It is in fact women and girls who are being discriminated against and bullied, in all of this, excluded from the conversation — their concerns mocked and silenced.

Kids are being taught that questioning this ideology is “phobia” and “bullying,” essentially teaching girls from a very young age that a man might in fact be a woman, and therefore must be welcomed into a change room, that they may not compete in sport on a fair basis, as they might be force to compete against males, who are physically stronger and faster than they, and that if they prefer roughhousing over playing “house,” they might actually be boys, themselves.

We are talking about ideology, here: the notion that one can change sex, or that one can be born in the wrong body is a belief, rooted in nothing but faith. And here we are, in modern, progressive Canada teaching kids that science is not real, that reality can be imagined away through feelings or words, and that to question this faith is “bullying.”

While I do think people are waking up to the insanity that is gender identity ideology, and the ways it harms women and kids, I also think a lot of people just aren’t sure what to do. How do we challenge something when we’re told that to do so means becoming a pariah?

The truth is that we have all we need at our fingertips. We can explain to our political representatives what the difference is between sex and gender, and that women’s rights are sex based, not gender based. And we do need to start doing this. We’ve seen women in other countries successfully lobby against gender identity legislation, in Britain and Scotland, for example. We can successfully lobby and educate those who have the power to make institutional and legislative change.

The power of the feminist movement has always been in regular women taking up the fight. Regular women, speaking out or lobbying for change. And there is no one way to do this. The Women’s Human Rights Campaign offers women a safe way to speak out, by setting up private meetings with their MPs, to discuss their concerns, using the Declaration as a clear framework, rooted in human rights law. There is no risk of being attacked, or fired, or ostracized, by meeting with your local political representatives. Your MP is not going to call your boss or take to Twitter to out you as a heretic. You can take this language and documentation to your MP and demand they hear you out — it is literally their job to do so: to respond to the grievances of constituents and to represent the interests of the people in their constituencies.

And the more of us who do go to our political representatives, the less able they will be to ignore us as a voting bloc. And the more likely they are to start talking amongst themselves, and realize we are not marginal, we are not crazy, we are not fringe radicals — we are regular women who know our rights and are willing to stand up to protect them.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.