The Sex and Gender in Data Working Group, which is headed by the government’s chief statistician Roger Halliday, will seek to ensure that the two categories remain distinct from each other.
Concerns have been raised by academics and women’s groups, that the two terms were becoming interchangeable, undermining the collection of vital information needed in the planning of public services for women and men, changing the recording of crimes, and potentially removing sex as a protected characteristic as stated in the Equality Act 2010.
The issue has also been controversial around the setting of questions for the next Census. For the first time a voluntary question on trans status will be included, but statisticians have argued the sex question must be answered by a person’s “legal sex”. However LGBT+ organisations want transgender people to be able to answer the sex question as their “lived sex”.
As a result Cabinet Secretary for equalities, Shirley Anne Somerville, said in June that the new group would be established. The announcement came as she also revealed that reforms to the Gender Recognition Act would be delayed and a new consultation held.
She said there was “some overlap” between the collection and use of data with the issues around GRA reform, which proposes allowing transgender people to more easily access a Gender Recognition Certificate, by removing the need for a medical diagnosis of dysphoria and instead allow them to “self-declare” their gender.
Some women’s groups have protested the reform, claiming it could lead to predatory men “self-identifying” as transwomen to access women-only spaces and that it removes women’s rights to safety, privacy and dignity in spaces such as toilets, changing rooms, and domestic violence refuges.
Ms Somerville also said that the publication of the award-winning book “Invisible Women” by Caroline Criado-Perez had shown the “frequency with which data is neither collected nor aggregated in a way that takes account of the differences - including biological and physical differences - between men and women”.
The 13-strong group includes civil servants from equality, justice and family law departments, as well as representatives from Police Scotland, the National Records of Scotland, NHS Scotland and the Office for National Statistics. The government says they were selected for their “expertise in collecting and publishing data in the public sector and of their understanding of the policy and stakeholder issues ”.
According to Mr Halliday the collecting of data has to have a “clear purpose” which includes informing decisions about service provision and “measuring inequality and tackling discrimination” and as a result it needs to be “precise and consistent”.
He says the group will engage with academics and other interested parties and hold public events to “put together guidance for those who collect data that covers how they should think about what data they need, and standard approaches to collecting data about sex and gender”.
A government source said the aim ultimately was “to ensure there was no conflation of terms and we want to see what the gathering of data is currently used for and will be used for in the future.”
Yesterday, Dr Kath Murray, of the policy think tank MurrayBlackburnMackenzie, said the “commitment to ensuring sex and gender are not conflated” was welcome as “this is not reflected in current policy and practice”.
She added: "“For example, the Scottish Government’s preferred option in the 2021 census is for respondents to answer the sex question based on self-identified gender. The sex question in the Scottish Household Survey now conflates sex and gender identity, and the Scottish Government’s own equality evidence finder uses gender, instead of the protected characteristic of sex.
“We are however, disappointed that the group’s membership is narrowly drawn and does not include any independent academic and statistical experts as the recommendations made by the group will have a significant impact on data collection practices in Scotland.”