You can’t cancel women from women’s sport

From the US Democrat Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her references to “menstruating person”, to the Lancet’s “bodies with vaginas” to Australia’s Department of Health purging the word ‘woman’ from pregnancy health advice, the dehumanising trend of ‘inclusive language’ has set in and will only be stopped with firm, sensible leadership.

As someone who has been campaigning for common sense protections for women’s single-sex sports, facilities and spaces for some time, it is immensely frustrating to see the escalation of this trend in recent months. De-linking the word ‘woman’ from the female sex is not a simple word game which can be ignored, as many seem to believe. It is the means by which the inclusion of males into spaces clearly designed for females – for necessary and legitimate reasons – is justified.

Consider women’s sport, one of the most obvious areas in which males and females have to be separated due to our physical differences. Last week, national sports councils in the UK released the results of an extensive investigation into transgender inclusion in sport. Like all of us, these bodies support the inclusion of transgender people and want sporting codes to provide options to ensure everyone can participate. But having examined the evidence and consulted extensively, the UK sports councils have reached the exact same conclusion I and many others have been making for years. They stated unequivocally that biological sex “is and remains the most useful and functional division relative to sporting performance”, and that “competitive fairness cannot be reconciled with self-identification into the female category”. In sport, as with many other aspects of life, your sex is relevant. Pretending it isn’t, or minimising the extent to which it is, only serves to deny women opportunities and creates unfair (and sometimes unsafe) situations for female competitors.

The UK sports councils’ report should lead to the long-overdue withdrawal of Sport Australia’s discredited inclusion guidelines which claim – against all evidence and logic - that “participation in sport should be based on a person’s affirmed gender identity and not the sex they were assigned at birth”. Sport Australia’s guidelines failed to take any account of the science, and they put much more effort into working with lobby groups than consulting female athletes.  

Sport Australia justifies its approach by claiming that the 2013 changes to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 mean that sporting clubs and administrators who choose to operate single-sex women’s sport may be sued for discrimination. This brings us back to my earlier point about ‘gender-neutral inclusive’ language having real, negative impacts on women: in 2013 the former Labor Government’s Sex Discrimination Act amendment removed the definition of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ from the legislation. It is this Bill which is now cited as the reason why males must be allowed into women’s sport, and why other government departments are promoting similar gender theory.

If Sport Australia’s interpretation of the Act and the legal implications of the 2013 changes is correct, then Australian sporting clubs and volunteers are at risk of being sued for doing exactly what they should be doing – offering single-sex sport for women and girls. As the UK sport councils have said, “competitive fairness cannot be reconciled with self-identification into the female category”. Further, they found that a “case-by-case” assessment method for deciding who can play women’s sport, the approach which Sport Australia advises sporting bodies to adopt, is neither practical nor verifiable – another obvious point which I and many others have been making for a long time.

It isn’t easy to push back against gender theory and its impacts on women. Of all the abusive and profane messages I’ve received since becoming a Senator, almost all are because I’ve campaigned for the protection of single-sex sports for women. The UK sports councils’ report identifies that female athletes know that trans women have an advantage if they compete in women’s sports, but the social media pile-on which results from saying so makes it “easier to keep quiet and acquiesce”. Some have even been threatened with sanctions and non-selection if they disobey directives to keep quiet.

It is unacceptable in 2021 to leave female athletes, mums and dads, feminists, or any other woman out on a limb to get picked off by bullies and social media mobs for advocating for the protection of single-sex sports and services for women and for pushing back against the tactics – like referring to women as ‘menstruators’ or ‘pregnant people’ – which are employed to justify undermining sex-based rights. The Liberal Party recognised this at our Federal Council this year when we endorsed a Women’s Council motion in support of single-sex sports and services. We need to act on that principle, rather than sit on the sidelines and let the bureaucracy and activists do as they wish, in defiance of common sense Australians.