On 17th January, a debate was held in the House of Commons over the UK Government’s decision to block Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill from royal assent. The debate served as a reminder of the extreme polarization and strength of opinion on trans’ and women’s rights held within political spaces.
What was particularly striking was the angry and aggressive behaviour of some male MPs towards their female colleagues who had bravely risen to share their concerns on the bill. Their attempts at silencing and intimidating women with whom they disagreed was a reminder of the sad reality faced by so many women in politics and the public eye.
Conservative MP Miriam Cates gave a speech in support of the government’s decision to block the GRR Bill, raising particular concerns around issues of child safeguarding and the protection of single-sex spaces. Following Cates’ speech, a male MP - Lloyd Russell-Moyle – stood up and called her transphobic; pointing his finger he shouted across the chamber “you should be ashamed”. He then moved over from the Labour Party bench where he had been sat, to a Tory bench very close to Cates where he sat and stared at her.
Russel-Moyle’s Labour colleague, Rosie Duffield MP, has since shown her support for Miriam Cates and spoken out about her own experience of being shouted at by male colleagues in the chamber during the debate. Duffield likened the explosive behaviour of male colleagues during the debate, and an absence of a genuine apology afterwards, to that of her abusive ex-partner whose attitude after outbursts was “look what you made me do”.
Duffield wrote an article for Unherd entitled “The Labour Party has a woman problem”, and she is right. However, I would argue that it’s not just the Labour party that has a woman problem.
Ash Regan, an SNP member of the Scottish Parliament resigned from her post in the Scottish Government over the GRR Bill, unable to vote against the bill whilst remaining in post. And while the majority of Scottish Conservatives voted against the bill, the reaction to Miriam Cates' speech shows that it is becoming increasingly difficult for women of any political persuasion to speak out about their concerns on gender reform.
As long as female MPs are called names like “bigot”, “terf”, and “transphobic” for speaking out about their concerns around women’s safety, then politics will continue to have a woman problem.
So as Christians, how do we respond to this problem?
The aggressive and intimidating behaviour of Lloyd Russell-Moyle and some other MPs in the chamber during the debate was unacceptable. We should hold our politicians to a high standard and call on them to behave respectfully even in the midst of disagreement.
However, we know that leaders will fall in this area. Even when those who oppose us continue to behave badly, we should continue to react with composure, grace, and compassion. It is our duty to model Christ amid disagreement, even when we are being treated badly. Luke 6:27-28 says: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
To be loving during disagreement does not, however, mean that we must compromise on the values that we hold, and it certainly does not mean we should live in fear of speaking out against things that are not right. It will not always be easy, as what we have to say will often be counter cultural, but we know God will be with us as we do so. The story of Daniel from the Old Testament is a good example of this. Daniel was a leader who put his life on the line by refusing to partake in the idol-worshipping culture he lived in, and God was with him and protected him from death.
We can speak into conversations around gender identity politics, offering a biblical perspective on biological sex and identity whilst defending the need for safe spaces for women. In these days it is important to stand firm and be a witness for Christ, remembering God’s promise that He is with us and gives us boldness to speak up. And we know that “the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Whatever our political persuasion, it is possible to be loving in disagreement, whilst also bold as we seek to honour God in our political engagement. Let’s pray and strive for a time when politics no longer has a woman problem.