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Plans to introduce gender quotas in future Senedd elections are in the works

Transgender women could stand as women in future Senedd elections under leaked plans to change the law to create a more gender-balanced Welsh Parliament.

The draft legislation was leaked to the Women’s Rights Network (WRN) Wales which accused Welsh ministers of “undermining the rights of half the population”.

What is the Women’s Rights Network?

The WRN describes itself as a “feminist group” and says its main focus is to “defend the sex-based rights of women.

On its website, the group says its aims are to “retain the hard-won rights of women”, as well as to “prevent the introduction in the Gender Recognition Act”.

The group’s other aims, according to its website, include stopping “the medicalisation of children who are encouraged to believe that it is possible to change sex”.

Meanwhile, the WRN lists “upholding the legal and scientific definition of sex and sexual orientation” as one of its “values”.

Under the “our values” section on the WRN website, it says: “We recognise that sex is binary, female and male, and that sex is determined at conception, observed at birth (or in utero) and recorded.

“We reject the co-opting of rare medical Differences in Sexual Development (DSDs) in order to cast doubt on the binary nature of sex.”

It also highlights “individual freedom” as one of its values and adds: “We support women’s reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. We stand with lesbians in rejecting pressure to accept as sexual partners, or admit into lesbian spaces, males who identify or define themselves as

Source: Women’s Rights Network

But the Welsh Government has said the proposals – which are set to be published before the end of the year – have changed since the leaked version.

Under the plans, at least half of candidates in Senedd elections must be women.

The leaked draft bill’s legal definition of women includes candidates who have undergone gender reassignment, are in the process of, or those who are planning to.

Returning officers would not be able to challenge candidates standing as women and the draft bill includes powers for ministers to amend the definition, subject to Senedd approval.

Cathy Larkman, from WRN Wales, said: “It is shameful that they are hijacking legislation that should benefit women and increase female participation in political life, to embed a toxic and misogynistic ideology.”

Gender quotas were not included in the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) bill which would increase the number of members from 60 to 96 and change the electoral system.

The Senedd Cymru (Electoral Candidate Lists) bill is being brought forward separately due to potential concerns the Senedd does not have the necessary legal powers.

In January, the UK Government blocked Scotland’s Gender Reform bill from becoming law due to concerns about its impact on UK-wide equality legislation.

Welsh Secretary David TC Davies has raised concerns about the draft bill saying one of his gravest fears is that the plan could have a “detrimental impact on women’s rights”.

“Those rights have been hard fought for and I fear could now be undermined by the Labour-run Welsh Government’s ill-thought policy,” he said.

Mrs Larkman claimed the Welsh Government does not have the legal powers to push the draft legislation through and it is “highly likely” to fail when challenged in the courts.

She said: “This is a scandalous waste of public money, particularly when the lessons of Scotland are well documented. We are putting the government on notice – women will organise to fight this attack on our rights in every way possible.”

Stonewall Cymru, which advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, told BBC Wales that the charity fully supports any measure to empower women, including trans women, to take part in politics.

Gender quotas were part of the 2021 co-operation agreement between the Labour-led Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru. 

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We are working to introduce a bill to make our parliament more representative of the people it serves, which includes provisions to introduce candidate quotas for people seeking election to the Senedd.

“Our proposed model for quotas is designed to maximise the chances of achieving a Senedd comprising at least 50% women. Work is ongoing on the bill.”

A Plaid Cymru spokesperson said: “We are determined to make the Senedd more representative of the people it serves, and legislation for statutory gender quotas is a key part of that endeavour.

“It would not be appropriate to comment on leaked documents that are still in development. Plaid Cymru looks forward to the publication of the final bill later this year, and the Senedd and all interested parties will have an opportunity to fully scrutinise the bill.”