The Australian Academy of Science, whose president John Shine is seizing on COVID-19 to campaign for accurate science against “made-up stuff”, has quietly adopted a definition of a woman as “anyone who identifies as a woman”.  The academy’s formula includes transgender people whose “personal gender identity does not correspond with sex assigned at birth” and who remain biological males.  Earlier this month, the academy joined a host of expert bodies in warning Science Minister Karen Andrews that the domestic and childcare burden of dealing with COVID-19 could undo “hard-won gains” made by women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

The expert advice points out women are already underrepresented in these fields and touts the academy’s 10-year “Women in STEM” plan to achieve “gender equity” by inspiring girls to study these disciplines.  A glossary at the end of the taxpayer-funded report redefines what it means to be a girl or woman.  Evolutionary biologist Madeleine Beekman, a professor at the University of Sydney, said she doubted her female colleagues would be aware of this redefinition.  “I find it surprising that it comes from the academy of science, which should be based on science and not on some social, political agenda so, I’m shocked,” she said.  “If you’re going to change the definition of a woman to something that’s no longer based on a biological fact, what are you doing?”

A spokesman for the academy said the definition was in line with the federal Sex Discrimination Act and treaties signed by Australia that “promote equality between women and men”.  Chief Scientist Alan Finkel backed the academy, saying he supported “an inclusive culture within science”.  Ms Andrews, who trained as an engineer, would not be drawn on whether she agreed with the definition, but said the economy needed “the biggest talent pool possible to help solve challenges and capitalise on opportunities”.  Professor Beekman said the academy’s redefinition undermined attempts to understand the role of biology in the career obstacles faced by women, such as child-bearing, default caring, and men wanting to pursue careers involving extreme competition.

“Unless we understand the underrepresentation of women, we can’t do anything about it.” Beekman said.  She said the position taken by the academy was “potentially damaging” to confidence in science, and an unacceptable risk when scientific inquiry was under attack.  She said there was growing realisation that biological sex was a key variable in health and medical treatment, as shown by the higher male mortality rate from COVID-19.  “What this definition of a woman is saying is, biology doesn’t matter, you can be whatever you choose.  “I’m teaching 3rd year evolutionary biology and animal behaviour, and I always make this point, why would you assume that selective pressures that have led to differences in males and females in other organisms don’t apply to us?

Professor Shine, a molecular biologist who ran Sydney’s Garvan medical research institute, is in the middle of a public education campaign, pointing out that challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change cannot be overcome without scientific understanding.  “The only way out for humanity is to apply science, to apply it in a sensible way, to make sure it’s facts, not just made-up stuff,” he says.  He says social media can be a problem because “it gives opportunity for various small groups with particular biases or agendas to cherry pick bits of information and pretend they’re talking real science”.  There are “33 gender identities”, according to the top result for a Google search.

Victorians are able to change their official birth sex once a year by paying $110.50 and filling in an online declaration.  Victorian Equality Minister Martin Foley argues that doing away with the requirement for sex-reassignment surgery allows transgender people to have “their true self” on birth certificates.  In 2013, federal human rights law was changed to allow people to make complaints of discrimination on the basis of their “gender identity”, regardless of their biological sex.  Labor’s then attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said at the time he was satisfied the definition of gender identity was “meaningful” but Christians and radical feminists warned it was subjective and would weaken the rights and protections enjoyed by women on the basis of their biological sex.

Political scientist Sheila Jeffreys, in arguing against Labor’s bill said “Persons who wish to express a gender identity not associated with their biological sex need to be accommodated in ways that protect them, but do not conflict with the rights of women.”  The change in the Sex Discrimination Act flowed through into federal public service guidelines, and “gender identity” has come to overshadow biological sex across many institutions from universities and schools to sporting organisations and big corporations.  Some women’s groups argue that the privacy and safety of women and girls in toilets, change rooms and dormitories are put at risk by the injection of a nebulous gender identity into laws and policies.  Trans activists reject this as scaremongering.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

Print This Post Print This Post