1. Introduction, purpose and context
The Scottish Government clearly sets out its purpose in Scotland's National Performance Framework: 'to focus on creating a more successful country with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish through increased wellbeing, and sustainable and inclusive growth', and makes clear the values underpinning this: 'we are a society which treats all our people with kindness, dignity and compassion'. To fully understand the needs and experience of individuals and groups we need data that will allow for comparisons to be made.
The then Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People, in her statement to Scottish Parliament on 20 June 2019, highlights the importance of "having disaggregated data…to help show where there is discrimination and indicate where further work needs to be done, in any part of Government". This need also extends to the public sector more widely.
Having high quality data is the backbone to having a public sector that can design services that meet, and are responsive to, the needs of all people in Scotland. This data is an important source of information for those involved in delivering public services, including planning, monitoring and reviewing of decisions in relation to these services.
As such, my expectation of public bodies in Scotland is that they routinely gather and publish information on socio-demographic characteristics of people in Scotland, using this information to design, plan, monitor and evaluate services that are sensitive to the needs of all of Scotland and create the conditions where there are opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish. This includes understanding not just the issues faced by women and men, but on the intersectionality between sex, gender identity and other socio-demographic characteristics (including the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010).
How data is collected and published is an important part of achieving this wider aim. This guidance sets out things for public bodies to consider when they are collecting data about sex, and trans status, whether in a survey or an administrative system, so that data collection has a clear purpose and is rooted in the organisations' needs and informs the design, targeting and delivery of public services.
It is equally as important to consider whether the way data is collected as a whole introduces bias against particular parts of society, and building skills across the public sector amongst those collecting data is important to mitigate any risk of bias.
Indeed, the European Institute of Gender Equality Gender Statistics Database identify good practice in data and statistics about sex and gender as:
a) Data are based on concepts and definitions of gender that adequately reflect the diversity of women and men and capture all aspects of their lives; and
b) Data collection methods take into account stereotypes and social and cultural factors that may induce gender bias in the data.
c) The presentation of data on sex and gender should help illuminate meaningful differences and similarities between women and men.
In undertaking this work, it is clear that while most public bodies are collecting and analysing data about sex or gender, it is fair to say that these terms are sometimes used interchangeably in the questions used in data collection, and there is typically limited guidance on exactly what is being asked for. This has the consequence that in reality people answering this question may be interpreting it in different ways.
It was clear that many organisations weren't making conscious decisions about the question or questions to ask.
And very few organisations were collecting data to help better understand experiences and outcomes of trans people.
I found that even when data on sex and/or gender identity is collected, it is not always analysed, published or used in decision making. This clearly impacts on efforts to eliminate discrimination and promote equality.
This matches the findings of the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women who looked at the UK in 2019 and found a "…lack of systematic collection of data, disaggregated by sex, gender, ethnicity, disability and age, in particular with regard to intersecting forms of discrimination, to identify areas in which women lack substantive equality with men, inform policymaking and assess the impact of measures taken."
What is clear is that there isn't a standard way that data about sex and gender identity is being collected, either in Scotland or the UK. For example in justice statistics for England there are a number of approaches. Internationally this varies with approaches currently developing in a few other countries, and others more established, for example, the Australian Government published guidelines in 2013 on the recognition of sex and gender, which covered data collection.
In addition, it was clear that very little data is collected on people's trans status or history in Scotland, and there are no definitive international standards for how to do this.