Our Letter to BC Centre for Disease Control 

Please use any part of this letter for your own use.

November 2, 2020 

 

Re: BCCDC COVID-19 Language Guide 

“New language guide helps to destigmatize COVID-19” 

We of Women’s Space Vancouver are concerned about the new language guide, which purports  to address issues related to the pandemic, but in fact violates the rights of women and children,  repudiates decades worth of work in reducing shame and ignorance about female bodies, and  threatens the safety of children. Very little of it addresses issues related to the pandemic. This ill conceived guide must be revoked. 

The Guide was created without the knowledge of or input from the public. Rather, a small  group of people with what appears to be gender identity bias were invited to participate in the  development of the guide. It presupposes science, medicine, law, and public opinion agree that  sex is not binary. The BCCDC does not have the right to make such a call. This kind of politic does not belong in medicine or our healthcare system. 

The Guide uses political language that perpetuates stereotypes and misinformation. The  Guide purports to serves as a tool for “writing about COVID-19 and its effect on  people”. Rather, it asks the reader to replace specific and objective medical and scientific  language with language it says is politically correct. This has serious consequences. 

The Guide conflates sex and gender. Sex is a material biological reality. Sex is not “assigned  at birth”, as the guide would have us think. It is observed and confirmed. It is because of that  material reality that women face discrimination, violence, and oppression. Girls grow up in that  oppression and endure a society that forces gender role stereotypes on them daily, including  grooming them for sexual objectification by and for men. Sex is not something we choose or  anyone chooses for us. Sex has caused women and girls to be treated differently in healthcare,  and not always in a positive way. Women have asserted for decades our right to access objective  information and appropriate treatment, and to make informed health and medical choices. We’ve  welcomed studies and research that will collect data to better analyze the unique needs of women.  Gender, on the other hand, has no medical or biological definition. It is purely a set of sexist  stereotypes designed to confine the sexes to traits that are considered female or male. The Guide  says gender is something you think, feel, and express. Thoughts and feelings can change minute  by minute and day by day. Thus, so can “gender”. This is scientifically untenable for a healthcare system – gender can’t be studied and researched when it has no definition beyond the  thoughts and feelings of and individual on any given day. Gender stereotypes are harmful to  women. To children. And to men. 

The Guide misinforms, and dismisses women’s material bodies and functions. It skews  material reality and alienates the vast majority of people from what they understand of  science and medicine. Women have fought for many decades asserting our bodies be spoken  about with correct, respectful language in medicine, law, and in the public realm. We’ve  demanded our children be taught objectively, positively, about their bodies and respect for their  right to physical boundaries. Misinformation and politically skewed language is the antithesis to  this goal. Girls need to be able to speak of vulva and vagina in order to understand their  reproductive systems, sexuality, appreciate their bodies, and when needed, speak of being  sexually abused. “External genitals” and “internal genitals” has no useful meaning. Both men  and women have external genitalia. Telling your doctor you have a concern with your “external  genitals” will not help a physician provide an assessment. A physician speaking to a woman of  her “external genitals” will not help that women understand the medical assessment being made. 

Further, only women – not people and not men - have female reproductive systems, are  childbearing, get pregnant, and nurse children with their breasts, not their chest. Women get  pregnant through intercourse with men, not “insertive sex”. Most, if not all, health and medical  issues are influenced by our sex. That’s why women have asserted our right to have science and  medicine recognize and research our unique needs and treatment, accurately and objectively.  This requires accurate statistics be gathered upon which to analyse those needs. This Guide  makes a mockery of that critical work by encouraging people to ignore objective medical terms  and physical processes and replace them with vague ‘politically correct’ language.  

“Gender violence” hides the fact that what we are talking about is violence against women.  When gender violence is used to replace violence against women, an increasing and disturbing  epidemic in the pandemic, it’s not just offensive, it’s harmful. Violence against women,  domestic violence, is perpetrated by men against women because we are women. Women need  transition services and housing. Women and children need supportive services to flee violence and address the harms. “Gender violence” obfuscates reality and hides the harms to women. It’s  shocking that a guide that proports to want to address the pandemic encourages the realities of the  pandemic be masked. 

Language is a powerful tool. It can be used to inform or manipulate. As Dr. Réka Gustafson,  vice president of public health and wellness for Provincial Health Services Authority and deputy  provincial health officer said, “We don’t want how we say things to perpetuate harms and  marginalize individuals…”. The Guide says, “When we write or speak, the words we choose  have the power to respectfully and accurately represent people...Words also have the power to  perpetuate ignorance and bias.” This Guide will do just that. It will perpetuate stereotypes and  discrimination and remove medically objective language. 

What has happened in the UK is a cautionary tale. Their healthcare system is under serious  scrutiny for ignoring medical ethics and letting political pressure influence the treatment of  children, creating potential life long damage for many. They also realized that women’s sex based rights were in jeopardy because the distinct needs and services for women were being  dismissed.  

Our women-only organization works to defend women’s sex-based rights. We act to ensure  women’s voices are heard, our unique life experiences are understood and respected, and that  actions are taken to address the harms that arise as a result of the oppression created by patriarchy and misogyny. We oppose stereotypes and ideology that attempt to confine and define women  into “gender” roles, silence us, or make us invisible through manipulated language.  ​

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