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by Staff reporter
23 November 2022
UN official calls for ‘thorough assessment’ of gender recognition reform plans

Protests and counter-protests have been held outside parliament over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill | Alamy

UN official calls for ‘thorough assessment’ of gender recognition reform plans

The Scottish Government must “complete a thorough assessment of all foreseeable consequences” before passing the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, a UN official has said.

A letter from the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, Reem Alsalem, warns that MSPs have not been given “sufficient time” to explore many of the complexities of the bill.

In particular, Alsalem highlights a lack of clarity around how the bill would interact with the Equality Act and expresses concern about a lack of safeguarding, particularly for female victims of male violence.

She said: “I share the concern that such proposals would potentially open the door for violent males who identify as men to abuse the process of acquiring a gender certificate and the rights that are associated with it.

“This presents potential risks to the safety of women in all their diversity (including women born female, transwomen, and gender non-conforming women).”

The letter goes on to question what procedures will be put in place to ensure appropriate scrutiny of those who apply for a gender recognition certificate under the new system, and whether that would include detail on “the conditions for refusing such applications”.

She warns the penalties for fraudulent use of gender recognition certificates “should not be the only response” as such penalties were largely only apply “once a risk has materialized”.

Alsalem adds: “The ongoing efforts to reform existing legislation by the Scottish Government do not sufficiently take into consideration the specific needs of women and girls in all their diversity, particularly those at risk of male violence and those who have experienced male violence, as it does not provide for any safeguarding measures to ensure that the procedure is not, as far as can be reasonably assured, abused by sexual predators and other perpetrators of violence. These include access to both single sex spaces and gender-based spaces.

“It is important to note that insistence on safeguarding and risk management protocols does not arise from the belief that transgender people represent a safeguarding threat. It is instead based on empirical evidence that demonstrates that the majority of sex offenders are male, and that persistent sex offenders will go to great lengths to gain access to those they wish to abuse.”

The rapporteur calls on the Scottish Government to provide services both on a “single-sex” and “gender-based” basis, including ring-fencing funding for the former, so as to ensure neither women nor trans women self-exclude.

The letter also queries why non-binary people have been excluded from plans for reform, for example “by possibly creating an X gender marker or third gender.”

She also expresses concern about a lack of clarity on definitions in the Equality Act and whether the term “sex” refers to biological or legal sex.

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