UN special rapporteur hits out at MSPs after parliament backs gender reforms
UN special rapporteur Reem Alsalem, who gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament in an emergency gender reform session on Monday night, has accused politicians of “bypassing the opportunity” to balance differing rights with the passage of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill (GRR).
The bill, which will make it easier for trans people to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate, passed yesterday after members voted 86 to 39 in favour of it. It came after two days of intense debate during which more than 150 amendments were considered.
This morning Alsalem, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, tweeted that she regrets the adoption of the bill “as is”, noting that some important amendments were disregarded.
“They would have been key to bringing about the strengthened safeguards many are demanding,” she wrote.
“We know that human rights are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. Scotland had the opportunity to set an example on how to address and resolve the tension between rights and manage risks in an effective manner. Yesterday the @ScotParl decided to bypass that opportunity.”
In November Alsalem wrote to the UK Government expressing concerns that the self-ID element of the bill would enable violent men to abuse women and girls if specific safeguards were not put in place.
When questioned on the letter by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said they were “not well founded”.
Alsalem reiterated her concerns when she addressed an emergency meeting of parliament’s equalities committee on Monday night, arguing that passage of the bill should be paused so issues around how it interacts with the UK-wide Equality Act could be dealt with.
The session also heard from the UN’s independent expert on gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, who argued there was “no evidence” that maintaining the current “complexity” of gender recognition was an effective safeguard against violent men.
During this week’s debates social justice secretary Shona Robison told parliament that there was no conflict between the GRR and the Equality Act, and that exemptions allowed under the latter would remain in place. That means, she said, that trans women could be prevented from entering single-sex spaces “if that’s proportionate”.
However, Scottish secretary Alister Jack has indicated that the UK Government may attempt to prevent the bill from receiving royal assent due specifically to how it could impact on the Equality Act, which the Scottish Parliament has no powers to amend.
“We share the concerns that many people have regarding certain aspects of this bill, and in particular the safety issues for women and children,” he said.
“We will look closely at that, and also the ramifications for the 2010 Equality Act and other UK-wide legislation, in the coming weeks – up to and including a Section 35 order stopping the bill going for royal assent if necessary.”