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Sturgeon urged to pause gender reform plans following UN women’s safety concerns

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to pause the Bill until evidence can be heard (Jane Barlow/PA)
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to pause the Bill until evidence can be heard (Jane Barlow/PA)

Controversial gender reform plans should be paused while concerns raised by a UN official on the risk to women are explored, the Scottish Tories have said.

A nine-page letter from Reem Alaslem, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, expressed fears the proposals could be abused by predatory men.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of “cherry-picking” expert views after she appeared to dismiss Ms Alsalem’s concerns at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday by saying “many of these issues have been discussed and addressed already” by Parliament.

The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill aims to make it easier for transgender people to obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC) by lowering the age limit to 16, decreasing the time an applicant must live in their acquired gender and removing the gender dysphoria diagnosis requirement.

Scottish Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton has now written to Ms Sturgeon to urge her to temporarily pause the Bill until evidence can be taken from Ms Alsalem.

The Bill is already going through Parliament, having passed stage two last week with amendments including an increase to the length of waiting time for applicants aged 16 and 17 and a change outlining the legislation would not have an impact on the 2010 Equality Act.

In her letter, Ms Alsalem said the proposals could “potentially open the door for violent males who identify as men to abuse the process”.

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

The rapporteur praised efforts to reform the gender recognition process and welcomed efforts to bring legislation in “line with international standards”.

However, she went on to “strongly” appeal to the Scottish Government to consider the consequences of the plans and said the Bill did not provide any “safeguarding measures to ensure that the procedure is not, as far as can be reasonably assured, abused by sexual predators and other predators of violence. These include access to both single-sex spaces and gender-based spaces.”

And she went on to tell The Times that the legislation had implications for women’s safety across the world.

Calling for the Scottish Parliament to hear evidence from the special rapporteur, Ms Hamilton, gender spokeswoman for the Scottish Tories, said: “It is vitally important that we make good laws with proper and full consideration of all the consequences.

“This United Nations expert of violence against women and girls has raised serious concerns about the current gender reform proposals.

“As it stands, the Scottish Parliament, including the committee in charge of scrutinising this Bill, has not had a chance to examine this new piece of evidence from perhaps the world’s leading authority on the subject of women’s safety.

“The SNP-Green Government has put a lot of stock in opinions from the United Nations, so let’s make sure we consider all the evidence available. We should not be selective or cherry-pick expert opinions.

“The First Minister should suspend the passage of this Bill for a short time to make sure that all the evidence is fully considered, and I have written to her today requesting that.

“It would be far better to pause this legislation for a few weeks later than rush through a Bill that could have potentially damaging consequences for women’s right and safety.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have always been clear that the Gender Recognition Reform Bill does not conflict with our continued strong commitment to uphold the rights and protections that women and girls have under the 2010 Equality Act, and we have accepted an amendment to put that position beyond doubt.

“Violence against women and girls is abhorrent and that is why we are taking action through the Equally Safe strategy to prevent and eradicate it in all its forms.

“There is overwhelming Parliamentary support for the principles of the Bill and members of all five parties voted in favour at Stage 1. Our position aligns with the stated position of the UN Human Rights Office that trans people should be recognised legally through a simple administrative process.”